"Washington County" is Arlo's fourth album and third studio album.
Arlo had already proven himself as a voice separate to that of his father, folk legend Woody Guthrie.
Here at the age of 23, at the dawn of the 1970s what was ahead?
The Vietnam War was still raging, Nixon was popping, environmental degradation was becoming clearly noticeable, urban slums were the norm, unemployment was rising, drug addiction was evident, rioting and civil disobedience were common occurrences.
America was not in a good way
For so many of America's youth the future lay in the past. An agrarian past. A life in the country where things were simple(r) and people largely left you alone. Traditional community values from years past was espoused (and communal living values of more recent vintage were on occasion encouraged)..
In some ways it was a retreat from the world's problems but in some ways it was also an attack on consumerist late 20th century capitalist America. If enough people went back to the earth, moved away from technology, stopped chasing the dollar, appreciated the world around them, became more spiritual then the system would collapse.
It was a step to one side of the hippie movement or at least the hippie movement grown up. Hedonism wasn't the only object. Community and family also played a part.
Did it work?
Well, I leave that to others to argue.
With the movement came music. The music of old America. Country sounds had been filtering their way down to the rock and pop youth for a few years as had folk sounds. Old country and Americana through The Band, Jim Kweskin, Bob Dylan and others were added to the pot. Arlo had been in the thick of this, and importantly had the right pedigree and a great ear.
Arlo, as an individualist, as a result of his lineage and as a product of his times soaked all this up. He also soaked up the influences of the emerging singer-songwriter movement and its honest confessional song writing style. Over the top he overlaid a dose of spirituality. Old time country came with a slab of religion, and the seventies back to the earth movement had its fair share of "Jesus freaks" preaching the values of agrarian community and pacifism so it is natural that Arlo was exposed to and accepted that. After all what is wrong with tilling the land and pacifism?
For a kid who was bar mitzvahed there are a lot of Christian references (though Arlo later converted to Catholicism, before becoming interfaith) in the album, such as on "Gabriel Mother's Highway Ballad #16 Blues" ("Come on children, all come home, Jesus gonna make you well"), "Valley To Pray'" ("I went down to the valley to pray, learnin' about the good old way", and "who will wear the starry crown, Oh, Lord, show me the way"), and "I Could Be Singing"' ("You and your friends have a party, Welcome your heavenly Dad").
But Arlo isn't a Christian singer. This is a young person looking at the world around him. There are songs about the world, protest songs and love songs. They are themes he'd done before in his album " Running Down the Road" (1969), and perhaps with a little more success but Arlo shows that here he still has songs in the same theme left in him..
The musicians employed on this album brought out the best of these sounds. They were (or were to be in) some of the greats in country or country rock… Hoyt Axton, Ry Cooder, Doug Dillard, Chris Ethridge (Flying Burrito Brothers), Richard Hayward (Little Feat), Clarence White (Byrds).
The country air and positive spirituality must have worked wonders because there is an optimism on this album which makes you want to go out and buy a farm, or at least weed the vegetable patch.
It soothes the brain (and makes me want to finish writing this dumb arsed blog entry that much quicker)
Come on, put down your iPhone, android, touch screen, walk way from your PC, laptop ….put on this piece on vinyl, loud enough to hear, get in the yard, lie in the sun ….
Check out my other comments for detail on Arlo.
All songs by Arlo unless otherwise noted.
Tracks (best in italics)
- Introduction – a nice, err introduction, It sounds a little like what Ray Davies was thinking about in his Muswell Hill country daydreams in London.
- Fencepost Blues – a nice mid tempo rural rocker.
- Gabriel's Mother's Highway Ballad # Blues – singer-songwriter gone country and religios. A ple for heaven on earth
- Washington County – a excellent banjo instrumental
- Valley to Pray – (Arlo Guthrie, Doc Watson, John Pilla) – a bouncy jaunt co-written with the great Doc Watson. Pretty clear in its statement of intent.
- Lay Down Little Doggies – (Woody Guthrie) – a cover of a cowboy song written by his father. Beautiful. The "doggies" of the title are cattle or more specifically a orphan calves which was sometimes referred to as a dogies.
- I Could Be Singing – A pointed song, not a call to arms but, certainly, a exclamation that a new world is a coming
- If You Would Just Drop By – Arlo attempts David Ackles
- Percy's Song – (Bob Dylan) – unreleased by Dylan till 1985. Fairport Convention released it on their album "Unhalfbricking "(1969) and Joan Baez sang it in the Dylan live film " Dont Look Back" (1967). A beautiful song about the trial of the only survivor of a car crash, the driver, told from his friends point of view.
- I Want to Be Around – another there is a "new world" a coming song. Beautiful. Okay, it may never have come but listening this you think it could have.
Another winner from Arlo … I'm keeping it.
Lay Down Little Doggies
I Could Be Singing
I Want to Be Around
- Produced by Lenny Waronker and John Pilla