Farrar/Johnson/Parker/Yames - New Multitudes
Record Label: Rounder
Release Date: Feb. 28, 2012
There's no denying the imprint American icon Woody Guthrie left on scores of musicians since his untimely death in 1967. Since that ill-fated day, there have been hordes of covers, tribute albums and even documentaries chronicling his wide-ranging power, influence and legacy. As 2012 gets off the ground, add another Guthrie tribute disc to the lot: New Multitudes.
This intimate and inspiring effort features the talents of My Morning Jacket's Jim James (performing under his pseudonym Yim Yames), Son Volt's Jay Farrar, Centro-Matic's Will Johnson and Gob Iron's Anders Parker. The 12 songs are drawn from lyrics Guthrie wrote but never recorded. Each of the four musicians, handpicked by Nora Guthrie, lend their voice to three songs and well, the results are quite stirring.
Farrar opens things up with the buoyant and bristling "Hoping Machine." It's everything one would come to expect from a Guthrie collection. Winsome, windswept and wonderfully enchanting. As an opening salvo, there are few if any as good as "Hoping Machine." The soft and simple voice of Anders Parker unravels on "Fly High," a homespun and intricate affair that feels a bit misplaced here. Certainly it's a nice composition but it pales in comparison to the halcyon heights of "Hoping Machine."
Alas, the disappointment does not last long as the heavens open for Yim Yames' hypnotic tour-de-force "My Revolutionary Mind." Incredibly spellbinding, engrossing and deeply moving, "My Revolutionary Mind," represents the album's first wow moment. The gruff vocals of Will Johnson push things forward urgently on the bar-room rocker "VD City," which serves as New Multitudes' first true toe-tapping number.
New Multitudes' second act embarks with "Old L.A," Parker's second song and a far more poignant and powerful performance than the tepid and underwhelming "Fly High." And then once again, the heavens open as Yames' caterwauls on the mesmerizing "Talking Empty Bed Blues." At this point in the disc it feels as if Yames is about to take center stage and steal away the spotlight from the other three. And while it is certainly true that New Multitudes has had many solid moments thus far, few can compare with Johnson's incredibly moving ballad "Chlorine."
That the song comes in the disc's middle half allows it to ostensibly serve as the album's apex and centerpiece. Slow-moving, saturnine and deeply affecting it is a deeply enveloping listen and veritable proof that these four musicians have tapped into something truly profound. New Multitudes' second act closes with the Farrar ballad "Careless Reckless Love," a lovelorn exercise replete with heartsick lyrics and a maudlin melody that only someone like Farrar could execute.
Dark dense guitars and an undeniable swagger adorn Yames' gruff "Angel's Blues," which spits and kicks with more tenacity than any other track on this collection. Dusty acoustic guitars welcome the rousing singalong "No Fear," a song which begins mildly and morphs into something nearly revelatory. Aided by gang vocals and a rousing conclusion, "No Fear,'" shows how these four songwriters have once again truly tapped into something special.
Penultimate cut "Changing World" is another fine addition to the catalog but does not do much to bolster its credibility. That is not to say that it's a bad song, it just suffers from being placed alongside some truly transcendent works. And as one might expect, Farrar, who has publicly admitted his reverence for Guthrie and originally conceived this disc as a solo effort, closes things out with the title track, a piercing and pointed paean to hope.
While Farrar had chased down Guthrie's ghost on Son Volt's Okemah and The Melody of Riot, that vision is more elucidated this time around. Additionally, Parker and Johnson, who remain on the periphery of the alt. country landscape, have added a sterling work to their respective careers. But the true star of New Multitudes is Kentucky's own Yim Yames. Entrancing, hypnotic and deeply moving, his three songs give a life and vibrancy to this collection that even the immensely talented Farrar could not do.
But make no mistake, these 12 songs do not solely belong to Yames. This is a quartet of incredibly seasoned musicians coming together to celebrate one of America's true icons. When all is said and done, New Multitudes is a staggering work and a crowning achievement. Truth be told, there might not be a finer alt. country record released this year. You can set that in stone.
I'm one of the biggest Bob Dylan fans, so naturally I'm equally mystified by Mr. Guthrie, his story and, of course, his songs. I got into Dust Bowl Ballads first them moved on to his lengthy Library of Congress recordings that has songs as well as telling interviews. The man is such an American legend. Everything he did, said and stood for bled Americana, both the pain and the adventure. In my mind he is as important as any American that ever lived.
I'm excited to hear this collection. I love Farrar's voice, and Son Volt, so I'm most excited to hear his takes. It's really special they were chosen by a Guthrie for the project. What an honor.
Great review. More people should listen to the tales of Mr. Guthrie.