Release Date: Feb 28, 2012
Record label: Rounder
Genre(s): Folk, Americana, Pop/Rock, Adult Alternative Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Singer/Songwriter
Making séance music from dead singers' notebooks is now a familiar songwriting practice, and this session, spearheaded by Jay Farrar, taps the same source Jeff Tweedy (his old Uncle Tupelo partner) took with Billy Bragg on the two Mermaid Avenue LPs: Woody Guthrie's fat verse archives. Four singer-songwriters tag-team in a folk-rock vein, and the high points are when voices unite; see the title track and the Jim James-led "Talking Empty Bed Blues." Elsewhere, dudes sound like themselves, but with mouths full of Guthurie's wit and soul. Related• Photos: Random Notes .
The music world is alive with fanfare and platitudes as Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 this year. Thanks in large part to his daughter Nora’s meticulous caretaking of the family estate, the accolades to Woody have been flowing in for years. Billy Bragg and Wilco’s two-volume Mermaid Avenue collections are the most recognizable, but tributes have also come from less buzzed about sources, including Nora-approved sets from Blackfire, Jonatha Brooke, and The Klezmatics.
It's been over 15 years since Uncle Tupelo broke up, and playing compare and contrast with Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy's subsequent work has ceased to be a rewarding pastime, but it's hard not to be amused or intrigued with the nature of this particular project. In 1998, Tweedy and his band Wilco teamed up with Billy Bragg to create Mermaid Avenue, an album in which they composed and performed music set to unpublished lyrics by legendary songwriter Woody Guthrie. Mermaid Avenue was a critical success that helped solidify Wilco's reputation as one of the best bands to emerge from the Americana movement, and since then, the Guthrie estate has worked with artists as diverse as the Klezmatics, Rob Wasserman, and Corey Harris to marry Woody's words to new melodies.
Like Mermaid Avenue, the two-part collaboration between Wilco and Billy Bragg, New Multitudes is a resilient tribute to Woody Guthrie based on the folk pioneer's unpublished lyrics. That's where the similarities end. This project pulls together four more songwriting stalwarts of alt.country and indie rock in Son Volt's Jay Farrar, Centro-matic/South San Gabriel leader and local Will Johnson, My Morning Jacket shaman Yim Yames, and Varnaline's Anders Parker, all of whom have a shared history worthy of a flowchart.
With 2012 marking 100 years since Woody Guthrie's birth, the great American troubadour's life and work are sure to be celebrated in many ways. It's already been announced that Wilco and Billy Bragg's complete Mermaid Avenue sessions will see an imminent release, but this new tribute has beat it to the marketplace. Featuring Son Volt's Jay Farrar, My Morning Jacket's Yim Yames, Centro-Matic's Will Johnson and Varnaline's Anders Parker, New Multitudes finds the quartet refashioning rare Guthrie lyrics in their contemporary folk-rock voices.
This year represents the centennial anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth back on July 14, 1912. Even though the Okie troubadour died on October 3, 1967, he left behind an extensive treasure trove of completed and unreleased lyrics written between 1939 and the year of his death. Daughter Nora has guarded her father’s legacy by overseeing the Woody Guthrie Foundation, a non-profit organization that is the administrator and caretaker of the late singer-songwriter’s extensive archives.