Wednesday, 14 July 2010
Woody Guthrie was born today in 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma. He needs no introduction. I imagine his music has seeped into the lives of nearly every artist I've ever featured on Carnival Saloon. So, to mark what would have been his 98th birthday, here are Woody Guthrie songs by four of my favourites.
MP3: Bob Dylan - This Land is Your Land (live)
"Woody Guthrie tore everything in his path to pieces. For me it was an epiphany,like some heavy anchor had just plunged into the waters of the harbor." That's Bob writing in Chronicles Volume One. It's part of a wonderful two pages recalling the impact hearing Woody for the first had on him. This version of Guthrie's most famous song is from a concert at the Carnegie Chapter Hall in 1961, the year before Bob's first album came out.
Find it on No Direction Home
MP3: Bruce Sprinsgteen - Riding in My Car
Bruce fans will probably know his version of This Land is Your Land that's on the Live 1975-1985 album. This is more obscure (and one of Bob Dylan's early Guthrie favourites too). It's from a 1996 concert that Ani DiFranco organised and is commemorated on the album 'Til We Outnumber Them (which also features Bruce's version of Deportees).
Find it on Til We Outnumber 'em
MP3: Tom Russell - Woodrow
When I first saw Tom Russell live, at the Cambridge Folk Festival in 2006, the way this song encompasses so much of Guthrie's life, work and legacy in all its multi-faceted glory really hit me as a masterpiece.
Find it on Hotwalker
MP3: Billy Bragg & Wilco - California Stars (live)
Whenever Wilco play London I always cross my fingers in the hope that they'll invite Billy on to join them to sing one of the songs off Mermaid Avenue. Anyone who's seen the documentary Man in the Sand knows it's unlikely to ever happen. This is one of few times they have performed together, on Conan O'Brien's old show Late Night.
Find the original on Mermaid Avenue
If that's whet your appetite and you want to get back to the source there are tons of Guthrie compilations available. I'd also highly recommend Joe Klein's book Woody Guthrie: A Life.
Doing Woody's Work Billy Bragg & Wilco's Mermaid Avenue demos
Woody Guthrie - official site
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
A few week's ago Wilco released a timely download of Woody Guthrie's The Jolly Banker. You can grab the track in exchange for a suggested donation to the Guthrie Foundation and Archives at the Wilco website; it's worth hearing for Nels Cline's lap steel alone.
Wilco's involvement with the Woody Guthrie Archive began in 1997 when Billy Bragg recruited them to collaborate on Mermaid Avenue, the wonderful album that put new music to Woody Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics.
Bragg became the at unlikely ringleader for this great American project after Guthrie's daughter Nora encountered him in 1992. According to Andrew Collins' biog Still Suitable for Miners, Nora was taken by the fact that Billy's song You Woke Up My Neighbourhood was named after a Guthrie painting he'd seen in the Smithsonian. Instead of asking one of the usual suspects - Dylan, Springsteen, Arlo, Seeger etc - Nora was "a bit mischievous" in inviting the Englishman to immerse himself in her father's work.
If you've not heard either of the Mermaid Avenue albums you should buy them immediately. They are like a contemporary Basement Tapes - loose, warm, collaborative, funny and a route to one of America's richest musical and sociological veins.
For those who are familiar with the records these demos offer alternate and early takes and a few tracks that aren't on the albums.
I'd also highly recommend the documentary Man In The Sand. It's much more than a making-of doc and although best known for the sometimes frosty on-screen relationship between Bragg and Tweedy (Billy loves fascist baiting; Jeff's less keen) the film is also a great introduction to the Woody Guthrie story.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.
Mermaid Avenue Demos
MP3: She Came Along To Me
MP3: All You Fascists
MP3: Aginst Th' Law
MP3: Aginst Th' Law (alt. take)
MP3: When The Roses Bloom Again
MP3: California Stars
MP3: Hestitaing Beauty
MP3: Greenback Dollar
MP3: My Flying Saucer
MP3: Hoodoo Voodoo
MP3: Ain't Gonna Grieve My Lord No More
MP3: Give Me A Nail
Searchlight Magazine Interview with Nora Guthrie
DVD Talk Interview with Nora Guthrie
Buy Billy Bragg & Wilco at Amazon
Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2
Man in the Sand DVD
Sunday, 19 October 2008
It's one of rock'n'roll's most worn-out cliches that the Devil has the best tunes. But as this selection highlights, Jesus has his fair share of great songs too.
There's something slightly menacing about this song, the second track on Neutral Milk Hotel's masterpiece In The Aeroplane Over Sea. In fact, I've found that singing the opening aloud after a few pale ales does indeed scare people.
I remember seeing the BFB some years ago and singer Steve Adams saying that their next record would be all covers of their favourite songs about Christ. As it turned out Jesus Songs only had one cover, Neutral Milk Hotel's King of Carrot Flowers Parts Two & Three. The other songs aren't all about the Lord either though this one is.
Jesus is never far away in Jim White's world. If you've never seen his wondrous film Searching For The Wrong-Eyed Jesus, stop reading and purchase or rent the DVD immediately. You will not be disappointed. I'm sure I've read that the Jesus in this song is actually a real person in White's old hometown of Pensacola, Florida.
The most obvious example of Woody Guthrie's combination of Christianity and socialism. See also Christ For President on Mermaid Avenue, Billy Bragg & Wilco's superb album of previously unrecorded Guthrie songs.
Like Jim White, there are no shortage of Jesus references in Tom Waits' songs. It was a toss up between this and Jesus Gonna Be Here, but I opted for Chocolate Jesus to share the humorous preamble. This version is from VH1's Storytellers in 1999. Note: Wikipedia has a fascinating article about Abba-Zabas (see also Captain Beefheart).
At Hayes Carll's recent gig at the Luminaire the Texan seemed genuinely surprised by the enthusiastic response that met this wry song. He might even have called the assembled baldies "heathens". There's a nice acoustic version of the song on the Later... with Jools Holland website by the way.
Here endeth the lesson. I hope you enjoyed the songs. As usual, comments and suggestions for further listening are most welcome. Amen.
Buy These Artists
Neutral Milk Hotel: Amazon | 7digital
The Broken Family Band: Amazon | 7digital
Jim White: Amazon | 7digital
Woody Guthrie: Amazon | 7digital
Tom Waits: Amazon | 7digital
Hayes Carll: Amazon | 7digital