Woody Guthrie was not a simple man, and he was driven by energies and demons that even he often didn't understand, but he persisted, pushing himself across every possible creative medium of the times, and his life's work, which begins with his songs (but covers so much more, including an iconic autobiography that was later turned into a movie), made him into one of the most important and vital American artists of the 20th century. He defined an era and culture in transition in his Dust Bowl ballads, outlaw tales, work and labor songs, antiwar songs, children's songs, political songs, and a host of love songs and songs that touched on philosophy, geography, and the hard work of living day to day in an emerging industrial world. He was kind of a maverick troubadour beat journalist, writing and drawing constantly, and new poems, writings, drawings, and even previously unknown songs and recordings have kept turning up even a decade into the 21st century. He was a complicated whirl of energy, and his politics weren't that simple, either. Usually portrayed as a left-leaning Communist, his mind was too restless to be pinned down to any "ism" for very long, and he was really more of a populist and patriot in the Walt Whitman
tradition, believing completely in the equality and level playing field that the Founding Fathers promised America would be, and siding with hard-working families and the desperately poor when America turned out to be infested with legions of bankers, lawyers, and politicians. This six-disc set presents Guthrie's complete sessions for the Library of Congress and Alan Lomax
, as well as the songs he was commissioned to write by the Bonneville Power Administration, plus a handful of songs he wrote for the government's VD education program, and a series of radio skits and other programs he made for the Office of War Information during the Second World War. It presents Guthrie as an American patriot, and one can hardly argue with the designation. He was in the service of his country for all of these recordings, and the key thing to note is that he changed nothing in his approach or delivery to give that service. Guthrie truly believed that songs should be of social service, and when the country asked for his songs, he brought them, as any patriot would. That dozens of these songs are enduring, beautiful, and wise makes Guthrie even more than that. It makes him an American treasure.