New Multitudes, released February 28th, is the latest journey through the extensive stash of unrecorded songs Woody Guthrie left behind after his death in 1957. New Multitudes features a collection of modern artists, My Morning Jacket’s Yim Yames Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, Centro-Matic’s Will Johnson, and Gob Iron’s Anders Parker, who were handpicked by Nora Guthrie (Woody’s daughter) to compose the songs written by Woody during his travels through California in the 1930’s.

2012 represents the centennial anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth back in 1912. Woody is known to all as the iconic father figure of American folk music. The prolific folk troubadour’s songs and ballards tell the story of a young nation growing up and becoming what it is today.  They were sometimes traditional, political, social or personal but no matter what their intention his songs were always portrayed through vivid and witty lyrics. Woody was the influence and mentor behind music’s greatest singer-songwriter Bob Dylan as well as many other musicians.  Five and a half decades after his passing there is no denying the imprint Woody’s legacy continues to leave on American music.

Since the Woody Guthrie Foundation opened to the public in 1996 Nora Guthrie has invited several musicians to dig through the vast library of Woody’s unreleased lyrics. It is said that these lyrics, these writings were once meant for Bob Dylan to compose at the request of Woody during his final days. However, going undiscovered by Dylan it’s almost more fitting that Woody’s lyrics have been given to modern alt-rock artist to create a cross-generational realization of Guthrie’s ideas. In 1998 and 2000 , Billy Bragg and Wilco released Mermaid Avenue and Mermaid Avenue II which were the first high profile releases featuring Woody Guthrie’s unreleased songs. These two albums not only set a incredibly high standard for anyone to attempt to create melodies to Woody’s writings but also could very well be the two artist’s best releases to date.

Unlike the Mermaid Avenue releases, New Multitudes features an intimate modern setting with no attempt to construct any foot stomping, vintage,  American roots music atmosphere. The songs are contemporary creations of of Woody’s songs that give the listener a sense of what Woody might sound like today if he were around. The musicians themselves sound like the musicians they are. There is no disguise, no makeup. My Morning Jacket’s Yim Yames deeply moving, entrancing acoustic vocals combined with Woody’s typically witty and vivid lyrics offers everything one could expect from a modern Guthrie collection. Aside of Yames, Son Volt’s Jay Farrar country twang channels the ghost of Woody it what can only be described as inspiring arrangements. Farrar and Yames six songs are the highlights of New Multitudes as they should be. With that being said Johnson and Parker hold their own alongside these two “modern monsters of folk.”

However, on the critical side I must admit the album as a whole can’t be compared to the overwhelming success of Billy Bragg and Wilco’s Mermaid Avenue releases. In its entirety, New Multitudes is too down tempo and somewhat monotone. The songs are well arranged but there is just something missing. The aspect which stands out the most throughout the album are the jabby and witty lyrics of Woody, not the musicians.

Despite this criticism, New Multitudes is yet another successful and inspiring arrangement of Woody’s unrecorded lyrics featuring modern alt. rock musicians. The musicians honor the legacy of their icon while offering the experience of Woody Guthrie’s brilliance to the younger generation.

Check out the videos of the making of New Multitudes below, as well as Yim Yames rendition of Talking Empty Blues.


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