Many may remember the Billy Bragg and Wilco projects known as Mermaid Avenue. In short, these artists scoured through old Woody Guthrie notebooks for lyrics that the respective artists put music to. For those that have read Bob Dylan’s Chronicle Vol. 1 they know that Dylan almost got his hands on those lyrics back in the 60’s, however, through unfortunate circumstances, it never happened. Similar to that, Jay Farrar (Son Volt), Will Johnson (Centro-Matic), Anders Parker (Varnaline), and Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket) contribute to the new Guthrie cannon.
The lyrics here have a focus that Mermaid Avenue lacked, developing into a sprawling love letter to Los Angeles. Guthrie’s lyrics lack the political focus of many of his dust-bowl ballads, but instead reflect a more vulnerable Guthrie, going through divorce and death. Two songs in particular, “No Fear” and “Changing World” show Guthrie at his most beautiful and vulnerable. Will Johnson bellows on “No Fear” “I’m here on my deathbed, taking my last breath, got no fears in life, got no fears in death.” While one song later, Yames laments: “I’m afraid to live here, friend, “I’m afraid to die.” Some of the best advice is offered up on the first track, “Hoping Machine:” whatever you do, and wherever you go, don’t lose your grip on life, that means, don’t let any earthly calamity knock your dreamer and your hoping machine.”
This album is beautiful, haunting, tragic, and human to the deepest level. It shifts styles from psychedelic, singer/songwriter, blues, and great rock. Woody Guthrie has never been documented and given tribute quite as well as this, and he never will again.
Album Rating: Buy It on CD or Vinyl
Listening Co-efficient: Active Listen
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