Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Woody Revisited

I love old folk stuff. Guitar and voice. Maybe a harmonica. Simple stuff. Nothing to get in the way of the words. Which always worked well for Woody Guthrie.

I left work last night and walked up to Little Italy to visit Soundscapes records. A week or so ago, I saw they finally had a copy of the new Guthrie boxset, My Dusty Road. Payday came and the set was mine. I guess the market for old folksingers isn't quite as robust as it once was.

The set is taken from a treasure trove of metal masters that Guthrie (sometimes with Sonny Terry and Cisco Houston) recorded for the Stinson label. They were given up for lost until recently when they were found in a storage bin in the basement of an apartment building in Brooklyn.

Rounder Records did a wonderful job with the set. The box is made up like an old time cardboard suitcase complete with metal hardware. Inside are such superfluous but welcome touches as a copy of a booking card, a postcard from Woody to his wife and a business card.

Of course, packaging doesn't mean much if the music isn't up to par. Thankfully, the music is spectacular. Sure, it's mostly songs you've heard before (if you're a folk music fan) but the sound quality is wonderful. Revelatory. Clear, full, with none of the hissing and popping you hear on most Guthrie discs.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the old recordings. The 4 disc Asch recordings set has a lot of great songs on it. The problem is it always sounded more like a historical artifact than a musical recording. You play the Asch stuff and it feels like you are listening to a bunch of well used 78s.

With the new stuff, it sounds more like what the musicians would have wanted you to hear. Rather than listening to history, the Dusty Road stuff is about listening to the musicians themselves.

For those of you who only know Woody through "This Land is Your Land", this set gives you a great version of the song with the verse that often gets forgotten, ignored or stifled:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me
A sign was painted said 'private property'
But on the back side it didn't say nothing
This land was made for you and me

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