Entertainment » Vol. 25

Note of Hope

A 12-track Collection Based on Woody Guthrie’s Unpublished Writings

By Glen Thomas

Note of Hope, a celebration of Woody Guthrie, is based on the words and writings of the great American Master and features GRAMMY®-winning bassist Rob Wasserman’s collaborations with Jackson Browne, Ani DiFranco, Kurt Elling, Michael Franti, Nellie McKay, Tom Morello, Van Dyke Parks, Madeleine Peyroux, Lou Reed, Pete Seeger, Studs Terkel, Tony Trischka, and Chris Whitley.  The release is the first of a series of events leading up to the 2012 centennial celebration of Guthrie’s birth.on-cd-note-of-hope

The tracks, primarily unpublished Guthrie writings, were penned between 1942 and 1954 while he was living in New York City and Brooklyn. The project was conceived by Nora Guthrie, Woody’s daughter, who, inspired by the work of renowned bassist Rob Wasserman, asked him to lead the project. Together the two ~ along with music production company Steep Inc. ~ recruited a stellar group of artists uniquely suited to bringing Guthrie’s words alive.

“I always felt that Rob Wasserman’s bass is one of the great companions to all words, having worked with so many great wordsmiths over the years,” recalls Nora Guthrie. “Each of the artists we invited to collaborate were masterful writers in their own right, with a unique and distinctive voice that stands apart from all others.”

“The words Nora found are timeless and more relevant than ever ~ it seems like Woody could see the future,” says Rob Wasserman. A consummate collaborator, Wasserman is perhaps best known for the series of GRAMMY® award-winning albums Solo, Duets and Trios, which feature him on bass alongside Neil Young, Jerry Garcia, Les Claypool, Rickie Lee Jones, Elvis Costello, Willie Dixon, Stephane Grappelli, Brian Wilson and others. He has also worked with Lou Reed, The Mark Morris Dance Group, and Bob Weir, first as a partner in the duo Weir/Wasserman, and later in the band they founded together, RatDog.

The collection kicks off with the evocative Van Dyke Parks’ instrumental arrangement “The Note of Hope” and closes with “You Know the Night,” contributed by Jackson Browne. The latter, based on a 30-page notebook entry, is an exquisite, epic love song recalling the evening when Woody first met Marjorie Mazia, his second wife.

Guthrie always contended that he found his own voice by listening to the men, women and children he crossed paths with and Ani DiFranco’s half spoken/half sung “Voice” demonstrates just how valuable these conversations were ~ not only to his creative process, but to his understanding of life. His tales of working class characters ring as true today as when they were written. In Lou Reed’s “The Debt I Owe,” a man wanders around Coney Island, unsettled by the realization that his karmic debt outweighs even his financial liabilities while Madeleine Peyroux’s sultry “Wild Card in the Hole” warns that “Times are getting hard, folks/they might get harder still/no matter who wins office in that big house on the hill.”

note-of-hope-cdThe legendary singer-songwriter Pete Seeger, who became a close friend of Guthrie’s after meeting him at a 1940 benefit concert for migrant workers, and Tony Trischka ~ named “the godfather of what’s sometimes called new acoustic music” by The New York Times ~ contribute the transcendent “There’s a Feeling in the Music.” Michael Franti captures Guthrie’s earthy sensuality in the percolating “Union Love Juice” while Tom Morello yearns for an equally progressive woman in “Ease My Revolutionary Mind.” Kurt Elling’s funky, inspired performance of Guthrie’s “Peace Pin Boogie” is a tongue-in-cheek look at the rewards of being politically correct. Chris Whitley examines the jagged edges of a relationship in the breathtaking talking blues number “On The High Lonesome,” recorded shortly before his death.

Other highlights include Nellie McKay’s “Old Folks,” a meditation on aging, and “I Heard A Man Talking,” wherein the late Pulitzer Prize winning author Studs Terkel recounts an exchange between a petty thief and a barfly over music that might have been heard in a Beat-era coffee house.

Woody Guthrie, born on July 14th, 1912 in Okemah, Oklahoma, is widely regarded as America’s greatest folksinger. He wrote over 3,000 songs in his lifetime, including “This Land Is Your Land,” which became America’s unofficial national anthem, and such standards as “Pretty Boy Floyd,” “Pastures of Plenty,” “Going Down The Road,” “Hard Travelin’,” “Jesus Christ,” “I Ain’t Got No Home,” “Deportee,” “Roll On Columbia,” “Vigilante Man,” “Do Re Mi,” “Tom Joad,” “Union Maid,” “1913 Massacre,” “This Train Is Bound For Glory,” “Oklahoma Hills” and “Riding In My Car.”

The GRAMMY Museum, in conjunction with Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc. and the Woody Guthrie Archives, will celebrate Guthrie’s extraordinary body of work and impact on American music with a centennial celebration that kicked off this February.  Unique in scope, the yearlong celebration will include a host of tribute concerts, educational curricula, lectures, conferences, a touring exhibition, grassroots hootenannies and more. These and other centennial events will be tracked on a special anniversary website, www.woody100.com, that launched on July 14 of last year.

For more information on Note Of Hope, visit www.429records.com.

Photograph by Robin Carson. Courtesy of the Woody Guthrie Archives

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