In Opening Track, we take an early look at a forthcoming record that we’re excited about. Today, we check in with an Americana supergroup made up of Jay Farrar, Centro-Matic's Will Johnson, Varnaline's Anders Parker, and My Morning Jacket's Jim James (billed as Yim Yames), who team up for the Woody Guthrie-inspired New Multitudes, which comes out Feb. 28.
Why we're excited: The talent involved involved in New Multitudes speaks for itself. The concept is also intriguing (and well-tested): Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora opened up her father's archives of previously unrecorded lyrics, and invited the songwriters to turn them into new compositions.
What we've heard: It's impossible to talk about New Multitudes and not think about the much-loved Mermaid Avenue albums released by Billy Bragg and Wilco in 1998 and 2000. Those records were also conceived by Nora Guthrie, and they brought her father's music to a new generation of listeners. Mermaid Avenue also was a great showcase for Bragg and Wilco, who ended up reaching some of their biggest audiences ever after putting their own distinctive stamps on Guthrie's considerable legacy.
The same can be said of New Multitudes, which plays like a mixtape of what the participants do best in their own projects, including fireside folk ("Fly High"), psych-tinged pop ("Revolutionary Mind"), and feisty guitar-rock ("Angel's Blues"). As much as offering a primer on Guthrie's lively lyrical storytelling, New Multitudes also is a nice introduction to four contemporary songwriting talents.
Have a listen: An important difference from the Mermaid Avenue records is the thematic unity of New Multitudes: Many of the lyrics are taken from the period in Guthrie's life when he lived in Los Angeles, and the imagery is a far cry from the dust-bowl ballads he's known for. An example is "Old L.A.," a love song that sees the city with new, hopeful eyes.