In 2012 is the centennial of Woody Guthrie's birth. Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Gob Iron, Uncle Tupelo), Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket, Monsters of Folk) and Anders Parker (Varnaline, Gob Iron) were invited by Guthrie's daughter, Nora, who runs the Guthrie Archives, to pick through Guthrie’s notebooks of lyrics (most of these lyrics were written during Guthrie's time in Los Angeles) in order to add tunes to them. "These guys worked on an amazing group of lyrics. Much of it was culled from Woody’s times in L.A. Lyric wise, it’s a part of the story that is still mostly unknown. From Woody’s experiences on LA’s skid row to his later years in Topanga Canyon, they are uniquely intimate, and relate two distinctly emotional periods in his life”, says Nora Guthrie. The result of this collaboration is the album "New Multitudes" which will be released via Rounder Records, on February, 28, while a respective tour will follow. Additional events and concerts including a Guthrie tribute in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma will also take place.
The concept of New Multitudes reminded me of two similar releases by Billy Bragg and Wilco; the first one of those is uploaded here. Mermaid Avenue (the album's title) in Coney Island, is where Woody Guthrie lived with his family in the late 1940's and early 50's were he wrote hundreds of songs which he never recorded. When he died he left only the lyrics; for some of those Billy Bragg and Wilco have written new tunes. As Bill Bragg writes in the album's liner notes "Despite the fact that his (Guthrie's) recording career was more or less over by 1947, he carried on writing songs until he became too ill to hold a pencil. The last years of his life were spent in the Brooklyn state hospital and when he died in 1967, the tunes that he had dreamt up for these hundreds of unrecorded songs, tunes he had carried in his head all his life, were lost forever. Woody's daughter Nora Guthrie offered me access to over a thousand complete lyrics of her father's that are in her care. Handwritten or typed, often bearing the date and place where they were written and sometimes accompanied by an insight into the process at work, they offer us a broader picture of a man who over the past sixty years has been vilified by the American right whilst simultaneously being canonized by the American left. In her letter to me, Nora talked of breaking the mould, of working with her father to give his words a new sound and a new context. The result is not a tribute album but a collaboration between Woody Guthrie and a new generation of songwriters who until now had only glimpsed him fleetingly over the shoulder of Bob Dylan or somewhere in the distance of a Bruce Springsteen song."