A version of this review appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman.
Various artists “Woody at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center” CD/DVD (Legacy Recordings)
The far-reaching nature of Woody Guthrie’s music and legacy is showcased on the “Woody at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center” concert album and DVD.
The star-studded lineup for the concert, the official U.S. conclusion of last year’s centennial celebration in honor of the Okemah native, ranges from Heartland rocker John Mellencap and bluegrass greats The Del McCoury Band to singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco and alt-country standout Roseanne Cash.
But the 19-track album also boasts a great cross-section of the late, great singer-songwriter’s work, including children’s songs, ballads, Dust Bowl odes, protest anthems and historical yarns. Several of the selections are Guthrie lyrics that the performers set to music themselves.
Old-time string band Old Crow Medicine gets the joyful birthday party started with the folk icon’s familiar songs “Howdi Do” and “Union Maid.” Oklahoma-bred Guthrie family friend Jimmy LaFave, as usual, does right by his musical hero with his stellar rendition of “Hard Travelin’,” while fellow Woody Guthrie Folk Festival frequenter Joel Rafael ably treads similar sonic territory with “Ramblin’ Reckless Hobo.” Aged Guthrie protégé Ramblin’ Jack Elliott compellingly relates the story of the “1913 Massacre.”
Donovan reprises his cover of the children’s song “Riding in My Car,” Jackson Browne tenderly shares the love letter “You Know the Night,” and Rage Against the Machine guitarist and rabble-rouser Tom Morello updates “Ease My Revolutionary Mind” for the 21st century.
Lucinda Williams’ raspy crooning of “House of Earth” contrasts beautifully with Judy Collins’ crystalline cooing of “Pastures of Plenty.” And for all the excellent musicianship on display, particularly on Guthrie’s lone instrumental “Woody’s Rag,” Grammy-winning a cappella ensemble Sweet Honey in the Rock steals the show with its gospel-style rendition of “I’ve Got to Know.”
Naturally, the concert closes with the performers coming together in hootenanny fashion for the Guthrie chestnuts “This Train Is Bound for Glory” and “This Land Is Your Land.”
“Woody at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center” will be broadcast as a PBS special — it is set to air on OETA in August — but the DVD includes eight performances not featured in the one-hour TV version.
Although the track listings between the CD and DVD are similar, the CD leaves off the interesting introductions many musicians give their selections. including Williams’ explanation of the sexual overtones of “House of Earth” and Donovan’s story about how he learned the Oklahoman’s songs from Elliott. The concert DVD also shows actor Jeff Daniels’ effective readings of two Guthrie writings, “This Our Country Home” and “I Hate a Song.”
Even better, the DVD bonus features include rare footage of Guthrie singing “John Henry,” “Ranger’s Command” and “Greenback Dollar.” as well as a Library of Congress snippet of the music legend describing his Dust Bowl experiences.
Now, if only Tulsa’s “This Land is Your Land: A Woody Guthrie Centennial” Concert, the “Woody at 100” kickoff show featuring The Flaming Lips, Hanson, Arlo Guthrie and more, could earn a similar CD/DVD release.