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Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie

Sing Out!
Winter 2003
Vol. 46 #4, p.150

Half a century since his active years as a songwriter and folksinger and 35 years since his death, the spirit of Woody Guthrie lives on. Through his songs' inspiration he's influenced generations of folksingers and songwriters that have been going down the road following his footsteps and singing his songs. With Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie, Joel Rafael takes his place among the great interpreters of Woody's songs. Rafael's voice resonates with the plain-spoken experience that Woody's songs demand and his small group of acoustic musicians brings just the right amount of familiarity and freshness to the arrangements.

Most of these songs are familiar staples of Woody's canon, including "Pretty Boy Floyd," Woody's tale of the depression-era bank robber with a Robin Hood streak, "Ramblin' Round" and "I Ain't Got No Home," two of his many songs about migrant workers, and "Dear Mrs. Roosevelt," his tribute to FDR.

There are also several more obscure songs including "When the Curfew Blows." Other than Woody, the only artist I've ever heard do the song, until now, is Country Joe McDonald. Rafael includes a fine rendition here. Another obscurity is "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son," a very moving story about the lynching of an entire black family in Okemah, Oklahoma, Woody's hometown. There is also the infectious "Dance a Little Longer," which weds a set of lyrics that Woody wrote in 1950, and were discovered in the Woody Guthrie Archives, to a bright melody by Rafael.

The album closes with Rafael's own "Talking Oklahoma Hills," a song about a visit to Okemah in which Rafael brings out the spirit of the everyday people, the "you and me," that is at the heart of Woody Guthrie. --MR

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