The agit-pop songwriter of "This Land Is Your Land," "Going Down the Road," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "Philadelphia Lawyer," and a passel of other bedrock American folk classics carried a business card that identified him as "Woody, Th' Dustiest of the Dustbowlers." This 54-song collection blows some of that dust off Guthrie's legacy through a surprising Boston connection. The recordings were made from superbly preserved 1940s metal masters — the plates from which vinyl records were pressed — that had been bequeathed to a relative of Boston rock-band manager Michael Creamer, who took them to locally based bastion of folk Rounder Records.
What's cool about this box of recordings originally made for the Stinson label is the clarity of the performances. They're far better than earlier LP and CD incarnations, which suffered from poor mastering, vinyl transfers, the low quality of domestic vinyl during World War II, or any combination of the above. The blueprint for the '60s folk revival lies here in the clear unveiling of Guthrie's dry bark and tough vanilla picking, and in his tales of open spaces ("Chisholm Trail") and social conflict ("Tear the Fascists Down" and plenty more).
There are two previously unreleased tunes: "Sonny's Flight" is a showcase for his pal bluesman Sonny Terry's frenetic, eloquent harmonica; "Bad Repetation" [sic] is a comic tale he spins in a corn shucker's drawl. There are also newly unearthed — maybe the correct term is "unbasemented" — versions of "Guitar Rag," "Brown's Ferry Blues," "Tear the Fascists Down," and "You Can Hear My Whistle Blow." Paired with an artful book that spins the tale of these sides and their place in Woody's world by Guthrie historian Ed Cray and Rounder co-founder Bill Nowlin, these four CDs are a superb introduction to an artist whose influence extends to Dylan, Springsteen, and, indeed, nearly all American music that followed on his dusty heels.