Woody Guthrie

Complete catalogs trump career overviews

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Woody Guthrie

Woody at 100 (Smithsonian Folkways)

Oklahoma's quiet prophet, the godfather of protest folk, would've turned 100 this year, so it's hard not to consider all the magnanimous, demigod glamour that Woody Guthrie might have enjoyed today if Huntington's disease hadn't sapped him dry back in 1967. Woody at 100 doesn't aim to be the definitive, exhaustive guide to Guthrie's singular legacy; it's far too egalitarian for such ambitions. Instead, the Smithsonian's latest rendezvous culls from a vast catalog that which is most essential. In three CDs, 57 songs, and a biographical book, the classics stack up: "This Land Is Your Land," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "I Ain't Got No Home (In This World Anymore)," and "Do Re Mi." Woody at 100 also shows off newly excavated fragments from a career that seems incapable of running out of secrets. Along with radio performances recaptured from the early Forties, there are songs dating back to the genesis of Guthrie's career. Off-handed, ragged, and perhaps never made for human consumption, the most notable discovery is "Goodnight Little Cathy," a barely-there lullaby for his daughter who died in a house fire a short time later. Ultimately, you can't tell the story of Woody Guthrie in a straight line. He has no grand artistic movements, no doomed collaborations, no botched revivals. He was first and foremost a social folklorist, always moving, always writing. If Woody at 100 succeeds, it's because it resists being the Answer.

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