February 3rd, 2012
Another group of alt-country musos is taking on the Woody Guthrie legacy. This time around it is Jay Farrar with Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), Anders Parker (Varnaline, Gob Iron), and Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk). I liked Parker’s work with Farrar in Gob Iron and know of My Morning Jacket but that’s about all I know about these guys (other than Farrar).
Their album, New Multitudes, comes out on 28 February. From Jay Farrar’s webpage:
Under the invitation of Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, to tour the Guthrie archives, each of the four songwriters were offered the chance to plumb and mine the plethora of notebooks, scratch pads, napkins, etc. for anything that might inspire them to lend their voices and give the words new life. “These guys worked on an amazing group of lyrics”, says Nora. “Much of it culled from Woody’s times in LA. Lyric wise, it’s a part of the story that is still mostly unknown. From Woody’s experiences on LA’s skid row to his later years in Topanga Canyon, they are uniquely intimate, and relate two distinctly emotional periods in his life.”
The spirit of Guthrie may have been involved in more ways than one, as all four songwriters mentioned the immediate connection to the songs they chose, or as they would suggest, “chose them.” The writing came together quickly, as if the mischief muse who originally penned them latched himself to each writer’s grey matter upon first contact.
Musically, it is this sense of collaboration that makes New Multitudes not just another trite and traditional acoustic regurgitation of back porch blues. From the ragged jangle of its opening track, “Hoping Machine”, the loping lilt of “Fly High”, the floorboard stomp of “No Fear”, to the lush warmth and sudden sonic gut punch of “My Revolutionary Mind” the cohorts deliver a lesson in discovering a song’s sweet spot. It’s the function and preparedness of each artist’s dogged work ethic gleaned the old-fashion way; veracious songs, road weary odometers, and sweat stained live shows, all attributes of the man they are honoring.
The song “Old L.A.” is on YouTube.