Woody Guthrie left notebooks full of unrecorded lyrics when he died too young in 1967. Through the years, various artists have mined this mountain, and, when Jay Farrar staked his claim, he invited Will Johnson, Anders Parker, and Yim Yames to join in.
There’s much to love on this album, but a few annoyances. “My Revolutionary Mind” grabs me with its joyfully blunt lyrics (“I need a progressive woman;/I need an awfully liberal woman; /Ain’t no reactionary baby /Can ease my revolutionary mind”), but then Yim Yames screws up the ending with an orchestral attack that only serves to make it sound like a Beatles out-take.
But at least that track has an abundance of actual music. Too many tracks suffer from spare lyrics coupled with minimalist arrangements – unless you have a fetish for sparsity, you’re going to have a hard time enjoying some of the tracks on this album (No Fear and Talking Empty Bed Blues, especially).
Ultimately, though, these songs stick with you. especially if you give it a few listens. The different approaches brought to the songs by the 4 performers gives it enough variety to keep you interested, and then you’re likely to find a few of the tunes running through your head. It’s a neat concept to put found lyrics into music, and I think each of the performers approached the project with sincerity and respect, and it rings through.
I think this is a great album that would have been mind-blowing if they had called me up before releasing it. I could have added a few instruments to a few songs, and then we would have a gem. Thank God I have a harmonica in my car, to save this album from itself.