VOICES Notes and news on Collector's Corner releases
19 AUG 11 DAVID SHANNON
One of the most significant recent discoveries in folk music history is now available on Rounder Records. It comes from Woody Guthrie (1912-1967), inarguably the figurehead of folk and the primary influence for no less than Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs, and Pete Seeger, themselves icons of the genre. The Live Wire: Woody Guthrie In Performance 1949 comprises the only recorded live performance of Guthrie in known existence.
The release serves as a historical document not only for folk music, but also for Guthrie's tireless defense of the common man and his inspirational role for downtrodden Americans during the Great Depression and Dust Bowl eras all the way through the revolutionary '60s and beyond. It came to Guthrie's daughter Nora -- proprietor of the Woody Guthrie Archives and Museum and Arlo's sister -- via a fan who had bootlegged the show on an arcane wire recording device, and has been subsequently converted to digital with amazing clarity.
The first track captures Guthrie's storytelling abilities and offers fascinating insight into his political and musical roots. It also offers a startlingly prescient chronicle of some of the most debated issues of the times, including worker's unions, civil rights, and home foreclosures -- and all this before the music starts. Guthrie's easy humor and salt-of-the-earth narratives are well-received by the live audience and riveting for modern-day listeners.
And when the music does start, the stories don't stop. The show is emceed by Guthrie's then-wife Marjorie Mazia, and the back-and-forth between the two and the way they address the crowd are some of the most compelling aspects of the recording, a rare glimpse into a bygone time that nonetheless touches upon a range of contemporary notes. Interspersed with asides and song introductions, the concert itself features a number of famous Guthrie tunes, from "Talking Dust Bowl Blues" and "Grand Coulee Dam" to "Pastures Of Plenty" -- truly an incredible American artifact.