"New Multitudes," a new album by Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker and Yim Yames, is the latest work to mine the vast stash of some 3,000 songs that the great--and prolific--folk troubadour Woody Guthrie left behind when he died in 1967 at age 55.
Most of the material now held by the Woody Guthrie Archives is just pages of lyrics, or fragments, with little or no indication of how Guthrie thought the music should sound, so this quartet of alt-rock musicians has been charged with creating original melodies and accompaniment, yielding a cross-generational realization of Guthrie’s ideas.
Wisely, there seems to be little attempt to mimic Guthrie’s style and sound. Instead, they’ve put his words into contemporized musical frameworks, creating a sense of what his work might have sounded like were he still around working and jabbing at social and political sacred cows today.
These concoctions have inherent charm both from Guthrie’s typically pithy, sometimes deceptively trenchant writer’s eye and from the foursome’s fittingly earnest musical settings. But they also reveal the musical lineage of which Guthrie is both a key disciple and an inspirational fountainhead for successive generations.
“Careless Reckless Love” reflects Richard Thompson-like folk troubadour trappings, “Old L.A.” rides along on a fluidly propulsive rhythm echoing R.E.M., “No Fear” accesses the Velvet Underground’s proto-punk minimalism and “ V.D. City” mines the cragginess of John Mellencamp’s heartland rock.
“Change the pen, change the ink/Change the way you talk and think/Change the tubes and change the tires/And change the thing your heart desires,” Guthrie wrote in the title tune, exhorting listeners to remake themselves from the ground up if they want to make the world a better place. It’s a notion Farrar, Johnson, Parker and Yames (Jim James of My Morning Jacket) have taken fully to heart here.
The quartet comes to L.A. for a March 7 show at the Mayan Theatre.
Jay Farrar, Will Johnson, Anders Parker, Yim Yames
*** (3 stars)
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