My Dusty Road (Rounder Records)
Reviewed by Doug Freeman, Fri., Dec. 11, 2009
Woody GuthrieMy Dusty Road (Rounder)
The story behind My Dusty Road is as improbable and legendary as Woody Guthrie himself: Cardboard canisters loaded with 2,000 nearly immaculate 78 rpm metal masters sat in a Brooklyn basement for nearly 60 years before finally revealing remnants of the Stinson record label, including almost 250 tracks recorded by Guthrie over a weeklong session in New York, 1944, with guitarist Cisco Houston and harmonica virtuoso Sonny Terry. Never mind that six of this box set's 54 songs have never been heard on album before or the handsome dust bowl suitcase packaging; one listen to the sublimely crisp recordings immediately establishes the collection's value. Engineer Doug Pomeroy restores the material with a clarity unparalleled in Guthrie's catalog. The first disc of the 4-CD trove provides the best comparisons, showcasing the troubadour's most familiar tunes ("This Land Is Your Land," "Pretty Boy Floyd") with vocals and picking that are rich and unblemished. Based on its chronicled popularity, the unreleased "Bad Repetation" closes the Greatest Hits, Guthrie's playful and plaintive wail justifying its placement. Disc two turns to Woody's Roots, traditionals such as "Stackolee" and the mandolin-led "A Picture From Life's Other Side," while the third disc covers Woody the Agitator with the unearthed "Tear the Fascists Down" and "You Can Hear My Whistle Blow." The real treat is the final CD of breakdowns and jams on Woody, Cisco and Sonny. This is Guthrie brought to life, with Terry's harmonica set afire and Houston and Guthrie picking and hollering with fervor.