Listening to the new box set, from Billy Bragg &
Wilco, Mermaid Avenue: The Complete Sessions got me thinking about what
are the best adaptions of Woody Guthrie's words to the music of others:
1: Bob Dylan & Joan Baez: Deportees (Plane Wreck at Los Gatos)
When schoolteacher Martin Hoffman set this 1948 Guthrie poem about the dehumanization of immigrants to music he really could not have know how germane those words would be to
American politics fifty years later or that he would start a trend still
booming to this day. His version was spread by Pete Seeger and became a centerpiece of Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue of the mid-seventies.
2: Billy Bragg & Wilco: Way Over Yonder in a Minor Key
The nineties may not have been Brit folk-punker Billy Bragg's best decade as a solo artist but his success in bringing Woody Guthrie into the 21st century, a task for which he was anointed by Nora Guthrie, will remain one of the most celebrated accomplishments of his life.
3: Wilco & Billy Bragg: California Stars
Despite having a less reverent, historically-minded view of the task of adapting Guthrie's words than Mr. Bragg, Chicago alt-country/NOT alt-country band Wilco drew up a stellar set of songs in order to play The Band to Bragg's Dylan.
4. Jim James, Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, and Anders Parker: Careless Reckless Love
Curious that Nora Guthrie chose to have Jay Farrar, former partner of Wilco's Jeff Tweedy, into the archives but the results are pretty as hell, so let us ignore any subtext in her choice.
5. The Dropkick Murphys: Shipping Up to Boston
Boston celtic-punks The Dropkick Murphy's earned a trip to the Guthrie Archives and came out of with one of their most famous songs and an appearance in Martin Scorsese's The Departed.
6. The Klezmatics: Mermaid Avenue
New York Jewish-folk preservationists, the Klezamtics celebrated another aspect of Woody's words with two [!] collections, Wonder Wheel (2006) and Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah (2006).
So what's the most successful melding of Woody's words and modern music? Let us know in the COMMENTS section.
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