Woody Guthrie: The Asch Recordings


Woody Guthrie
The Asch Recordings

WE DREAMED WE saw Woody Guthrie last year, alive as you and me--beginning with the opening of the Guthrie Archive in April, a trove of Woody's songs, stories, and drawings. That material inspired Mermaid Avenue, Billy Bragg and Wilco's loose yet faithful-feeling rendition of previously unheard Guthrie lyrics. Meanwhile, The Anthology of American Folk Music came out on a CD reissue, offering a fresh window into the canon of American vernacular music that Guthrie loved. Not long after, Bob Dylan's legendary Live 1966: The "Royal Albert Hall" Concert reached shelves in nonbootleg form, showing how Guthrie's spirit in turn accosted boomers.

The 105 songs contained in the Asch Recordings bridge these disparate albums and eras, acting symbiotically to paint the most vivid portrait yet of America's greatest troubadour. Nothing here hasn't been previously released, but it all sounds new now that its musical family album is readily available. Guthrie's "Johnny Hart" and "Stackolee," recorded on the same day in April of 1944, now seem like respective distillations of the Carter Family's version of "John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man" and Frank Hutchison's version of "Stackalee" from the Anthology. You can hear how Dylan's subterranean, homesick ballads of the mid-Sixties descended directly from Woody's "I Ain't Got No Home in This World Anymore." Jeff Tweedy's 1998 resurrection of the Guthrie's "Christ for President" finds Guthrie revisiting the theme of "Jesus Christ," penned in 1940, covered by U2, and included here. Taken with the Anthology and Dylan reissues, there may be no more concise yet essentially complete summation of the development of American folk music in the modern era.

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