Thanksgiving is a time to rejoice. It is a time to when we thank god for what we have. Each year, we gather with the family for a big meal of turkey, gravy, stuffing, and all other assortments of food that will make our minds run wild. While it is a time to be appreciative of what you have, it is also a time to break out old but fond traditions. One of the traditions my family celebrates each Thanksgiving is listening to an 18 minute song that is well regarded as an epic ballad of the folk genre…
Arlo Guthrie may be one of the most household names in all of folk, next to Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and his own father, Woody Guthrie. Known for his guitar playing skill and his knack for sharing a joke in the midst of a show, it’s no wonder Arlo is as famous as he is. Being brought up by a strict folk enthusiast, this being his father, Arlo took a liking to folk, since he lived a life that was influenced by his father’s music. Arlo’s music is mostly along the lines of folk, though he does garner other genres into his compositions. Arlo holds a very special place in my understanding of folk music. While I have taken a strong liking for the music of Bob Dylan, the music and stories he create is at points complicated to follow. Guthrie (Arlo) truly got me into folk music. His mellow but rich vocals, unique style for playing the guitar, and his strict flow of music he produces is some of the best in the ever changing genre of folk. Even as of today, at the ripe old age of 59, Arlo is still alive and kicking, currently on tour with his newly formed family band. Attributing to how well of a musician he is, Arlo released a best of album in only ten years after he made his debut record, entitled simply “The Best Of Arlo Guthrie”.
On “The Best Of Arlo Guthrie”, there is a nice balance of musical diversity showcased. While Guthrie can be strictly folk at times, he mixes in the genres of pop, rock, blues, country, and even soul into his music quite often. Because of this, you can see that Guthrie didn’t just cite his dad as his lone influence, but many other musicians outside the boundaries of folk. Cooper’s Lament isn’t as folkish, but mixes rock and soul, giving it a more welcoming feel compared to other Guthrie songs that may come of as cold and harsh. Enter Coming Into Los Angeles. The song almost seems like a mix of Johnny Cash and Neil Young. It blends the concepts of country with raw rock, while encasing a folk groove all at the same time. An odd mix it may come off as, but Coming Into Los Angeles is melodic and listenable all the while. As I stated earlier, Guthrie is also known for his comedy. While Motorcycle (Significance Of The Pickle) Song has the guitar and singing incorporated, it’s more of a comedy sketch. Guthrie often talks during the skit, cracking a joke here and there. It’s almost like an ancestor of current day Stephen Lynch skits, without the dirty slapstick. There’s City Of New Orleans, one of his most well known songs. While you can’t complain about this song’s musical aspect because it is Guthrie at his very best, he brands an American feel that says “Yes, this is about America. You got a problem with it?” As you can see, Guthrie, though rooted very deeply within folk, branches out many a time.
And then of course, there is Arlo’s magnum opus, Alice’s Restaurant. This simple but ever perplexing folk satire, clocking in at 18 minutes, took the folk world by storm, challenging the likes of Bob Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone, and his own father’s This Land Is Your Land. Sure, it isn’t as epic as Like A Rolling Stone and This Land Is Your Land, but it sure got its fair share of attention, mind you. The whole conception of Alice’s Restaurant is vaguely true but centered around exaggeration. Arlo and a couple of his buds are asked by Alice to dump some trash at the local dump, which is closed on Thanksgiving. They are thrown into jail, and plea guilty in court. As for the song itself, one might argue that Alice’s Restaurant drags on for a few minutes to long, but every minute is sprayed with light humor. Arlo plays the same redundant guitar line for 18 minutes, but it never gets old all the while. Adding to the mix is Arlo’s vocals. Airy they may be, but compelling is what they come off as. At times, Guthrie even hints a touch of foolhardiness in his voice. Over the years, Alice’s Restaurant has been one of those folk songs that has always stayed fresh in our head, no matter how old school it may be.
As a lyricist, Arlo is second in the genre of folk, only to the great Bob Dylan. Arlo can write a song that will bring tears to the eyes of many, while at the same time, compose a song that has a simple but heart warming message, getting the point across in a simple stroke of the guitar strings. There are many obvious messages in his songs, varying from the always debated subject of religion, to the unstable government, a subject Bob Dylan has familiarized with the genre of folk a little to well. On Gabriel’s Mother’s Hiway Ballad #16 Blues, it’s very obvious to see the connection Guthrie is making to religion, Jesus, and heaven.
“I don't know but I've been told
Come on, children, come on
That the streets of heaven have all been sold
Come on, children, come on
Come on, children, all come home
Jesus gonna make you well
Come on, people, now its time to go
Go to where a man can dwell”
Arlo’s lyrics might come off as the best trait he bares, as well as the most enticing. He encompasses a world of wonders and mysteries in every song that rolls off of his guitar and tongue. He also adds a tinge of the American Dream into each of his ballads, often talking about the rolling pastures of the mid-west, riding motorcycles into thought provoking cities around the country, and other varying subjects. All of those lyrical enthusiasts who give “The Best Of Arlo Guthrie” a listen will find themselves very pleased at the end of their listen.
Beware, folk fans who expect this to be a generic album will be surprised, for better or for worse. Though the folk scene may be watered down with generic records that are full of sluggish riffs and lousy vocals, this record is isolated from the others. Afterall, it is Arlo Guthrie, one of the most prestigious folk artists of all time. Guthrie isn’t a prototypical folk musician, but a profound folk artist instead. In fact, “The Best Of Arlo Guthrie” is folk music at its best. Though he is no Bob Dylan, Arlo incorporates his music with a healthy serving of clean guitar riffs and eloquent vocals. While Arlo may be rooted in the folk of yesteryear, he branches out, encasing different atmospheres in each song. All in all, “The Best Of Arlo Guthrie” is easy to swallow in one sit down. Guthrie outdoes himself yet again in this best of compilation, a true must have for that special folkie in your life.
Alice’s Restaurant Massacree
City Of New Orleans
Last To Leave