Woody Guthrie in New York City

Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie has a storied place in music history. He is one of those touchstones that continues to inspire both musicians and activists around the world. Heck even the poor souls folks who aren’t familiar with Guthrie have undoubtedly sung a few verses of his seminal “This Land Is Your Land.”

Although he is most often associated with his birthplace of Okemah, Oklahoma and his time spent in California during the 1930’s “Dust Bowl” era, Guthrie spent 27 years living in New York City.

The forthcoming My Name is New York is a three-disc set that chronicles Guthrie’s New York City years through stories and song.

Two of the discs features interviews with folks like Pete Seeger (in one of the last interviews before his passing), Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott among others. Consider it a verbal walking tour of 19 locations around New York City that were stops along Guthrie’s journey.

The third disc is a treasure-trove of Guthrie gems. These include the first recording of the seminal “This Land Is Your Land” and two home demos. There are also several tracks featuring other artists – including Billy Bragg & Wilco and the Del McCoury Band – performing Guthrie’s music. Proof that the legacy lives on.

Here is Guthrie’s home demo for “My Name Is New York”:

Pete Seeger telling the story behind the song “Tom Joad”:

Photo Credit: Photograph by Alfred Puhn. Courtesy of Tamiment Library at NYU

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Jesse Winchester, In Memoriam

April is shaping up as a difficult world in the world of music. This past week we lost Jesse Winchester, whose soft-spoken style belied the power of his songs.

Here are two magical Winchester performances. The first is an early (and often covered) classic “Defying Gravity.” The second is the celebrated appearance on Elvis Costello’s Spectacle show, where Winchester reduced Neko Case to tears with the delicately stunning “Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding.”

SXSW 2014 — The Scene

The Hold Steady

For me, the true harbinger of spring is the arrival of the SXSW Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas. Or rather, spring begins for me when I arrive in Austin for SXSW. With upwards of 2,500 bands and 20,000 attendees from around the world, SXSW is the world’s premiere music conference. Even better, it is one heck of a party.

Over the next week I’ll be sharing some of my highlights from SXSW 2014.


THE TRAGEDY

Any discussion of SXSW has to start with the horrifying hit-and-run tragedy that occurred early Thursday morning. There are two schools of thoughts, views that are not mutually exclusive. First, that SXSW has simply grown too big to control. Second, that is that it is near impossible to prevent stupid people from being fucking idiots. The irrefutable truth — this was a senseless tragedy that will forever scar the event, the city and all those whose lives were impacted.


TOO MANY PEOPLE, TOO MANY CORPORATIONS

Ok, maybe I’m starting to sound like a grump but it was damn near impossible to navigate through the thousands of people who descended on Austin. The mass of humanity on 6th St was at best frustrating, at worst unnerving (but apparently not for the infamous pizza-eating guy.)

Still AvailableI’m hardly the first to make note of the ever-increasing corporate presence. Of course, that didn’t stop me from taking advantage of the fully-charged replacement batteries being handed out by a cell phone manufacturer or catching a complimentary ride from the car manufacturer showcasing their latest vehicles. The definition of absurdity, however, was Lady Gaga performing a private concert for those who posted to a particular social media channel about a specific brand of corn chips.


BOSTON REPRESENTS

Dan BlakesleePerhaps it is because I’ve become a bit more passionate about my home town, but Boston damn sure came on strong at SXSW this year. You’d think that I have plenty of opportunity to see these artists in Boston so would focus my attention elsewhere while in Austin. Yet there I was, loving every minute of it.

A plethora of New England artists planted the regional flag on 6th Street for the two-day South by Northeast celebration. The Silks, Tigerman WOAH, Old Jack and others demonstrated why the region is such a hot-bed of great music these days.

Personal faves Girls Guns and Glory, Amy Black and Sarah Borges all but set up shop at the G&S Lounge. The Girls Guns and Glory crew told me that they played a whopping 17 shows in five days, a mix of their own gigs and backing up Black and Borges.

The icing on the proverbial cake? After an absence of several years, Boston busker Mary Lou Lord made her return to the streets of Austin. There’s nothing like closing out a night watching her strum a couple of tunes, both originals and classic covers.

(That’s the always colorful Dan Blakeslee in the photo.)


SOUNDS OF THE CITY

The Singer-Songwriter Rises Again
One of this year’s great pleasures was the return of the song. Sure, it’s never quite gone away but it came into clearer focus this year. Brooklyn’s Chris Mills and New Orleans artist Andrew Duhon brought bands but let their songs stand front and center. Later in the week I watched Austin songwriter David Ramirez captivate the crowd in a hotel lobby.

Bring on the Rock
Never Mind the Punk RockThere was plenty of good ol’ rock and roll to be found all over Austin. Personal favorites the Hold Steady celebrated the release of their latest album with a healthy dose of their dual guitar attack. Lydia Loveless raised the stakes to three guitars with her spirited sets while her fellow Columbus Ohio residents Two Cow Garage served up their own sets of ferocious rock and roll. Austin’s own the Riverboat Gamblers celebrated their first ever gig at their hometown’s legendary Continental Club with an electric performance with no less a rock authority than Peelander Z’s Kengo Hioki rushing the stage towards the end of their set.

Sidemen Stepping Out
It was great to see some notable musicians step from the shadows and into the light. Chief among them was Social Distortion guitarist Jonny Two Bags (aka Jonny Wickersham) who just released a solid new roots-rock album. Among the others that I caught were longtime Paul McCartney guitarist Rusty Anderson who, not surprisingly, played a healthy dose of melodic power pop.


Click HERE for more Twangville coverage of SXSW.

Photo credit:  All photos courtesy Mike Panico except “Space Available”, courtesy Brandon Carson

In Memoriam – Dave Lamb

Dave Lamb of the Providence, RI-based duo Brown Bird passed away this past weekend. The circumstances are heart-wrenching. Lamb fell ill with mysterious symptoms while touring Texas last year. In a tale that is all too familiar, Lamb had no insurance. Fortunately, he was able to get home and secure insurance for what became a year-long battle with leukemia.

Lamb was a fighter to the end, persevering through chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He kept an optimistic attitude and continued to write as he counted down the days until he could return to the road with his wife and musical partner MorganEve Swain.

When all seemed hopeful, the situation suddenly changed as his leukemia returned with a vengeance. Within a week he was taken from us.

The outpouring of support that Lamb received during his battle and upon news of his passing is a true testament to the man and the musician. His appearance was somewhat intimidating yet he was, by all accounts, a gentle giant. His music, while seemingly dark, was rich in texture and vibrant storytelling.

Rest in peace, Dave. You’ll be sorely missed.

Here’s a song that Lamb wrote during — and about — his battle. Below is a video from Brown Bird’s appearance at the legendary Newport Folk Festival in 2012.