The Del McCoury Band’s latest release, Del & Woody, pairs original unreleased lyrics by iconic singer/songwriter, musician, and author Woody Guthrie with music by International Bluegrass Hall-of-Famer, Del McCoury.
Arguably, Woody Guthrie has secured his rightful place amongst the most significant American cultural icons of the twentieth century. Interest in his legacy has experienced a marked resurgence throughout the past several decades. Under the careful curation of Guthrie’s daughter, Nora, Woody’s trove of unreleased lyrics and manuscripts has been made available to a younger generation of sympathetic artists for interpretation, including the likes of Billy Bragg, Wilco, Natalie Merchant (10,000 Maniacs), The Klezmatics, Jonatha Brooke, Jay Farrar (Son Volt/Uncle Tupelo/Gob Iron), Anders Parker (Space Needle/Varneline/Gob Iron), Jim James (My Morning Jacket/Monsters of Folk), Will Johnson (Centro-matic/Monsters of Folk) and Woody’s own granddaughter Sara Lee Guthrie and husband/partner Johnny Irion.
Del McCoury’s foray into Woody’s archives at the behest of Nora has produced the penultimate gumbo of Woody’s words set to traditional bluegrass melodies. Del’s use of archetypal chord progressions, acoustic instrumentation and rural vocal harmonies conjures perhaps the most realistic and honest portrayal of Woody’s vision released in the modern era. Album opener, “New York Trains,” proves that some things haven’t changed in nearly three-quarters of a century. Woody’s distinct sense of humor shines as he explains, “The subway trains are crowded and when they make a stop/you’re at the wrong darn station and you’re pushed off by a cop/They heave and push and squeeze and squirm and slip and slide and crowd/and when your station comes along, it’s then you can’t get out.”
The entirety of Del &Woody is a love letter of sorts to the poor and entrenched working class. The protagonist in “Dirty Overhalls” sums things up best when he complains that he, “work[s] like a dog, [and is] …broke all the time.” The narrator in “Government Road,” describes the life of a prisoner working chain gangs, “plowin’ down my buffalo trail [to] build a government road.” In “Ain’t a Gonna Do,” the speaker decries that, “Cornbread and creek water just ain’t a-gonna do.” All the while, each vignette is driven by Del’s fluid guitar-playing and the ace accompaniment of band members Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Rob McCoury (banjo), Alan Bartram (bass), and Jason Carter (fiddle).
Fittingly, the album closes with the frolicking breakneck breakdown of “Hoecake Fritters,” a ditty destined to be a live favorite and, in the truest tradition of folk music, likely to invite myriad interpretation of its own.
Key Tracks: “The Government Road”
“New York Trains”