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Victory Review
Joel Rafael Band: WOODYBOYE

by Tom Petersen
November 2005

The Woody Guthrie catalogue was treated a bit carelessly during Woody's lifetime, largely because Woody himself cared little for the business end of music, and because he truly lived out the spirit of folk. He borrowed lyrics and tunes or inserted his own, recorded rarely and sloppily, gave away verses and ideas and tossed as many as 1000 songs into whatever trunk or duffel bag he was living out of at the time. Since his death, though, daughter Nora has emerged as a most thoughtful custodian of Woody's material, especially those "lost" songs. Rather than dump it all out for people to see and use, she has overseen the careful study and reconstruction of all those partial or never-played pieces, then released them to those who will use them in Woody's spirit.

The first great releases were by the British singer/activist Billy Bragg (the terrific, electric "Mermaid Avenue" recordings, in the late '90s), and now long-time Guthrie acolyte and talent-in-his-own-right Joel Rafael has a full CD of rare and unreleased Guthrie songs Woodyboye. It's billed as Volume II, a sequel to last year's Woodeye, but that record only had a few actual Guthrie songs, while this new disc only has one non-Guthrie song. It's an all-acoustic record that fits the material well, but it isn't a solo performance.

The Rafael Band is a mature ensemble with guitar, bass, piano, some muted drums, and sprinklings of banjo, mandolin, and fiddle. Rafael is a beautiful, honest-sounding singer, and gives these songs a honest shove - there's no reverent, deferential holding back.

The band is Jamaica Rafael, Mauricio Lewak, Will Landin, and Carl Johnson, but a host of stars who owe a lot to Woody join in: Jackson Browne sings backup, Van Dyke Parks plays piano, the Burns Sisters, Jennifer Warnes, and Jimmy LaFave also sing on a tune or two each, and Arlo Guthrie is thre for a little hummin' and strummin' too. This is an important record, and a very, very good record, a must for folk artists and fans of the man from Okemah.

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