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Woodeye A Fresh Salute To Guthrie

By Jim Musser
Iowa City Press-Citizen
August 22, 2002

Joel Rafael Band
Woodeye: Songs Of Woody Guthrie
Inside Recordings (

This exquisite remembrance of Woody Guthrie was released this past July 14th (the 90th anniversary of the singer, songwriter, activist and all-around blessed spirit’s birth) at the annual Woody Guthrie Folk Festival in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma.

At the time of Guthrie’s death in 1967 (following a lingering battle with Huntington’s chorea), his profound impact on the American music landscape already was well-established. He was unquestionably the impetus behind Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and countless others, yet, in a larger sense, his influence has not only endured but expanded in the 35 years since his passing; like hydrogen, Guthrie is basic, key, elemental and everywhere.

Joel Rafael has worked the folk circuit (mostly in the Southwest) for nearly three decades in various groups, as a solo performer and in a duo with Rosie Flores. The current Joel Rafael Band—Joel (guitar and lead vocals), his daughter Jamaica Rafael (violin, viola and vocals), Carl Johnson (lead acoustic guitar) and Jeff Berkley (assorted percussion)—was formed in 1994, and has since released four terrific discs.

The fourth, Woodeye, is the first to be wholly dedicated to Guthrie. The 14 beautifully played and recorded cuts include a dozen Woody compositions, another (“Dance A Little Longer”) that marries a ‘found’ Guthrie lyric to a Rafael tune, and the moving closer (“Talking Oklahoma Hills”), which Joel penned for the project.

Rafael’s slightly raspy vocal style favors (but doesn’t attempt to mimic) Guthrie’s; what really pushes it all across is his remarkable warmth, gentle humor and a palpable love of the material. Likewise, producer Dan Rothchild (who contributes bass on many of the cuts) displays an unerring ability to capture this fresh, organic band’s symbiotic grooves—allowing these timeless songs to live and breathe without becoming reverent or (worse) precious.

Woodeye includes guest appearances by Jennifer Warnes, Ellis Paul, Van Dyke Parks and Matt Cartsonis, but their fine contributions (like those of the core band) are reined-back just a bit, always allowing the songs and the stories to remain front-and-center.

This is a truly wonderful recording, and is highly recommended to long-time Guthrie aficionados and newcomers alike.

Seems like the more this ol’ planet wigs out, the more we need Woody’s music—and it’s gettin’ mighty wiggy out there now.

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