Arlo albums are perfect Sunday morning records.
They are contemplative and more than a little spiritual (though the spirituality may be secular or not of one religion if that makes any sense).
His music, like a Catholic mass (the only mass I can refer to), seems to refer to and reference the past, talk about the pain and struggle of the present, and look forward to a better and brighter future through ones actions.
It’s not a solemn mass though but rather a family mass with kids, laughing, crying, misbehaving. There are jokes, there is humour and there is tea and biscuits and a discussion afterwards. There is a little irreverence and a lot of informality becoming earthiness.
I’m not sure what Arlo, the Jewish, Catholic, Hindu spiritualist, would make of that analogy but since he’s not likely to read this it doesn’t matter.
I will however explain myself.
Arlo’s music is like (and draws on) family and community. Not a nuclear family but an extended one that not only encompasses relatives, but friends, community and it’s institutions like churches, schools etc.
Arlo is, in some ways, the aural equivalent of a John Ford film.
And this is something I associate with Sunday mornings… a Sunday morning that still exists despite evil national commercial interests (like Woolworths and Coles here in Australia) extending their trading hours into "the family day".
His preference to an organic, spiritual community comes out in his music, through the recurrent themes, the bounce and pharsing in the voice, the thought in the lyric.
Even the cover art alludes to the family (his son), the past (the old school tools), the struggle of the present (the workingman clothes) and the future (the backdrop which is all clouds and heavens).
Am I reading too much into this?
Maybe, but despite likely calls of "wanker", I say you can see all that there if you look.
With that in mind I find comfort in an Arlo record.
Allmusic sum up this album best in their introductory paragraph of their review: " Arlo Guthrie’s seventh record follows a formula that he’d been developing over the past several years — a handful of interesting originals mixed with a song or two by a legend, something traditional, a couple of jokes, and one of Dad’s tunes. Guthrie’s fondness for nostalgia mixed with his ’60s idealism could turn such predictability into folky mush, but things are kept fresh by his strong sense of tradition, commitment, and taste, along with his growth as an artist in general."
The musicianship is faultless. Check out the personnel on this album (most will have wikipedia entries) : Arlo Guthrie – vocals, guitar / Doug Dillard – banjo, guitar/ Buddy Emmons – guitar/ Rev. James Cleveland – choir master/ Ry Cooder – guitar/ Jesse Ed Davis – guitar/ Clydie King – vocals/ Jim Keltner – drums/ Nick DeCaro – accordion, orchestration/ Spooner Oldham – guitar/ John Pilla – guitar/ Jessica Smith – vocals/ Southern California Community Choir – chorus.
For biographical detail search my other reviews on this blog.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Won’t Be Long - (Arlo Guthrie) -a great song about getting back to one’s love, and one’s family.
- Presidential Rag – (Arlo Guthrie) -a rockier number with a lyric which is of its time but still relevant today.
- Deportees - (Woody Guthrie / Martin Hoffman) - One of Woody’ Guthrie’s greatest songs. Given a great version here. Near perfect.
- Children of Abraham – (Arlo Guthrie) – a spiritual number with a plea for middle east peace.
- Nostalgia Rag – (Arlo Guthrie) – a bluesy rag with more than a hint of Randy Newman.
- When the Cactus Is in Bloom -(Jimmie Rodgers)- the old Jimmie Rodgers song also done by Bill Monroe and jack Guthrie (Woody’s cousin). It’s very Jimmie with the trademark yodelling and old timey country sound. In it’s own way its captivating.
- Me and My Goose – (Arlo Guthrie) – a humorous variation on "Old Shep". Aimed at kids but it would terrify them.
- Bling Blang – (Woody Guthrie) – one of Woody’s songs that appeals to both children and adults with a catchy kid friendly chorus and some darker lyrics in the verse
- Go Down Moses – (Traditional) – The old Afro-American spiritual, made famous by Paul Robeson and later, Louis Armstrong.
- Hard Times - (Ray Charles / Arlo Guthrie – / Stony Browder Jr. / Darryl McDaniels / Joseph Simmons / W. Warring)- a bouncy mountain song with potent, though humorous, lyrics. Not the same song as Woody’s famous "Hard Times", or Ray Charles’ song of the same title.
- Last to Leave - (Arlo Guthrie) – quite melancholy
Many friends come and go,
You know there’s a lot of feelings that I’ve left behind,
And it’s a lonely world, I know,
When your friends are hard to find.
But take the time, my memory fails,
And soak my eyes in the morning rain,
Like a sailor, sailing over Jordan,
On the road back home again.
Oh, I’m the last to leave.
Would these ribbon highway roads
Be less wonderful to me?
Why must I always be so slow?
A good ‘un…. I’m keeping it.
1974 The Billboard 200 #165
Me and My Goose
Last to Leave
Arlo does Elvis (again) with Pete Seeger!