Review: Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center
The new CD/DVD set is entitled Woody Guthrie at 100! Live at the Kennedy Center, but in fact, Woody never made it past 55. This document of an altogether lively concert program from a wide assortment of admirers proves, however, that his music has not only lasted 'til 100, but will likely survive us all. This is a celebration, yes, but a celebration with a conscience. A strong thread of morality and social awareness ran through all of Guthrie's songs, as he believed music could make a difference in America. That same belief is shared by the performers who took the stage of Washington, DC's Kennedy Center on October 14, 2012, including Jackson Browne, Joel Rafael, Rosanne Cash, Donovan, Judy Collins, Tom Morello, John Mellencamp and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. That evening, they showcased the spectrum of Guthrie's work from protest songs to children's sing-alongs.
A major highlight is the mini-suite of songs thematically connected by imagery of the open road and the hobo, with contemporary folksinger Joel Rafael's harmonica-accompanied "Ramblin' Reckless Hobo" (for which he set Guthrie's lyrics to his own music), Jimmy LaFave's "Hard Travelin'," Donovan's "Riding in My Car" and Rosanne Cash's "I Ain't Got No Home." Listening to Rafael, it's hard not to hear a Bob Dylan influence, or more precisely, how Guthrie influenced Dylan and in turn, Rafael. Another singer-songwriter to write a melody to a Guthrie lyric is Jackson Browne, who has never shied away from expressing his own political beliefs. He and bassist Rob Wasserman co-composed "You Know the Night" to a rare romantic lyric from Guthrie recounting the evening he met his wife. To Browne and Wasserman's loping country-by-way-of-Laurel-Canyon melody and arrangement, Browne sings of a woman with "hopes and plans for the good of the people": "You know, the night I met you, my eyes had been looking for you all over everywhere. Did you look at me and think, 'here's this guy that hopes like I hope and sees the same kind of dreams I see?'" In Browne and Wasserman's hands, the song could be a lost hit of the 1970s.