Review: Woody Guthrie, Live Wire

Looks like Mr. Guthrie is still releasing stuff…

Woody Guthrie
Live Wire
[Rounder (2011)]

More than a half century after a barely out of his teens Bob Dylan came to New York to visit him in the hospital, Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) remains one of American folk music’s truly mythic icons. Recorded during a 1949 concert in a small Newark, New Jersey auditorium, Live Wire provides a rare glimpse at the Dust Bowl balladeer beyond the legend.

Recorded by then-college student Paul Bravemian on a primitive wire recorder and lost for nearly 60 years, the restored and digitalized album reveals a homespun humor, charm, and musical authenticity unheard on previously available Guthrie recordings. Though it received a “best historical album” Grammy, as a limited-run pressing, in 2008, it went out of print by the end of the year. It’s historical importance was too valuable, though, to be, as Bravemian also found out, to be lost forever in a storage closet.

With its’ wider re-release, the window into Guthrie’s spirit is open for all to see. Songs learned from his parents (“Black Diamond”) combine with raw versions of such Guthrie-penned classics as “Talking Dust Bowl Blues,” “Pastures Of Plenty,” “Grand Coolie Dam,” “1913 Massacre,” and “Grapes Of Wrath”-inspired ballad “Tom Joad.”

Seven years after Alan Lomax recorded him for the Library of Congress, Guthrie continued to be presented in a similar musicological format with his second wife, Marjorie (mother of Arlo, Jody, and album co-producer, Nora) doing the questioning and guiding him through song choices. After he rambles for nearly 15 minutes about his early life before playing a note, Marjorie tries her best to persuade him to keep subsequent talks brief. But, like his songs, Guthrie’s stories were the sound of America—struggling against dust storms, taming mighty rivers, and the plight of migrant workers and union organizers—and their tale is worth the telling.

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

2 comments on “Review: Woody Guthrie, Live Wire

  1. Seems the message is still relevant. Where are the Woodie’s now, or are we simply not paying them the attention they deserve?

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