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By Kathy Klassen

Songs of Woody Guthrie
Joel Rafael Band
Nine Yards Records/Inside Recordings

Despite the often mournful and tragic subject matter contained within, this CD invokes joy. It's just such a pleasure to hear the words and music of one of America's most beloved folk heroes, Woody Guthrie, performed by North County talent Joel Rafael.

"Woodeye," Rafael's fourth CD, seems a logical and natural matching of talents, so much so that its sometimes hard to distinguish the one singer/songwriter from the other. Many causes affecting the common man from Guthrie's days are as relevant now. And the plaintive vocals of

Rafael take you back to a time when dances where held in barns and small town 'justice' might end with a lynching. One track ---- "Dance a Little Longer" ---- perfectly pairs the words of Guthrie with the music of Rafael.

What's crystal clear in listening to the 14 tracks of this CD is that both Guthrie and Rafael have a gift ---- and love ---- for storytelling. From the melodic lead song, "When the Curfew Blows," to Rafael's finale, "Talking Oklahoma Hills," recounting of a visit to Guthrie's hometown of Okema, Okla., there are many tales told. Some, as mentioned, are sad, like "1913 Massacre" and "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son."

The often tragic plight of refugees is expressed as well, with "Ain't Got No Home" and "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos." But there are also songs of hope, love and happiness, despite hard times. "Ramblin' Round," "Dance a Little Longer" and "Talking Fishing Blues" are three memorable selections.

Truly, this entire CD is memorable, and not just because of the songs of Woody Guthrie. Rafael, his band and collaborators offer a cohesive and interesting musical presentation that is only occasionally a tad overproduced. For the most part this album is a gift.

Rafael makes Guthrie's songs his own, and he seems to do it effortlessly.

Joel Rafael Band performs at 4 p.m. Sunday on the Acoustic Stage at the Adams Avenue Street Fair in San Diego.

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