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Guthrie, Woody: Pastures of Plenty (1940-1947)

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Album Review

Woody Guthrie's discography was a bit of a mess already before the 1990s began and his 50-year-old recordings began to go out of copyright in Europe. After the formal studio sessions for RCA Victor Records that produced the two three-disc 78 rpm albums Dust Bowl Ballads, Vol. 1 and Dust Bowl Ballads, Vol. 2 (later combined onto a single LP and CD) in 1940, Guthrie recorded hundreds of tracks for Moses Asch in the mid-'40s that Asch later released on his Folkways Records label, although some of them escaped to other hands in the wake of a 1947 bankruptcy, such that, when Guthrie became widely popular in the '60s, LPs of widely varying quality came out on various labels. After the Smithsonian Institution acquired the Folkways catalog in the '80s, some order began to emerge. But European copyright law once again opens the floodgates to low-quality, unauthorized, but technically legal Guthrie reissues. The British Prism Leisure label exists primarily to take advantage of the copyright limit, and Pastures of Plenty selects more or less randomly from material recorded for RCA and Asch, including tracks that later turned up on such labels as Stinson. The carelessness with which the tracks have been chosen is suggested by the inclusion of "Tom Joad, Pt. 2," the second half of a song Guthrie was forced to break into two parts for RCA because of the time limitations of a 78 disc, even though "Tom Joad, Pt. 1" is not included here. There are no annotations to speak of, only a brief biographical essay by Tony Watts that contains factual errors. (For example, Arlo Guthrie is not the progeny of Woody Guthrie's first marriage, contrary to Watts' contention.) This is hardly the ideal way to encounter Woody Guthrie, but the collection does provide value for the money if purchased at the modest price at which it was being offered in mail-order catalogs in the U.S. upon release (even though, technically, it should not be available for purchase in the U.S., where copyrights last much longer).


Born: 14 July 1912 in Okemah, OK

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s

Woody Guthrie was the most important American folk music artist of the first half of the 20th century, in part because he turned out to be such a major influence on the popular music of the second half of the 20th century, a period when he himself was largely inactive. His greatest significance lies in his songwriting, beginning with the standard "This Land Is Your Land" and including such much-covered works as "Deportee," "Do Re Mi," "Grand Coulee Dam," "Hard, Ain't It Hard," "Hard Travelin'," "I...
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