This is a remarkable and historic set of recordings with an equally remarkable history. Woody Guthrie is now rightly acknowledged as one of the greatest songwriters and folk singers in American history, and a massive influence on Dylan and Springsteen. But in April 1944, he was rather less well known. He and his friend Cisco Houston were in New York, taking a brief break from their wartime voyages with the merchant marine, when they met up with the great harmonica player Sonny Terry, then living on social security, to record songs for the Stinson label.
Opening with "This Land Is Your Land," it becomes immediately noticeable throughout the first disc that, although there is still a certain amount of hiss and scratch present (these recordings did, after all, sit in a basement for 60 years), Guthrie's voice and guitar are brighter, more immediate. Two versions of "Going Down the Road," one a collaborative effort with Houston and Terry, the other with only Houston, are lively and poignant, and other staples such as "The Sinking of the Reuben James" and "Pretty Boy Floyd" feel more like intimate coffeehouse recordings than, as they did before, distant and flat. "Bad Repetation" (sic), the first of the never-heard songs, ends disc one, a clever, uptempo indictment of a male suitor's paying the price for his misbehavior.
Every year it seems someone finds a lost treasure in a mundane place: a Pollock at a flea market, a rare edition of Darwin stacked on a toilet, a Michelangelo gathering dust in the attic. In addition to perhaps filling a hole in an artist's catalog that we didn't even know was there, such occurrences garner enough headlines to make us think we could be sitting on top of similarly undiscovered treasures. That's the story behind My Dusty Road, which begins with the kind of phone call we all wish we got.
It’s impossible to imagine the direction American roots music would’ve taken without Woody Guthrie. As a songwriter and interpreter, his presence looms over this country’s music, including rock ‘n’ roll. The scope of his repertoire is unparalleled, and the very spirit of Guthrie’s music is quintessentially American in all the best ways: brimming with promise, encompassing the great joys and sorrows that come with the ongoing struggle for a better world, and best of all, musical populism at its finest—these discs are full of melodies even the most tone-deaf of us can sing along to.
The story behind My Dusty Road is as improbable and legendary as Woody Guthrie himself: Cardboard canisters loaded with 2,000 nearly immaculate 78 rpm metal masters sat in a Brooklyn basement for nearly 60 years before finally revealing remnants of the Stinson record label, including almost 250 tracks recorded by Guthrie over a weeklong session in New York, 1944, with guitarist Cisco Houston and harmonica virtuoso Sonny Terry. Never mind that six of this box set's 54 songs have never been heard on album before or the handsome dust bowl suitcase packaging; one listen to the sublimely crisp recordings immediately establishes the collection's value. Engineer Doug Pomeroy restores the material with a clarity unparalleled in Guthrie's catalog.