5 Jul 2020

Michael Daugherty's Tribute to Woody Guthrie

From New Horizons, 5:00 pm on 5 July 2020

William Dart features a curious tribute album with contemporary American composer Michael Daugherty celebrating the Dust Bowl songwriter Woody Guthrie.

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Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie Photo: Public Domain

It was Harlan Howard who coined the phrase “three chords and the truth” for the unfiltered and direct emotions of country music.

He might also have been describing the songs of Woody Guthrie.

There’s an indispensable book on Guthrie, published in 1990, that gathers together a lifetime of his writings and drawings. Pastures of Plenty was by-lined as a self-portrait of the singer and who better to have edited it than Woody Guthrie’s friend Harold Leventhal and provocative music journalist Dave Marsh.

Marsh’s introduction to Pastures of Plenty includes a chilling observation. If Guthrie’s voice sounds odd to our ears, he asks, it’s because he was writing and singing for times in which people still had faith in a positive future. In 1990, Marsh suggests, things weren’t looking so rosy.

But Woodrow Wilson Guthrie, a man who had no time for songs that made folks feel that they weren’t no good to anybody, has hardly been relegated to the silence of history books.

You can hear him in the long trail of protest singers that started in the 1950s with Pete Seeger and The Weavers. A procession that was continued by Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Phil Ochs and the like, including veteran Barbara Dane, who was featured on New Horizons three weeks ago. 

There have also been many tribute albums in which younger musicians have taken the opportunity to offer their own attestations of love and respect.

In 2011, on the centenary of Guthrie’s birth, Jackson Browne and Rob Wasserman gathered together friends and colleagues for an album titled Note of Hope. On it, artists including Lou Reed, Kurt Elling and Ani di Franco put their music to the words of Woody Guthrie’s Notebooks.

This Land Sings is a new Naxos release in which the American contemporary composer Michael Daugherty offers his take on the life and times of Woody Guthrie.

In doing so, he brings in soprano Annike Socolofsky and baritone John Daugherty with a group of musicians from the Albany Symphony Orchestra teamed up as the Dogs of Desire.

Daugherty’s been around for some decades, establishing himself with a series of livewire, theatrical offerings such as an opera based on the doings of Jacqueline Onassis.

One senses that, in writing his new tribute to Woody Guthrie, Michael Daugherty has been very influenced by the tumultuous times that we’re hopefully surviving.

He certainly put in the preparatory spadework – whether driving the same dusty backroads of Texas and Oklahoma as Guthrie had travelled at the time of his Dust Bowl ballads; or doing the scholarly thing at Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Centre.

What’s come out of it all is a concert work with a difference – a series of vocal and instrumental numbers, introduced by an MC announcer, as if from a Grand Ole Opry radio station.

Music Details

'Song title' (Composer) – Performers
Album title
(Label)

'This Land is Your Land' (Guthrie) – Woody Guthrie
The ASCH Recordings
(Smithsonian)

'This Land is Your Land' (Guthrie) – Mojo Nixon
The Mojo Manifesto
(Manifesto)

'There's A Feeling in Music' (Guthrie) – Pete Seeger
Note of Hope: A Celebration of Woody Guthrie
(429 Records)

'What's that spell?' (Daugherty) – Dogs of Desire
American Icons
(Argo)

'Overture' (Daugherty) – Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'The Ghost and Will of Joe Hill' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'Perpetual Motion Man' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'Hear the Dust Blow' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'Forbidden Fruit' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'Hot Air' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'This Trombone Kills Fascists' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'Mermaid Avenue' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'Don’t Sing Me a Love Song' (Daugherty) – Annika Socolofsky, John Daugherty, Dogs of Desire
This Land Sings
(Naxos)

'Way Over Yonder In The Minor' (Guthrie) – Billy Bragg, Wilco
Mermaid Avenue
(Elektra)