Arlo Guthrie - Live in Sydney
Arlo Guthrie's first album came out in 1967, the unassuming and charming Alice's Restaurant, and what is truly remarkable is how fully formed his approach to music was right from the start. Maybe more than any other singer and songwriter of his generation, Arlo instinctively understood the value of deliberate and informed nostalgia, which has kept his material oddly fresh and timeless, and while many of his contemporaries have run themselves ragged trying to change with the times, Arlo simply casts a bemused eye on what is going on around him, and uses the old songs and his wry, hilarious song introductions to comment on it all. It helps, too, that he is the best interpreter of his father's songs, and to hear Arlo Guthrie sing a Woody Guthrie song is to hear it wonderfully close to its original source. This charming two-disc set is drawn from a concert Arlo did in Sydney, Australia, in 2004, and hearing it is like spending an evening with an old friend. Accompanied by his son, Abe Guthrie, on keyboards, and Gordon Titcomb on pedal steel and mandolin, Arlo reminisces, wonders aloud, and chuckles his way through a set that unfolds as naturally as a summer's night, playing a couple of his father's songs, "Oklahoma Hills" and "This Land Is Your Land" (complete with a long spoken word interjection about American presidents that brings home the essential and important premise of the song), a few of his own songs (including one of his finest, "Highway in the Wind"), a traditional song or two ("St. James Infirmary," "Green Green Rocky Road"), and pays tribute to friends Steve Goodman ("City of New Orleans") and Derroll Adams (the striking and poignant "Portland Town"). In between he manages to tell stories about Ramblin' Jack Elliott, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Dolly Parton while reflecting on everything from airport security to the difficulty he has in remembering the words to his timeless epic, "Alice's Restaurant." He has even come up with a way to do "Alice" without actually doing "Alice" ("Remembering Alice") that is as ingenious as it is delightful. Arlo's hair may be snow white now, and his voice may be full of a little more gravel (he sounds, as he always has, like a slightly bemused Bruce Dern), but he still delivers the kind of set he did 40 years ago, only with the song introductions lovingly adjusted for time and distance, and everyone is blessed to have him still doing it, a sort of steady and trusted barometer of the times. Alice is immortal at this point, and here's hoping Arlo is, too.