Kids during World War II knew and loved the song “This Land Is Your Land.” Little Joey Gandelman attending Laurelwood Summer Camp in Madison, Connecticut, in the summer of 1963 sang “This Land is Your Land.” Kids in schools today all know the song “This Land Is Your Land.” What many kids don’t know is the guy who wrote the song and the lyrics — and what many Americans have never heard is the original recording which contained notably political lyrics that the author took out in later recordings.
The author was the great Woodrow Wilson “Woody” Guthrie. And up until now there has not been one DEFINITIVE set of his recordings, coupled with a DEFINITIVE book explaining his life and the meaning of his songs, let alone one compilation that contains both of these DEFINITIVE collections.
“Woody at 100″ from Smithsonian Folkways is a joy to behold, and a treasure to own. America’s musical and lyrical genius — who wasn’t only ahead of his time but created a template for composers and lyricists who came after him — is finally honored with a DEFINITIVE set. It’s a set that is in itself in so many ways a true work of art.
The 57 tracks that include well-known hits and lesser known songs contain commercial recordings, rare radio tracks plus unreleased material. Even some songs coupled with interviews. They have been lovingly remastered (as best some of them could be). And YES: the first track is the original lyric of This Land Is Your Land which has one portion with a notably political lyric:
As I was walkin’ – I saw a sign there
And that sign said – no tress passin’
But on the other side …. it didn’t say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!
In the squares of the city – In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office – I see my people
And some are grumblin’ and some are wonderin’
If this land’s still made for you and me.
Guthrie comes across as a guy with a strong statement, acutely focused on content, often writing material that was timely for his time yet enduring, a poet — and even an artist. This is driven home in a beautiful 150 page book that contains his drawings, notes, handwritten lyrics and painting. It also has a compelling account of his often tragic life which ended after a long illness in 1967.
What can you say? Guthrie’s versality screams out to the listener via the CDS and the book and rare materials used to illustrate it. “Woody at 100″ is a collection that won’t be available forever. So get it, cherish it, and gift it to a younger person who might appreciate it. It will be “accessible” — more than accessible — to those living in these troubled times, regardless of age.
On a scale of five stars, I give “Woody at 100″ ten. — no, let’s make that one hundred — stars.