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Woody Guthrie has spawned countless musical "children," but few, if any, combine the spirit, dedication and "audio verite" of Joel Rafael.
And, as Billy Bragg and Wilco's two fine "Mermaid Avenue" collaborations underscored, Guthrie wrote a boatload of powerful lyrics, many of which either had no music written for them, or that music died with its creator.
Subtitled "Songs of Woody Guthrie (And Tales Worth Telling) Vol. II," this follow-up to the Joel Rafael Band's equally delightful "Wood-eye" (2002) is a mix of completed Guth-rie tunes, Guthrie lyrics with new music written by Rafael, and one entirely new song ("Sierra Blanca Massacre") by Rafael that captures the tone and tenor of Woody's most vibrant work.
The Rafael Band's core quintet strikes a delicate balance of rustic spontaneity and musical skill throughout, deftly incorporating contributions by the likes of Jackson Browne, The Burns Sisters, Arlo Guthrie, Jimmy LaFave, Van Dyke Parks and Jennifer Warnes into an organic, seamless whole.
"This Train Is Bound For Glory" is far and away the best-known tune in this set, but everything works splendidly, with the achingly powerful "Stepstone" (and its vocal tag-team of Rafael, Browne, Arlo and LaFave) a real standout.
There are hundreds of Guthrie songs; here's hoping Rafael & crew work through the whole songbook.
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