Music

Woody Guthrie: Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection

A new collection offers a stellar overview of folk singer Woody Guthrie's brilliant career.


Woody Guthrie
Label: Smithsonian Folkways
Title: Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection
US Release Date: 2012-07-14
UK Release Date: 2012-07-14

July 14, 2012 marks the hundredth anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birth -- a date that seems remarkable not because it’s so distant, but because it’s so recent. Others born that year include John Cheever, Julia Child, and Michelangelo Antonioni, all artists whose work helped define a decade as recent as the 1960s. But Guthrie’s work is tied eternally to the Depression and Dust Bowl of the 1930s. That generational disconnect speaks both to Guthrie’s early success -- he was still in his 20s when he wrote “This Land Is Your Land” and most of the other songs for which he is remembered -- and also to his early demise: he was only 44 years old when he was committed, in 1956, to the first of a series of hospitals where he was treated for the Huntington’s disease that would finally kill him in 1967. *

Listening to Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Collection, the new box set from Smithsonian Folkways, you can hear the distance between Guthrie’s time and our own in the sound of the needle moving through the grooves of the records that serve as its source material. But beneath the pops and crackles you can also hear words and music that might have been written this morning. Take, for example, the opening track, “This Land Is Your Land”. Legend has it Guthrie wrote it as a response to “God Bless America”, Irving Berlin’s still-ubiquitous paean to God and Country. In a way, it succeeded beyond Guthrie’s wildest dreams, becoming almost as well known as Berlin’s song. But, ironically, when it is sung in elementary school classrooms across America, it is usually stripped of its key verses. The first of these, which criticizes the faceless landowners who make up America’s ruling class, is restored on Woody at 100:

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;

Sign was painted, it said private property

But on the other side it didn't say nothing,

That side was made for you and me…

But another verse, which attacks the government itself and its feeble efforts to combat poverty, is still missing:

In the squares of the city, in the shadow of a steeple;

By the relief office, I'd seen my people.

As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,

Is this land made for you and me?

Interestingly, when Bruce Springsteen and Pete Seeger sang this song at the celebration for President Obama’s inauguration on the Capital steps, they restored this verse to its place of honor, and Springsteen called it “the greatest song ever written about our home”. Springsteen, of course, has long been Guthrie’s most vocal modern disciple, from the Reagan era masterpiece Nebraska to this year’s Wrecking Ball.

This missing disaffection gets its due in plenty of other songs on Woody at 100, including “Do-Re-Mi”, which tells the story of Okies trying to find a better life in California, and “I Ain’t Got No Home”, on which Woody sings in a ghostly voice: “Rich man took my home and drove me from my door / And I ain’t got no home in this world anymore." His guitar was, famously, adorned with the words “This machine kills fascists," a slogan which may have been inspired by fighter planes in the Spanish Civil War.

Amazingly, given how many Guthrie sets there have been to date, the folks at Smithsonian Folkways have found some new songs that make their first appearance here. The most memorable of these is “Them Big City Ways”, about a small town boy who moves to the metropolis and gets repossessed almost out of existence, concluding: “Finance man he runs the town / And then working man he gets run down / That’s what I learned watching them big city ways."

If none of the new songs are essential, they’ll still be a boon to completists, while those who only know Guthrie’s most famous songs will get a much more rounded overview from Woody at 100. If, however, you already own one of the other excellent box sets that have come out in the last decade, including The Asch Recordings, Vol. 1-4 (named for Folkways founder Moses Asch, who recorded Guthrie’s greatest material) or the superlative Rounder set My Dusty Road, then this set is an extravagance you probably don’t need, though the 150 page book that comes with it offers a nice pictorial overview of Guthrie’s career.

* It was in one of these hospitals that an unknown 19-year-old who had recently renamed himself Bob Dylan showed up uninvited to meet his hero, an experience he summed up in the final lines of his poem “Last thoughts on Woody Guthrie”:

“…where do you look for this hope that yer seekin' / Where do you look for this lamp that's a-burnin' / Where do you look for this oil well gushin' / Where do you look for this candle that's glowin' / Where do you look for this hope that you know is there … / You can either go to the church of your choice / Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital / You'll find God in the church of your choice / You'll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital / And though it's only my opinion / I may be right or wrong /You'll find them both In the Grand Canyon / At sundown."

10

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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