Written by 6:37 am Audiophile Music

Woody Guthrie – American Radical Patriot

Folk fans rejoice – There’s a beautiful new Woody Guthrie boxed set with previously unreleased material …


Throughout his
career Woody Guthrie made no excuses or apologies for his left-wing political
leanings. But what is surprising is that some of his best work was done for the
US government.
Woody Guthrie – American
Radical Patriot
contains all the music he created for the Library of
Congress, Bonneville Power Administration, “government recordings” he made
during world war two, and V.D. recordings made for the United States Public
Health Service.

Produced by Bill Knowlin at Rounder Records and The Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives Woody Guthrie – American Radical Patriot
includes six CDs, one DVD, and one 78 rpm record containing Bob Dylan’s
rendition of “VD City.” The first four CDs are a complete catalog of Woody’s
Library of Congress recordings, the fifth and sixth CD have his PBA,
war-effort, and VD songs, and the DVD contains a documentary film, made in 1999
at the University of Oregon called “Roll On Columbia” about Woody’s BPA songs.

The packaging for Woody Guthrie – American Radical Patriot
is as special as the music inside. Designed by Nancy Given, the entire boxed
set is inside an LP-sized package that features a cover that resembles an old college
thesis book. Inside is a 60-page article written by Bill Irwin about Guthrie and
a link to a longer 285-page version that’s available on the DVD and online in
PDF format.


With sections such
as, “Was Woody Guthrie a ‘Communist’ or a ‘Commonist’?” the text is as thought provoking
as Woody’s music.  Author Bill Nowlin
asks early on, “Was it a paradox that a
‘radical’ would record songs for a government he opposed?” Nowlin’s title sums
up his own feelings. But it’s the contradictions inherent in that title that
Nowlin explores in depth in his liner notes and is central to understanding
Woody Guthrie’s body of work.

Sonically the box sets quality varies from Ok to pretty good. The library of congress recordings are on the dry side with a slightly peaky upper midrange. The BPA songs on disc five were taken from 78 discs and have the usual surface noise and whoosh that accompanies with many 78’s. Also many of the disc-sourced cuts have additional distortion on the dynamic peaks, but even the worst sounding cuts are at least listenable. But keep in mind these ARE at least 50-year-old recordings, so don’t expect a wide harmonic or dynamic range, and every recording has some amount of needed filtering and noise reduction.

Limited to only 5000
Woody Guthrie – American Radical
offers both Woody’s fans and critics an opportunity to hear music
that had never been heard except by a small handful of researchers. For the
music alone,
Woody Guthrie – American
Radical Patriot
is a must-have for any serious American folk fan. But Bill
Irwin’s scintillating article combined with the lovely album design and
packaging makes this box even more special and worthy of acquisition.

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