The complex and sometimes mythical legacy of Woody Guthrie remains unsettled because of the thousands of scraps of paper he left behind: songs, or at least lyrics, that touch on every subject he ever cared to address.
The latest project to dig into the rich possibility of Woody's left-behind writings comes from Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Will Johnson and Yim Yames, a simpatico foursome who've long walked the troubadour path that Bob Dylan stole from Woody and passed on to generations since.
New Multitudes is more similar to Farrar's 2009 collaboration with Ben Gibbard, the thoughtful One Fast Move or I'm Gone (based on Jack Kerouac's Big Sur), than it is to the Billy Bragg and Wilco Mermaid Avenue recordings that first introduced lyrics from Guthrie's archive. Farrar and his collaborators sought out lyrics that tie together thematically, many of them reflecting on Guthrie's years in California.
As a songwriter, Guthrie could be at turns tender, defiant, funny, passionate, optimistic and righteously angry. New Multitudes is an Americana album that displays those Guthrie contradictions by stringing together electric stomp blues, jangly California folk-rock and string-driven balladry.
Guthrie would be celebrated no matter what in 2012—a century after his humble Oklahoma birth. But in this political climate of occupiers, Guthrie's spirit calling out for "new multitudes" strikes with prescient force. Singing with a hopeful longing, Farrar smartly closes the album with a call for unity and peace—a powerful reminder of Guthrie's legacy.