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With Woody Guthrie's 100th birthday approaching in 2012, Guthrie's daughter Nora enlisted Jay Farrar to put more of Guthrie's lyrics to music. Over the years this has become a common practice, with Billy Bragg and Wilco's collaborations being the best-known. However, Farrar (a former bandmate of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy in Uncle Tupelo) gives Guthrie's lyrics an even darker turn. Inviting Centro-Matic's Will Johnson, Varnaline's Anders Parkers, and My Morning Jacket's Yim Yames to flesh out the tunes, Farrar ensures Guthrie's lyrics are heard in a variety of voices. Farrar adds a forlorn destiny to "Fly High," while Yames approaches the end of the world with "My Revolutionary Mind.” Johnson kicks up a Velvet Underground–like grinding rhythm for the eerie campfire sing-along of "No Fear." Parker throws an angry electric guitar growl behind "Angel's Blues." Guthrie mostly wrote these lyrics during his days on Skid Row in Los Angeles and then his better days in Topanga Canyon. The deluxe edition adds 11 additional tunes that further establish this as a superior tribute to a legendary folk singer and humanist.
Brilliant but buy the deluxe version
This is a beautiful recording but it's interesting that this "standard version" has a dozen tunes where, for 4 bucks more, you get eleven additional songs. More importantly, I think a few songs on this standard version as "only ok" (including the opening tune) but there are several gems among the bonus tracks. That said, the whole thing is great. The entire recording has a beautiful, warm, varied sound. Many people know Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo) and Jim James (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk) but fewer know the immensely talented Anders Parker and Dennis Johnson. These fellas take lyrics penned, but never recorded, by Woody Guthrie and do an amazing job of bringing his words to life. They trade off on taking the lead on vocals and writing the music. Woody's muse gives us humor, feistiness, deep concern for social justice and a glimpse of the country more than 60 years ago (nuclear unease, etc.). All the releases from Woody's archives have been great but I think this rivals the Mermaid Avenue recordings as a sonic success.
Born: December 26, 1966 in Belleville, IL
Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s