Joel Rafael's The Songs of Woody Guthrie, Vols. 1 & 2 (Inside Recordings, reissued in 2009).
For whatever reason (two CDs, probably), I wasn't in a hurry to hear it, but in Olympia this coming Friday, the Washington Center is hosting a Guthrie tribute, "Ribbon of Highway," which includes Rafael.
So I pulled out the music, and is it ever good! Originally released in 2003 and 2005, Rafael's gentle but dead-on renditions of some of these forgotten classics are calm yet pointed. In a singing voice that resembles James McMurtry's, he's brought out tunes that casual Guthrie interpreters are afraid of: "1913 Massacre," "Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)" ("Massacre" and "Wreck" in the titles don't even begin to address the injustices here), and "I Ain't Got No Home," where a drifter, and this could be most anyone in these tough times, is hassled by authorities.
The songs are rendered with beautiful, spare arrangements, and Rafael's personal tales click, too. At the end of "Talking Oklahoma Hills," Rafael sings the chorus of the poem Woody wrote that was adapted by his cousin, Jack Guthrie, and turned into a hit,
"Oklahoma Hills." Jack might have been a Western Swing or Country star (he was attuned to the Pop market, unlike Woody) had he not died from T.B. in the late '40s.
I'm also intrigued by "Dance a Little Longer," credited to Guthrie/Rafael, which bears a strong resemblance to Bob Wills' "Stay a Little Longer." Which song influenced the other? Like the album itself, we've got something to check out here.
As Joel Rafael says, "Will Rogers was the most famous Oklahoman in the country.
But Woody Guthrie is the most famous Oklahoman in the world."