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Our Music Year No. 195: Woody Guthrie, ‘Dust Bowl Ballads’

By From page C2 | July 14, 2013

Artist: Woody Guthrie
Title: “Dust Bowl Ballads”
Year: 1940
Format: Spotify
Grade: A-

Today marks 101 years since the birth of one of the most famous natives of Okemah, Okla., Woody Guthrie.

One of Guthrie’s finest efforts was “Dust Bowl Ballads,” initially issued as two, three-disc 78 RPM albums. (Vol. 2 is pictured.)

Aside from being the oldest record I’ve listened to in its entirety, “Dust Bowl Ballads” also has the distinction of being one of the first concept albums. Guthrie retells his decision to leave Depression-era Oklahoma for California.

In a two-song set, he sings of Tom Joad, the pivotal, fictional, central character from John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” – a book released a few months before this album was recorded.

Guthrie established a blueprint for folk singers that would be duplicated over the next two decades. See “Talkin’ Dust Bowl Blues” to see how Bob Dylan emulated Guthrie, even down to the manner in which he titled songs.

Having lived through the hardships of the Depression and been an “Okie” gives Guthrie’s words an authenticity. “They say I’m a dust bowl refugee . . . I’m looking for a job and honest pay,” he sings.

It may not sound revolutionary now, but in 1940, Guthrie’s “Dust Bowl Ballads” was a daring work that talked of contemporary issues.

Our Music Year is Daily Republic popular culture writer Nick DeCicco’s yearlong online review in 2012 of albums he had previously not listened to. The reviews will appear in print on their corresponding days during 2013. Reach him at 427-6966 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ndeciccodr.

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco

Nick DeCicco is the editor of the Tailwind and writes the pop culture blog/column For Those About to Rock. Before joining the DR staff in July 2007, DeCicco (pronounced Deh-CEE-Coh) worked at The Union in Grass Valley, Calif., and the Greeley Tribune in Greeley, Colo. A 2004 graduate of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, DeCicco spends his free time attending concerts, listening to music, going to movies, traveling and hiking.
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