The Del McCoury Band
Del and Woody
5 stars (out of 5)
By Aaron Keith Harris
Pairing the unambiguously political Woody Guthrie with bluegrass music, which is perhaps the least political of all modern music genres, might sound like an odd one at first, but Guthrie’s music does have plenty in common with bluegrass.
Guthrie’s tales on his fellow Okies and their odyssey of escaping the Dust Bowl to look for work in California foreshadow songs by the likes on Bill Monroe and Carter Stanley that documented the Appalachian migration to the factory towns of the Rust Belt. The biggest difference between the two viewpoints was that Guthrie was looking forward stridently—and perhaps naively—to a revolutionary transformation of industrial, urban America, while the bluegrass poets offered nostalgia for times and places not touched by it.
Though he’s as old-school bluegrass as it gets, Del McCoury was an inspired choice to be tasked with setting these 12 sets of lyrics to music. He’s been remarkably deft when reaching outside his familiar musical confines, from covering songs by Tom Petty, Robert Cray, and Richard Thompson to his peerless collaboration with Texas songwriter Steve Earle on The Mountain (1999).
Sung in Del’s ebullient tenor and played by the most formidable bluegrass band of the last 30 years, Del and Woody animates Guthrie’s words with the spirit and sound of Bill Monroe.
“The New York Trains,” “Cheap Mike,” “California Gold,” and “Wimmin’s Hats” are comedies in miniature of the bumpkin-goes-to-the-big-city variety, made more clever by McCoury’s irrepressible tenor.
The band shows off their trademark hard-driving double-time sound on “Ain’t A Gonna Do,” “Hoecake Fritters,” and “Dirty Overhalls,” while “Left in This World Alone” and “The Government Road” are perfect showcases for the bluesy mandolin and fiddle work that Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter bring to tunes in three-quarter time.
Filled out with a killer love song “Because You Took Me in Out of the Rain”), and a trio of tear-jerkers (“Little Fellow” and “Family Reunion”), the 12-song Del and Woody is an instant classic in both folk and bluegrass music.