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

Mayer’s Picks – The Best of 2014, So Far (the Albums)

The year is off to a strong start and I expect that it will only get better. Here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite releases from the first half of 2014.


Somewhere Else, Lydia Loveless

SOMEWHERE ELSE by LYDIA LOVELESS

“Simply bad-ass” is the phrase that overwhelms my thinking every time I give this album a listen. Loveless isn’t one to pull any punches and her rocking band gets in more than a few jabs of their own. This is my kinda rock and roll.

Key Tracks: Really Wanna See You, Wine Lips, Head, Verlaine Shot Rimbaud, Somewhere Else

Featured Twangville coverage of Lydia Loveless: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 1, Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless, and Monday Morning Video: Lydia Loveless


Alexandria, Chris Mills

ALEXANDRIA by CHRIS MILLS

There has long been something magical in Mills’ writing and his latest release is no exception. Mills wears his musical heart on his sleeve, crafting songs that are filled with emotion and intensity which he then brings to life with a voice that is passionate and full of conviction.

Key Tracks: Alexandria, Rubicon, Blooms, The Sweet Hereafter, Quiet Corners

Featured Twangville coverage of Chris Mills: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills, and Monday Morning Video: Chris Mills


Hard Working Americans

HARD WORKING AMERICANS by HARD WORKING AMERICANS

You never know what you’re going to get when a “super group” of musicians come together. Leave it to the newly formed Hard Working Americans to demonstrate how to do it right. They hit the bulls-eye twice, first with their stand-out performances and musicianship. Second, by covering a collection of songs written by some of theirs – and my – favorite songwriters.

Key Tracks: Another Train, Down to the Well, Stomp and Holler, Welfare Music

Featured Twangville coverage of Hard Working Americans: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1


Drive-By Truckers

ENGLISH OCEANS by DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS

Are you ready to rock? Well the Truckers certainly are. English Oceans finds Patterson Hood in fine story-telling form and Mike Cooley filling his songs with plenty of piss and vinegar. The results are pretty damn potent.

Key Tracks: Shit Shots Count, Primer Coat, Pauline Hawkins, Hearing Jimmy Loud, When Walter Went Crazy, Grand Canyon

Featured Twangville coverage of Drive-By Truckers: Mayer’s Playlist for Feb/Mar 2014, Part 2 and Drive By Truckers – Live at Track 29 in Chattanooga, TN


Chuck Ragan

TILL MIDNIGHT by CHUCK RAGAN

Ragan has found a way to marry his punk pedigree with the edgier side of Americana. Let’s call it rustic punk… and a mighty fine listen.

Key Tracks: Something May Catch Fire, Vagabond, Non Typical, Bedroll Lullaby, Gave My Heart Out

Featured Twangville coverage of Chuck Ragan: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 1.


Sarah Borges

RADIO SWEETHEART by SARAH BORGES

Borges returned from her musical hiatus by releasing what is arguably the best album of her career. Radio Sweetheart bristles with swagger and attitude, not to mention plenty of guitar-driven punch.

Key Tracks: Girl With a Bow, Think of What You’ve Done, The Waiting and the Worry, Start Again, Record on Repeat

Featured Twangville coverage of Sarah Borges: Happy Valentine’s Day: Radio Sweetheart from Sarah Borges , Monday Morning Video: Amy Black, Girls Guns & Glory and Sarah Borges , and More Video Fun from Sarah Borges, Amy Black and Girls Guns & Glory


Girls Guns and Glory

GOOD LUCK by GIRLS GUNS AND GLORY

While they remain true to their love of Hank Williams and vintage country, Girls Guns and Glory let their rock and roll colors fly on Good Luck. It makes for one rollicking good time.

Key Tracks: All the Way Up to Heaven, Be Your Man, One of These Days, C’Mon Honey, Rockin’ Chair Money, It’s Your Choice

Featured Twangville coverage of Girls Guns and Glory: Mass Ave – A Special Boston Playlist , Photos that Rock: Girls Guns and Glory , and Girls Guns and Glory at the Circle of Friends Coffeehouse


Parker Millsap

PARKER MILLSAP by PARKER MILLSAP

The Oklahoma native sets a high bar for himself with an outstanding debut release, deftly mixing up a stew of country gospel, folk and bluegrass.

Key Tracks: Old Time Religion, Truck Stop Gospel, The Villain, Quite Contrary, When I Leave

Featured Twangville coverage of Parker Millsap: Mayer’s Playlist for January 2014, Part 2, and Old Settlers Music Fest 2014 Edition .


Monday Morning Video: Locals Covering Locals ’round Boston

Our friends at Red Line Roots spearheaded a really cool project this past spring. With support from the Club Passim Iguana Fund, they invited a plethora of local artists to cover one another’s songs. Locals Covering Locals, the resulting collection, is now available for download. Even better, you can get it for free here.

I suppose that the project could have been called “Locals Covering Favorites” as the artist’s clearly enjoyed covering favorite songs written by their neighbors and peers. This was clearly a labor of love.

Among the highlights are Jenee Halstead and Danielle Miraglia covering (and backing one another) on the former’s “Building You an Alter” and the latter’s “Choir” and Patrick Coman covering Tim Gearan’s “City of Refuge,” to name just a few.

Here’s a personal favorite, the Bean Picker’s Union recording Sean Staples “Dance at the Plough.” Have a listen and then download the full release here!

Classic African American Songsters from Smithsonian Folkways

It’s often said that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.  The implication is this is a bad thing.  It may be in many settings, but in music it’s more the case that those who know history love to repeat it.  Shortly after World War II there was a concerted effort to record much of the traditional music that was being passed along and stylistically adapted to new tastes.  In 1948 Moses Asch formed Folkways Records to document traditional music and spoken word performances along with “the sounds of the world”.  Folkways went on to be a central player in the rise of folk music in the 60′s with artists like Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Lead Belly.  In the early 70′s the Smithsonian acquired Folkways and integrated their historical recordings along with the Folkways catalog of over 2000 records.  More recently Smithsonian Folkways has released compilations highlighting various stylistic contributions to modern music.  Their latest is Classic African American Songsters.

Unlike many of the historical collections on the market today, Songsters doesn’t focus on a particular genre or artist, but instead delves in to the singers who were adapting traditional songs for the audiences of the day; songsters in the vernacular.  A few of the artists on this disc are well known.  Mississippi John Hurt sings about Monday Morning Blues.  Lead Belly, nee Huddie Ledbetter, does My Hula Love, certainly not one of his more well known tunes.  The Reverend Gary Davis belts out a pretty good Candy Man, a song I had associated with Lead Belly, but apparently of very vague origins.  Davis claims he first heard it at a carnival about 1902.  Given the recent popularity of the Alvin Brothers tribute, Big Bill Broonzy’s name will probably catch people’s attention.  Unlike the blues-oriented songs penned by Broonzy that the Alvins cover, here he does his own cover of the ragtime classic Bill Bailey.

There are also a number of songs you’ve heard countless times, but sung here by artists you probably haven’t heard.  And some of the interpretations are really a notch above the crowd, particularly given the recordings are sometimes 50-60 years old.  Brownie McGhee does an awesome job on Pallet On the Floor, a blues classic traced back to the late 1800′s.  From that same era of cotton field music, John Cephas and Phil Wiggins do a dynamite Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, a number Dead fans are sure to be familiar with.  The one that caught me most by surprise was Peg Leg Sam covering Froggy Went A-Courtin’, a kids song that supposedly dates back to the 16th century and done here with a nice bluesy harmonica.

Songsters cover Classic African American Songsters is not an album your hipster friends are going to tell you about because they’ve discovered the newest super-cool band you need to hear.  But if you want to hear what some current hits sounded like back in the day, or are a fan of acoustic music with bona fide authenticity, it’s worth a detour to get this record.

Anna Lynch – Anna Lynch

In the last couple of weeks I’ve written about North Of Nashville and True North.  Unwittingly, I was leading up to this week’s review–Anna Lynch.  As residents of Anchorage, Alaska, Anna and her bandmates are waaaay north of Nashville.  You’d never know that by listening to Anna’s self-titled release, though.  It has love songs and break-up songs, lots of tasty fiddle and mandolin parts, and a je ne sais quoi that seems born of a youthful fascination with honky-tonks.  It could just as easily have come from the mountains of east Tennessee.

Lyrically, Anna does show some Alaskan form with stories than have a pretty independent streak to their perspective.  Gone And Back is in some ways a female viewpoint on the male attitude  that dominates classics like Ramblin’ Man and Free Bird.  Railroad Man likewise covers that rambling spirit.  Baby Don’t Go To Work is a bluesy song about convincing someone to shirk their responsibility for the sake of love.  Not A Love Song is, of course, exactly that, but Anna confesses at the end that “I’ll never admit I’m wrong.”

Lynch cover Bandmates Peter Hamre on guitar, Garren Volper on bass, and Amanda Kerr on fiddle provide a solid background for Lynch’s lyrics.  You don’t really notice the instruments the first couple of listens, but gradually you realize how much subtle texture they’re contributing.  They play so well together, transitioning from solos to harmonies to just a presence, you picture long, sunless, winter weekends cooped up indoors with nothing to do but hone their craft.  I suspect that’s hardly the case, but it’s a musically romantic notion nonetheless.

I’ll wrap this up with my favorite verse from the disc, “boys in bars and Beer In Jars keep the blues away”.  True that, no matter how far north you are.