LIVE WIRE - In Performance 1949
Intro: How Much How Long? Black Diamond, I Was There And The Dust Was There, The Great Dust Storm, Folk Singers And Dancers, Talking Dust Bowl Blues, Tom Joad, Columbus River, Pastures Of Plenty, Grand Coulee Dam, Told By Mother Bloor, 1913 Massacre, Quit Sending Your Inspectors, Goodbye Centralia, A Cowboy of Some Kind, Dead Or Alive, Jesus Christ Has Come, Jesus Christ.
In the winter of 1949, a young student named Paul Braverman heard that the folk singer Woody Guthrie with his wife Marjorie, was due to appear at an educational presentation at the Fuld Hall in Newark, New Jersey. Paul, who had an interest in authentic folk cultures, decided to record the show on his outmoded, near obsolete, wire recording machine and what he captured, is a fascinating account of Woody Guthrie on stage talking about his life and music. No-one at that time, could have realised how historically significant this recording would become.
It's not an exaggeration to say that this is one of the most important discoveries in American music. Now, we can get an idea of his persona and how he performed in front of an audience. Forthright, ironic, blunt and straight to the point he may be, but in his wry conversational style he delivers dry one-liners with a self-effacing humour that simply charms. This really is an intriguing glimpse of a Woody Guthrie previously unseen by you and me.
We hear Woody as he follows his own path, preferring to avoid the script engaging directly with the audience and charming them to pieces. He is a consummate performer displaying the stage craft and humour he absorbed from Charlie Chaplin and somehow passed on to the young Bob Dylan. His wife Marjorie provides direction and encouragement and is mostly successful at keeping Woody lucid and on an even keel. The show is a positive joy to hear especially when he brings in his songs about the Columbia River, the Grand Coulee Dam, the 1913 massacre, Tom Joad and the dust storms and dust bowls.
The sleeve-notes hit it right on the button when they describe the musical element: "On the wires we hear an even harder edge Guthrie than is usually associated with the dust bowl balladeer. Guthrie's always dry vocals are more caustic and terse, the guitar playing leaner, with a slicing attack that suggest blues attitude".
The recordings were put away and forgotten for over fifty years until Paul Braverman rediscovered them in his Florida home in 2001 when he donated them to the Woody Guthrie Archives. Some not very successful re-mastering was attempted in 2002 but recent new technology has afforded the Woody Guthrie Foundation (and us) the first opportunity to hear how wonderful these recordings are. In addition, there's an extensive booklet with an essay by Woody and Margorie's daughter Nora plus information about wire recording technology and the performance in general. The disc also includes extended liner notes and photos as an Adobe pdf file.
I applaud the Foundation and Rounder for bringing this performance to us and adding flesh to the bones of one of America's most important musicians ever.
Review Date: July 2011