Sunday, June 04, 2000

Guthrie tribute album was made for you and me

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Various artists
'til we outnumber 'em
Righteous Babe;
$16.98 (CD only)

        Sept. 29, 1996 was a great night at Cleveland's Severance Hall. When the folks at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame organized a tribute concert to seminal folksinger/songwriter Woody Guthrie, they got it right.

        An intimate venue, a bunch of great songs, performers with real emotional and musical bonds with the honoree, and that magical spirit of community that great folk music can sometimes bring — no one who was there will forget it.

        Now, for those who couldn't be there comes this CD of songs, poetry and prose from the master's pen.

        British folk-rocker Billy Bragg debuts “Against the Law.” With Mr. Guthrie's lyrics and Mr. Bragg's music, it was a preview of the superb Mermaid Avenue album projects (the second has just been released).

        At the other end of the rock-star spectrum, Bruce Springsteen sings a good-timey “Riding in My Car” and the powerful “Deportee,” an inspiration for his Ghost of Tom Joad.

        Ani DiFranco, whose indie label released this CD and whose grass-roots business and politics mark her as a Guthrie disciple, passionately reinvents his Dust Bowl anthem, “Do Re Mi.” She also harmonizes “Ramblin' Around” with the Indigo Girls.

        Ramblin' Jack Elliott, a Woody wannabe long before Bob Dylan, sings “1913 Massacre” and “Talking Dust Bowl.” Soul Asylum's Dave Pirner does a good job on “Pretty Boy Floyd.”

        Arlo Guthrie sings “Dust Storm Disaster” and leads the ensemble in “Hard Travelin”' and the finale, “This Land is Your Land.”

        Country Joe McDonald, Tim Robbins and other prominent Guthrie fans quote his words or talk about how he changed their lives.

        Those changes are what Mr. Guthrie's music is about, the small victories of everyday life. As Arlo says on the disc, it's the “belief that you could make your own (music) and actually, not change the world, but just change the moment... And moment-by-moment, the world seems to change on its own.”


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