“Ballads From The Dust Bowl” by Woody Guthrie - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1947Album Chart of the Decade: 1940s

TJR says

An April ‘47 PR stint at the behest of the Bonneville Power Administration (telling the people of Washington through song that dams and electricity were good for them and their agriculture) set Moe and Woody to thinking about a previous engagement with said organisation. Between them, they decided that some of the old commercially inaccessible recordings from earlier in the decade would be revisited. Back in May of 1941, Guthrie had travelled to the Pacific Northwest to write songs for a Gunther von Fritsch documentary about the BPA. The fruitful trip yielded more than two dozen new compositions; five of which were re-born here on this new album set for DISC. For this release, Woody insisted that he concentrate on songs from the migrant’s perspective – hence the “Dust Bowl” reference, a theme which was often at the background of his Columbia River songs. They were quite right to produce this set – these songs were far too good to be buried away. In that regard, Woody’s frustration had obviously been there at the back of his mind for a long time. In a December ’41 letter to Alan Lomax (who had overseen the 1941 recordings) Woody asks: “why in the hell don’t you send us some of them blank disc records like you was talking about?… Uncle Sam ain’t run out of aluminium, has he?”

Complicating matters for Woody Guthrie by this time was the fact that he had already started to show symptoms of his (yet unidentified) Huntingdon's disease - but it's nowhere near enough to be so debilitating as to hamper performance, as can be witnessed on this brilliant set of new recordings; man, guitar and harmonica in perfect harmony. The revisions are terrific throughout and “Pastures Of Plenty” and “Talking Columbia” could well be described as definitive. On “Pastures” Woody had originally written some 10 verses – he was a man with plenty to say. None more beautifully championed the working man than verse 3: “California, Arizona, I harvest your crops, Well its North up to Oregon to gather your hops, Dig the beets from your ground, cut the grapes from your vine, To set on your table your light sparkling wine”

There was scant popular recognition for his great body of work throughout the decade and, by the late 1940s, Woody's career as a serious folk artist was pretty much in the doldrums. Moe’s DISC label went bust later in 1947 and by the decade's end, he and Woody had a falling out over copyright issues. However, one way or the other, the artist was on top of my album charts for 7 years out of 8, 1940 to 1947. For me, the man's work continues to reverberate with a purposeful intensity, several decades on. Hands down, he was, for me, thee greatest artist of the 1940s.

The Jukebox Rebel

A [02:28] 7.4.png Woody Guthrie - Pastures Of Plenty [1947 recording] (Traditional, Woody Guthrie) Folk
B [02:13] 7.5.png Woody Guthrie - Hard Travelin’ [1947 recording] (Woody Guthrie) Folk
C [01:57] 6.0.png Woody Guthrie - Ramblin’ Blues [1947 recording] (Woody Guthrie) Folk
D [01:45] 8.4.png Woody Guthrie - When The Curfew Blows (Woody Guthrie) Folk
E [02:30] 9.5.png Woody Guthrie - Talking Columbia Blues [1947 recording] (Woody Guthrie) Folk
F [02:07] 6.2.png Woody Guthrie - New Found Land [1947 recording] (Woody Guthrie) Folk
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