81 years after it was released, fourteen artists give their take on Woody Guthrie’s classic album “Dust Bowl Blues”
In 1940 Woody Guthrie released his album ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’ consisting of 12 songs about the drought and the dust storms that plagued the midwestern states of America around that time. Because of the consistent theme of the songs that chronicle the problems of that time including the depression, farm foreclosures and the terrible weather, the album is now looked on as possibly the first ever concept album. It’s also regarded as autobiographical as Guthrie himself said: “I’ve lived in these dust storms just about all my life. (I mean, I tried to live). I met millions of good folks trying to hang on and to stay alive with the dust cutting down every hope”.
Now 81 years later and the album’s sentiments still applicable with a different kind of depression and climate change, GRAMMY Award-winning music supervisor and producer Randall Poster (Skyfall, The Wolf of Wall Street, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Boardwalk Empire) has curated an album of 14 songs called ‘Home In This World: Woody Guthrie’s Dustbowl Ballads’ which has the endorsement of the Woody Guthrie Estate.
Featuring an all-star line-up from the likes of country music royalty in Lee Ann Womack to grunge poet Mark Lanegan and rising country and Americana star Lillie Mae, husband-and-wife folk duo Shovels & Rope, wizard mandolinist Chris Thile, celebrated Canadian cowboy Colter Wall, bluegrass masters Watkins Family Hour and indie stalwarts Waxahatchee.
All fourteen artists have their own take on Guthrie’s songs although there’s an odd split in the tracks. The first 10 are mainly acoustic based with the odd fiddle, piano and mandolin and could easily have been mixed in mono as they’re so simple and old-timey and whilst not faithful to Guthrie’s original recording which was just his voice, acoustic guitar and the occasional harmonica, they’re in the tradition of American/folk music with a tinge of country. However, the last four tracks almost jar as The Secret Sisters give a funky performance on ‘Dust Can’t Kill Me’, Swamp Dog gives ‘Dust Bowl Refugee’ a real rocky feel with what sounds like strings, Mark Lanegan stomps all over ‘Dust Pneumonia Blues’ with his heavily treated voice and to finish off the album Parker Milsap gives rocky and updated version of ‘Vigilante Man’(he sings about George Floyd) with slide guitar, foot-stomps and treated voice. These four tracks unbalance the album somewhat and maybe it would have been better to have sprinkled them amongst the other ten tracks.
‘Home In This World: Woody Guthrie’s Dustbowl Ballads’ is an interesting album and its songs are definitely relevant to today but does it improve on Guthrie’s original album, that’s up for the listener to decide although the great man’s daughter, Nora Guthrie says “What a feast! Delicious, tasteful, spicy and organic” and she should know.