Smithsonian Folkways To Release 'Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie's 26 Northwest Songs' Jan. 27, a Woody Guthrie, Bonneville Power Administration Celebration
Woody Guthrie traveled to Portland, OR, in the spring of 1941 to write songs for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). Although this phase of his career is not as familiar as others, it was a prolific one, and the 26 songs he penned over 30 days included some of his best-known work: "Pastures of Plenty," "Hard Travelin'," and "Roll On, Columbia, Roll On," which later became the state folk song of Washington.
Now, 75 years later, a group of musicians celebrate this period in the iconic songwriter's life on 'Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie's 26 Northwest Songs.' The two-disc album, out Jan. 27, 2017 (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings) features members of R.E.M., Black Prairie, and The Decemberists; folk veterans like Michael Hurley and David Grisman; and younger players from the Pacific Northwest folk scene. 'Roll Columbia' is the first album to include all of Guthrie's BPA songs, including nine that have never previously been recorded.
A pre-order of the album is available here: s.si.edu/2gTGLJC
The Bonneville Power Administration, a New Deal-era public works agency created in 1937, commissioned Guthrie to write the series of songs to help promote the benefits of dams being constructed along the Columbia River. Renowned ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax had recommended Guthrie for the project, and Guthrie moved from California to Portland, being paid little more than $10 a song for his month's work.
For 'Roll Columbia,' musician and teacher Joe Seamons and folklorist and former BPA employee Bill Murlin enlisted a cross-generational mix of musicians with ties to the Pacific Northwest. Michael Hurley, the 74-year-old veteran of the Greenwich Village scene who released his debut album on Folkways in 1965, begins the collection with a version of "Pastures of Plenty" accompanied by Jon Neufeld of Portland-based folk group Black Prairie. Kate Power and Steve Einhorn, a Portland duo with a background in New York City's '60s folk scene, harmonize on "Roll On, Columbia, Roll On," while Juno-winning roots-music act Pharis & Jason Romero cover "It Takes a Married Man to Sing a Worried Song."
"Like some western Chaucer, Woody assembles a colorful cast of western characters to tell the story of Northwest public power's early days," Lomax wrote in the foreword of a 1987 book compiling the 26 songs. Many of the songs in the cycle borrowed from familiar melodies like "Good Night Irene," "Pretty Polly," "The Wabash Cannonball," and "Mule Skinner Blues."
'Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie's 26 Northwest Songs' features two versions of "Pastures of Plenty" and "Jackhammer Blues" for a total of 28 tracks lasting 104 minutes. A 40-page booklet with liner notes by Seamons, Murlin, and Smithsonian Folkways chief archivist Jeff Place accompanies its two discs. A more in-depth look at the story of these songs and Guthrie's partnership with the BPA is told in Greg Vandy and Daniel Person's recently published 26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie's Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest (Sasquatch Books).
A portion of the proceeds from the 'Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie's 26 Northwest Songs' album project will be used to fund educational music programming in the Pacific Northwest via the Rhapsody Project and the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission.
This collection marks the latest chapter in the rich history between Folkways Records and Woody Guthrie, who is one of the label's foundational figures. Guthrie cut many of his most famous recordings for Folkways founder Moses Asch during the 1940s.
'Roll Columbia: Woody Guthrie's 26 Northwest Songs' Tracklist:
1. Pastures of Plenty - Michael Hurley with Jon Neufeld
2. That Oregon Trail - Pharis & Jason Romero
3. Lumber is King - Cahalen Morrison
4. Out Past the End of the Line - Timberbound
5. Portland Town to Klamath Falls - Tony Furtado with Kristin Andreassen
6. Eleckatricity and All - Annalisa Tornfelt & the Tornfelt Sisters
7. Hard Travelin' - Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons
8. Columbia Talkin' Blues - Carl Allen
9. The Talkin Blues - Al James with John Neufeld
10. Jackhammer Blues - Martha Scanlan & Jon Neufeld
11. Roll On Columbia, Roll On - Kate Power & Steve Einhorn
12. The Biggest Thing That Man Has Ever Done - Caitlin Belem Romtvedt & David Romtvedt
13. Jackhammer Blues - Orville Johnson
14. Guys on the Grand Coulee Dam - Bill Murlin, Jim Portillo & Ron Dalton
15. End of My Line - Timberbound
16. Columbia's Waters - Caitlin Belem Romtvedt & David Romtvedt
17. Ballad of the Great Grand Coulee - Darrin Craig with Jon Neufeld
18. Washington Talkin Blues - Scott McCaughey with Peter Buck & Jon Neufeld
19. It Takes a Married Man to Sing a Worried Song - Pharis & Jason Romero
20. Ramblin' Blues (Portland Town) - Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons
21. New Found Land - John Moen with Chris Funk & Jon Neufeld
22. White Ghost Train - Cahalen Morrison
23. The Song of the Grand Coulee Dam (Way Up in That Northwest) - George Rezendes & David Grisman
24. A Ramblin' Round - John Moen with Chris Funk
25. Roll, Columbia, Roll - Bill Murlin, Jim Portillo & Ron Dalton
26. Grand Coulee Powder Monkey - Scott McCaughey with Peter Buck & Jon Neufeld
27. The Ballad of Jackhammer John - Cahalen Morrison with Joe Seamons & Jon Neufeld
28. Pastures of Plenty - Orville Johnson
About Smithsonian Folkways:
Smithsonian Folkways Recordings is dedicated to supporting cultural diversity and increased understanding among people through the documentation, preservation, production, and dissemination of sound. Part of the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, it is the nonprofit record label of the Smithsonian Institution, the national museum of the United States. NOTE: Smithsonian Folkways Recordings retail distribution in the US is through ADA (Alternative Distribution Alliance) at 800.239.3232. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings releases are available through record and book outlets. Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, as well as Folkways Records, A.R.C.E., Arhoolie, Banjo Builders, Blue Ridge Institute, Cook, Collector, Dyer-Bennet, Fast Folk, I.L.A.M., The Mickey Hart Collection, Monitor, M.O.R.E., Paredon, and UNESCO, are available via mail order at 888.FOLKWAYS or 800.410.9815. Visit the Smithsonian Folkways Recordings website at folkways.si.edu or write to 600 Maryland Ave. SW, Suite 2001, Washington, DC, 20024.
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