Category: Woody Guthrie

Happy Birthday, Woody Guthrie: Covered In Folk, Redux

July 14th, 2012 — 10:46 am

Woody Guthrie would have been 100 today, and the folkways are imploding a bit as they celebrate the man who practically defines 21st century folk. But we’ve gone there already: a few weeks ago, in announcing the release of Little Seed, Elizabeth Mitchell’s wonderful new tribute to his children’s songs; in a comprehensive feature on the Guthrie family legacy back in 2010; in a score of other posts, as the modern inheritors of the singer-songwriter mantle have interpreted the songs of Woody Guthrie over and over again.

Indeed, the Guthrie songbook is thick on the ground in a folkblog by definition, so covered are his songs, so beloved is his work. And the man himself wouldn’t have had it any other way: as his oft-repeated anti-copyright notice, designed to encourage reuse and modification, states: This song is Copyrighted in U.S….for a period of 28 years, and anybody caught singin it without our permission, will be mighty good friends of ourn, cause we don’t give a dern. Publish it. Write it. Sing it. Swing to it. Yodel it. We wrote it, that’s all we wanted to do.

Still, turning 100 isn’t something that happens every day. So in honor of his birthday, we’re offering a full mix-tape sized coverfolk collection, comprised of both Woody Guthrie covers that have previously appeared on this blog and a few rarer and more recently collected covers that fill out the edges quite nicely. Unusually, our set is designed to be listened to in order; if you haven’t done so already, a quick installation of the exfm browser extensions for Chrome, Safari, or Firefox will let you stream embedded links here and elsewhere while you consider which to download for posterity’s sake. Woody would have loved it.

    Thousands of Joyous Americans: This Land Is Your Land [2009]

Aching for a bit more context? Head back in time for a deeper treatise on the Guthrie legacy and a whole mess of coverfolk links of and from various members of the Guthrie clan!

1 comment » | Woody Guthrie

Jimmy LaFave covers:
Dylan, Guthrie, Townes, Springsteen, Joe Ely & more!

January 15th, 2012 — 11:41 am

Texas-born, Oklahoma bred singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave is a regular on the Northeast festival circuit; I’ve managed to catch his act many times in the last two decades, on main stages and side sets, and I’ve never failed to be impressed. But that first time was a revelation, serving as a potent introduction to the crossover country/folk Red Dirt subgenre, and – more significantly – to the historically-grounded poetry and achingly vivid performance of a folk artist who remains one of the most respected songwriters and interpreters in his field.

LaFave isn’t a melodic performer: that inimitable voice is broken and pained, and that’s part of its charm and its power. Though his work includes several hard-driving, full-band albums that, stylistically, mix rock, folk, rockabilly, and country, in his most potent output he tends towards the countryfolk ballad, wringing emotion like water from every line through a unique combination of inflection, strum pulse, and nuance, even when covering songs that are predominantly metered or rock-rhythmic in the original.

But unlike many singer-songwriters who regularly incorporate other artists’ songs into their sets, LaFave’s coverage is narrowly defined, predominantly focused upon a small set of influential artists who, like him, address pain and loneliness through simple melody, wailing vocals, and stark, poetic dustbowl lyricism. In many ways, this makes him a sort of performing ethnomusicologist, one whose study of Dylan, Guthrie, and other early, seminal members of the folk revival and their influence is a natural extension of his own work. To steep in his original songcraft is to steep in the history of a region and its cultural influence; to listen to LaFave’s coverage in this context lends credence to and layers new potential onto how we understand his own songwriting.

LaFave lives this connection to history thoroughly, wearing his influences proudly, including covers on almost every album, and throughout his sets. Indeed, his coverage of Dylan is legendary: LaFave includes a Dylan song on almost every album, and released a full dozen on the powerful two-disc set Trail in 1999; I posted a six-song set of these back in the summer of 2010, claiming “the man covers Dylan better than anybody”, and after a year thick with Dylan coverage, I stand by that assessment.

Over a three-decade career, he’s taken on a range of artists, too, from Donovan to Freddie King, from Springsteen to Big Bill Broonzy. But LaFave claims Woody Guthrie as his musical hero, and, indeed, it is his deep work in and among the songs and songwriters of the Guthrie tradition, guiding the Guthrie legacy, which is perhaps most significant to understanding his particular craft. He has performed at every single Woody Guthrie Folk Festival since its inaugural in 1998 and now belongs to its board of directors, founded and produced the 2003 nation tour of tribute show Ribbon of Highway, Endless Skyway with fellow Red Dirt folk musicians such as Slaid Cleaves, Eliza Gilkyson, Sarah Lee Guthrie, and Kevin Welch, and no less than Nora Guthrie, daughter and guiding star behind the continued legacy of Woody, asked him to speak and perform at the ceremony inducting Woody into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

This approach to coverage and to artistic connection is more intimate, more substantive, and arguably more genuine than the pop coverage we often feature here on this blog. It is worthy of respect, and of celebration, both for the music it generates in him, and for the way in which it ties LaFave to the larger folkstream, making his own work a continuation of the legacies of others, a guiding star for his peers in the modern movement, and a defining legacy in its own right. Here, take a listen to the result – just the tip of a huge iceberg of coverage, and a body of work that includes over a dozen albums of merit – and I think you’ll hear that Jimmy LaFave, more than most, represents the pinnacle of what Cover Lay Down promises.

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5 comments » | Bob Dylan, Jimmy LaFave, Woody Guthrie

Folk Family Double Feature: The Guthries

November 24th, 2010 — 10:11 pm

We’re long overdue for a comprehensive look at the Guthrie legacy here on these pages. And with Arlo’s infamous long-form Thanksgiving narrative Alice’s Restaurant Massacree riding the airwaves this weekend in anticipation of next week’s inevitable all-Christmas-all-day switch-over, it seems there’s no time like the present.

Thinking more deeply, though, Woody’s songbook also bears out well as a soundtrack for giving thanks. So many of his narratives point to the dustbowl world, with its depression-era desperation for that which we take for granted today, from freedoms to support structures, from our pastures of plenty to the homes we share. To listen to Woody Guthrie in this time and place is to recognize that, though we have come so far, and have much to give thanks for, there are still those whose lives are defined by what they lack. To play out these songs as a soundtrack of thanksgiving is to honor those who have no gatherings to attend, no families with which to break bread, little resources for travel or table.

Today, then, as a companion piece to the testament to Woody’s poetics posted today over at Star Maker Machine, we offer a relatively short holiday-ready exploration of three generations of Guthries – Grandpa Woody, dad Arlo, daughter Sarah Lee, and more – followed by our biggest weekday song-set yet, a true double-feature, with both Guthries covering and Guthries covered.

May the songs, and the story behind them, serve as soundtrack for the heavy heart and the light spirit alike on this Thanksgiving weekend.

There’s little debate over the significance of Woody Guthrie. Arguably the most important singer-songwriter in history, the man’s influence on and in American folk music is unparalleled, his impact on Western culture profound. From his anti-fascist guitar to the recently-cast songs, previously unrecorded, which both Billy Bragg and Wilco and the Klezmatics have brought to marvelous musical fruition in recent years, thanks to the excellent curative work of daughter and Woody Guthrie Foundation overseer Nora Guthrie, Woody Guthrie’s stature continues on larger than life – which is saying a lot, given his presence in the early labor and folk movements, and the strength which he lent to culture in his years on this earth.

Of course, Woody’s legacy continues through his family as much as it does through his iconic stature and songbook. While the fine work of preservationist Nora nurtures that legacy, son Arlo Guthrie, himself an inheritor and continued chronicler of his father’s work, had a powerful career of his own in the heady revival days, hitting the charts with Steve Goodman’s City of New Orleans and several strong originals, including the well-covered minor hit Coming Into Los Angeles. And though he’s better known for his talking blues style of performance than for the more traditional fare which his father made famous, like his father before him, Arlo’s life and work are steeped in social justice, featuring common themes of protest, unionization, and inequality throughout.

More recently, graddaughter Sarah Lee Guthrie and her husband Johnny Irion have cut several solid albums, as solo artists and as a collaborating duo, including the recent kindie-folk album Go Waggaloo, spearheaded by Sarah and with various family members, which continues a family-friendly trend started by Woody and continued by Arlo. Another of Arlo’s daughters, Cathy Guthrie, has teamed up with Willie Nelson’s daughter Amy; the duo, who call themselves Folk Uke, are a bit more punk and a lot more obscene than the rest of their kin, but the music is fine indeed, and firmly grounded in the folk tradition.

And in the last several years, the trio of Arlo, Sarah, and Johnny, along with Arlo’s son Abe, sisters Cathy and Annie, and various and sundry friends and relations, have gone on tour as the Guthrie Family Legacy Band, performing songs performed and penned by Woody himself along with their own work and the occasional folk standard, proving that the strength of the Guthrie bloodstream remains undiluted even as its progeny branch out into the brave new world of modern singer-songwriter folk.

We’ve posted our share of Woody Guthrie covers in our three years and then some on the web – not surprising, given the rich presence of those songs in the hands and hearts of his peers and his musical progeny. Some remain live, or have been reposted since; as evidence of the man’s legacy, you’ll find links to many of those original posts below.

But much of our earliest Woody Guthrie coverage is worth revisiting, especially in the context of today’s broader lens. And there’s more to share, too, from half a century of tributaries both inside and out of the folkworld. So here’s a doubled set to tide you over until Sunday, with some covers from each Guthrie generation followed by a long set of favorite folkcovers of the Woody Guthrie songbook, in tribute and in thanks.

Set 1: Selected Guthrie Family covers

See also: The Guthrie Family Legacy Band in concert, a full-sized 2007 Mountain Stage concert of Woody’s originals and other songs performed by Sarah, Arlo, Abe, Johnny, and others.

Set 2: Woody Guthrie, Covered In Folk

A favorite Arlo cover, as a bonus:

And more Woody Guthrie coverage, previously on Cover Lay Down:

Cover Lay Down is thankful for music and musicians, independent labels and small-scale concert venues, coverage and content … and you.

935 comments » | Arlo Guthrie, Folk Family Friday, Sarah Lee Guthrie, Woody Guthrie

Billy Bragg Covers: The Beatles, The Smiths, Seeger, Guthrie, etc.

January 4th, 2008 — 07:40 pm

The coversongs of Brit-folker Billy Bragg have been hovering on the edge of my consciousness for decades. His lovely, raw cover of She’s Leaving Home was the earworm on 1988’s alternative UK-band coveralbum Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father. His folk-pop work interpreting the lost works of Woody Guthrie in the late nineties reminded me of the genius of both Bragg and genre-defining alt-country musician Jeff Tweedy even as the albums brought the musicians themselves from fringe fandom to full-blown mass market appeal.

Then today, as I crested the mountain in the frigid New England winter air, our local early-morning folkshow played Bragg’s now-seminal, pained 2002 version of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ Tracks of My Tears. And I knew it was time to pay tribute to the collected covers of a man who’s made the journey from punk to folk, and come out smiling, without losing his radical political heart.

Ladies and gentlemen, Billy Bragg: folksinger, cover artist, and man of the people.

Billy Bragg’s bio describes his early work as that of a one-man Clash, an electrified punker with singer-songwriter style. More generally, he is often categorized as anti-folk, though his early work is punk folk, an umbrella that includes such smashingly loud, mosh-pit bands as Flogging Molly and The Pogues. His politically charged lyrics and angry street-broken voice are known for how they speak to the plight of the working class, while making explicit reference to a political arena which is both resonant with and alien to the American ear.

Perhaps because of this tendency to ground himself in the styles and politics of the United Kingdom, for most of his career, Bragg’s work didn’t show much on this side of the Atlantic. I first heard that Beatles cover, for example, on imported vinyl brought into our home by my younger brother, who was primarily in it for the much weirder stuff.

But while it’s true that Bragg still shares an anarchist’s sensibility with his fellow folk punk luminaries, in his later years, like fellow countryman Elvis Costello, Bragg has mellowed out musically, joining forces with Wilco to pay tribute to one of the seminal authors of the great American songbook, and turning his voice, already torn from the anger of his early punkfolk days, to an almost Americana sensibility.

The combination of new sound and old credibility, of socially aware soul and mellow mature interpreter, fits perfectly into the modern post-folk world of Grammy recognition and blog cred. It says what it needs to that when no less an authority than Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora was looking for someone to write music for two albums worth of unset Woody Guthrie lyrics, she considered Bragg enough of an inheritor of the Guthrie voice-of-the-people, politically and musically, to ask him to do it.

This is Bragg’s quieter work, to be sure, though I’ve planted some of Bragg’s harder stuff in the bonus section below. The lush fiddle and plainsong treatment of Pete Seeger is more churchmusic than mosh pit; his version of When the Roses Bloom Again falls towards the country ballad side of alt-country. But listen for the yearning, the core of that politicized soul, and you just can’t miss it. Today’s set even begins with that Beatles cover, a harbinger of the softer artist to come: beautiful, broken-voiced, and unequivocally Bragg.

Most of Billy Bragg’s work has been rereleased since his turn-of-the-century Grammy nominations; his back catalog is an incredible journey, if you’re up for the boxset collections and compilations. But no matter whether you choose his old work or his new, buy Billy Bragg’s work direct from the source, not the megastores. It just wouldn’t be cricket, otherwise.

Today’s bonus coversongs:

  • Kirsty MacColl covers Bragg’s folkpunk anthem A New England popstyle
  • Jonah Matranga and Frank Turner’s indiefolk approach to A New England.
  • Billy Bragg in full-on folk punk mode…
    • Covers psych-folkers Love’s Seven and Seven Is in style
    • Does an electrified version of The Smiths’ Jeane, live from The Peel Sessions

Previously on Cover Lay Down:
Billy Bragg and Wilco, My Flying Saucer (orig. Guthrie)

185 comments » | Billy Bragg, Kristy MacColl, Pete Seeger, The Smiths, Wilco, Woody Guthrie