shytone  books  music  essays  home  exploratories  new this month

music reviews

Woodie Guthrie: Dust Bowl Ballads (Rounder)


Oft-cited, but undoubtedly too rarely heard of late, this one's the very core of the "folk-protest" genre. Which makes it doubly ironic that it was originally issued as a double-album. 1940 style. Which comprised two sets of three 78s - undoubtedly out of the price-range of the people that Woody was singing about…

But, of course, "folk-protest" music is rarely made for, or listened-to by, the "folk" themselves. Which is why this fine collection of archaic rural tunes - w/mostly new lyrics by Mr Guthrie - has rarely been discussed in the context of hillbilly music.

Which is basically what it is….Fine hillbilly music, undoubtedly. Redolent not only of the 1930s Depression - which birthed it - but also of the harsh & forgotten Depression of the 1890s. Whence came some of its words, and many of its tunes - and much of its sense that the Dustbowl was simply the latest in a never-ending round of hard times….

But, hillbilly music, nonetheless. The resigned, harsh & flatly nasal vocals, the guitar - interposing bass runs into a skipping strummed accompaniment - everything about Dust Bowl Ballads fairly reeks of the earliest days of country music. Except, that is, to urban audiences in search of "genuine" folk-protest - who'd never heard country music outside of a Roy Rogers' film. That is, if they'd even heard of them….

Bob Dylan got much of his start here. Feedtime, on their last album, drew "Vigilante Man" from within. And all of us, almost certainly, learned "Dusty Old Dust" sometime, amidst the aesthetic aridity of school musical classes.

Or, as it's more usually known…

So Long, It's Been Good to Know Yuh, This dusty old dust is a gettin' our home, And I've got to be driftin' along…

Just maybe, you should hear how Woody did it.




John Henry Calvinist