I recall having this album a long time ago but it was so hacked up it was barely listenable. I can put up with a fair bit of crackle and pop but sometimes it gets too distracting and I didn't appreciate the record.
I, also and differently, recall having this album a long time ago and it was pretty scratchy. That and the fact I didn't know where Arlo was coming form didn't allow me to give the record a fair go.
Who knows what was the position but once I got on board I was hooked. So, I'm happy to have come across this, again.
Check out my other comments for Arlo biographical detail but suffice it for me say that Arlo was the son of folk legend Woody Guthrie. Arlo was inspired by his father, Bob Dylan and American music in all it's forms: folk, country, rhythm and blues, gospel trad pop, tin pan alley, ragtime, rock n roll. More often than not the is referred to as a folkie and I suppose, in some ways, he is but his folk is of the post Dylan not pre Dylan traditional variety. None of his folk sounds like The Kingston Trio if you know what I mean.
Guthrie is better labelled Americana.
Like most Americana artists some albums will lean more to folk, others to country, others to ragtime or blues.
Likewise, like most Americana artists there is relatively little commercial success regardless of which way you lean..
What there is, though, is an audience who is always willing to see you regardless how small they are.
Allmusic allude to this themselves: "Is it possible to be a one-hit wonder three times? The question is provoked by the recording career of Arlo Guthrie, which is best remembered for three songs in three different contexts. There is "The City of New Orleans," Guthrie's only Top 40 hit, which earns him an entry in Wayne Jancik's The Billboard Book of One-Hit Wonders. There is also "Coming into Los Angeles," which Guthrie sang at the legendary Woodstock music festival, and which featured prominently in both the Woodstock movie and multi-platinum soundtrack album. And there is "Alice's Restaurant Massacree," the comic-monologue-in-song that gave him his initial fame and took up the first side of his debut LP, the million-selling Alice's Restaurant. Whether these successful tracks make him a one-, two-, or three-hit wonder, they were arguably both flukes in a performing career that was still going strong a full 40 years after Guthrie first gained national recognition and facilitators of that career. With their help, he spent 15 years signed to a major record label, charting 11 LPs, after which he was able to set up his own label and go on issuing albums. More significant, he maintained a steady following as a live performer, touring worldwide year after year to play before audiences delighted by his humorous persona and his musical mixture of folk, rock, country, blues, and gospel styles in songs almost equally divided between his own originals and well-chosen cover tunes".
This album has Guthrie at his most identifiable but I think just before the height of his powers. At that place in time lasting commercial success was still a real possibility. Music was open and the audience was large and receptive. One could sing anything.
Glam, disco and 70s excess put an end to that and to Arlo's musical commercial success.
But, here you can hear a young man, already well versed in the Americana song book, whether they be covers or originals that sound like they came back from the past, singing as if music transcends time.
Arlo leans towards country on this album. Not the country of lap steel, twang and barrooms but the urban country of isolation, loneliness and uncertain futures in a hostile environment. It's the music of escaping to the past and moving to the country and hopefully finding happiness and peace.
The musicians backing him (see trivia end note) are legends at their craft and all crack musicians at country rock stylings. The album was recorded in California I assume … where else could you get a smattering of Elvis' touring band (Burton, Scheff), a couple of Byrds (Parsons, White) and other assorted legends (Cooder, Gordon) all playing on the one record?
That was meant to be a rhetorical question but I suppose I can answer it with … maybe Nashville.
Arlo's country rock isn't cosmic like Parsons, eccentric like Michel Nesmith or as melodic as the Byrds. He is much too traditional for that but what he does have is good taste and a strong sense of musical history and at the age of 22 that is admirable.
The album isn't perfect but it sure is pleasant while it's on.
Lenny Waronker (fresh from producing the Beau Brummels, Randy Newman, The Everly Brothers (their roots album called "Roots") , Harpers Bizarre and Van Dyke Parks) and Van Dyke Parks (fresh fro recording Randy Newman but before going on to record and work with all sorts of American musicians) produced this.
All tracks composed by Arlo Guthrie except where noted:
Tracks (best in italics)
- Oklahoma Hills – (Woody Guthrie, Jack Guthrie) – a great tune written by Woody with some new lyrics added by his cousin later. The big version is by hank Thompson from 1961 (#10 Country). A great song and an ode to "home" and "place". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma_Hills
- Every Hand in the Land – not especially memorable but quite enjoyable when it's on
- Creole Belle – (Mississippi John Hurt) – a gentle folk blues tune originally by Afro-American Mississippi John Hurt. Arlo does the sing well.
- Wheel of Fortune – filler perhaps but bouncy enough.
- Oh, in the Morning – a Dylan like confessional tune. Quite beautiful.
- Coming into Los Angeles – can you name a better song about importing drugs into LA? Seriously, this is a great tune with some great playing.
- Stealin' – (Gus Cannon) – an old jug band folk song of unknown authorship though Gus Cannon gets credited a lot. The Memphis Jug Band's version post dates his career peak (1928) but is the most identifiable early version pf the song. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stealin'
- My Front Pages – a response or dig at Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages"(1964)? Or, perhaps, a reference to The Byrds version (1967) of the Dylan song. This is folk rock and very well done.
- Living in the Country – (Pete Seeger) – Seeger's beautifully evocative instrumental which Arlo has updated.
- Running Down the Road – a real treat and not like anything else on the album with jagged and distorted psychedelic guitar. It's not in your face but it is up front. Nice.
Yessum, a treat …. I'm keeping it.
With Johnny Cash
Coming into Los Angeles
My Front Pages
- Personnel: Arlo Guthrie – vocals, guitar, piano / Clarence White – guitar / Ry Cooder – guitar, mandolin / Gene Parsons – guitar, harmonica / James Burton – guitar / Chris Ethridge – bass / Milt Holland – percussion / Jerry Scheff – bass / John Pilla – guitar / Jim Gordon – drums
- Guthrie's version of "Stealin'" was featured in the Monte Hellman's counter culture film Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).
- The cover (and gatefold) shows Arlo on a Triumph TR6 Trophy motorcycle.
- "Oh, in the Morning" was later (1972) covered by McKendree Spring.
- Prior to the release of this album, Guthrie appeared at the Woodstock festival (on August 15, 1969), where, as part of his set, he performed the then-unreleased "Coming into Los Angeles." After that performance turned up in the Woodstock movie and soundtrack album in May 1970, the tune became one of his signature songs.
RIP: Kim Fowley (1939-2015)