It Takes 6 CDs, a DVD, a Book, and a 78 RPM Record to Capture Woody Guthrie

Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Woody Guthrie
American Radical Patriot

With six CDs, a DVD, a 60-page book (plus a 258-page PDF), and a 78 rpm vinyl record—who can even play such a thing these days?—the elaborate American Radical Patriot might seem to miss the point of folksinger Woody Guthrie’s no-nonsense populism. Still, if you know him only as the guy who inspired Bob Dylan, or the impetus for the Billy Bragg-Wilco project Mermaid Avenue, it’s a revelation to hear the source firsthand.

Four of the CDs offer Guthrie’s complete Library of Congress recordings from 1940, featuring five hours of interviews and songs with folklorist Alan Lomax. The entertaining spoken-word segments merit one play, but the music, with its blunt wisdom, flinty wit, and exuberant spirit, bears repeated hearing. There also are songs recorded for the Bonneville Power Administration in the Pacific Northwest, music for an anti-venereal disease campaign, and a radio drama. The 78 backs a Guthrie performance with an oft-bootlegged Dylan cover of his “VD City” from 1961. More than a historical curiosity, American Radical Patriot is essential fare for upstarts of all ages.