There are umpteen collections of the music of legendary folkie storyteller, agitator and Dylan role model Woody Guthrie, and almost all of them sound like they were recorded in a refrigerator box. But this one qualifies as genuine news. The back story is a crate-digger’s wet dream: cardboard drums filled with pristine 78-rpm metal masters, given up for lost long ago, were found in the basement storage bin of a Brooklyn apartment belonging to an Italian lady who inherited them from the daughter-in-law of a business partner of Folkways Records guru Moses Asch.
The 54 songs on My Dusty Road, most of them familiar, are part of roughly 250 tracks — many featuring second guitarist Cisco Houston and harmonica man Sonny Terry — recorded over a six-day marathon in New York in 1944, during the thick of World War II. The sound quality is astonishing. On songs such as “This Land Is Your Land,” “Stackolee” and”Pretty Boy Floyd,” fingerpicked melodic fills emerge from surface noise, vocals step up toshake your hand. It’s the sound of Guthrie as a man, not a ghost. In addition to extravagantpackaging (four discs and a couple of archival postcard repros in a hobo-style cardboard valise), there are a half-dozen unreleased tracks. The most impressive are “Tear the Fascists Down,” a no-shit bit of wartime cheerleading, and “Bad Repetation” [sic], a nudge-winker about romantic problems one of the occupational hazards for a trouble-courting troubadour never afraid to sing exactly what was on his mind.