Album review: Woody Guthrie, American Radical Patriot (Rounder)
Album of the Week: How the dust-bowl refugee became bound for glory
Collected here across six CDs, Woody Guthrie's recordings for the Library of Congress are one of the great treasures of American Demotic Art. Their mere existence seems, in an America latterly phobic about socialism, a miracle: the United States government preserving the songs and recollections of an avowed leftie – and, even more extraordinary, commissioning this ornery troubadour to write and perform songs celebrating and promoting the great public works of the New Deal and the country's war effort, and offering cautionary instructions about venereal disease. The modern equivalent would be something like Barack Obama commissioning Rage Against the Machine to document American inequality.
The original LOC recordings were made in 1940 by the archivist Alan Lomax, with Guthrie's performances of his hard-times anthems such as “Do Re Mi” and “I Ain't Got No Home” punctuating his account of his upbringing in Oklahoma and the dust-bowl drift of the impoverished to California. Impressed with the singer's folksy articulacy, Lomax helped get Guthrie appointed the following year to document in song the work of the Bonneville Power Administration, a hydro-electric project building dams on the Columbia River in Oregon. In a single month, he came up with “Grand Coulee Dam”, “Roll on, Columbia”, “Pastures of Plenty” and more.
Further morale-building work for the Office of War Information – including the classic “Sinking of the Reuben James” – was followed in the postwar era by another burst of energy on behalf of public health initiatives, during which he wrote a tranche of “VD Songs” and appeared in an STD-themed radio play, all included here alongside a DVD documentary featuring rare performance footage, and a 78 rpm vinyl disc of Bob Dylan's version of Woody's “VD City”. It's an extraordinary collection, which demonstrates exactly why Guthrie was perhaps the only performer who could square the circle pointedly implied by the title American Radical Patriot.
Download: Pastures of Plenty; So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh; Do Re Mi; Grand Coulee Dam; I Ain't Got No Home
arts + entsThere were towering ideas, some scintillating performances and revelatory grooves... our writers pick out their personal highlights
elephant appealThe first 23 lots in our charity auction have now gone. But there are 22 more still up for grabs
elephant appealPrince William signs up for our charity appeal
peoplePrepare to be entranced by worms as the molecular biologist gets ready to give the Royal Institution science lectures
elephant appealSo says man jailed for cutting off dead elephant's tusks
booksWe examine the best titles for teens
voicesPeople moan that Christmas is too commercial, the spirit lost. But it is a time to over-indulge, and always has been, says DJ Taylor
scienceResearchers teach border collie to understand sentences using more than 1,000 words
booksA Christmas story in six parts
travelWill high-value tourism help the workshops of this Renaissance city?
food + drinkA trifle without custard? Surely not! Nonsense – and here’s three to finish your festive meal that prove it
Geoffrey Macnab does not like the comedian's big screen debut
Arts & Ents blogs
Heavy rain and years of 'benign neglect' may have caused Apollo Theatre roof collapse
Christmas TV guide 2013: Look beyond the usual shows for the best festive telly
Christmas comes early: Justin Bieber is 'retiring from music'
Justin Bieber isn't retiring from music after all
The publisher who played with fire: the battle for control of Larsson's £30m legacy
Tom Daley ‘is gay because his father died’ says UK evangelist
Iain Duncan Smith leaves Commons food banks debate early
David Cameron takes his biggest gamble yet as he gets tough on Europe over immigration
Kiss and yell: Italian protester charged with sexual assault after kissing riot police officer
Top PR exec Justine Sacco under fire for sending racist tweet before flying to Africa
Anachronistic and iniquitous, grammar schools are a blot on the British education system
- 1 Top PR exec Justine Sacco under fire for sending racist tweet before flying to Africa
- 2 French pub fined €9,000 after customers returned empties to bar - because it's 'undeclared labour'
- 3 Sun will 'flip upside down' within weeks, says Nasa
- 4 The publisher who played with fire: the battle for control of Larsson's £30m legacy
- 5 Police seize possessions of rough sleepers in crackdown on homelessness
- < Previous
- Next >