Opening unsolicited CD mailers can prove better than Christmas when the package contains something on the order of Del And Woody, the latest from the Del McCoury Band. Del McCoury selected and arranged the never recorded Guthrie lyrics, and the band made them their own songs. Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora developed the inspired idea after hearing Del perform her father’s “So Long Been Good to Know Yuh” in his hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma in 2011. Credit the Del McCoury Band for their stunning execution of the concept.
In Bluegrass Unlimited, we can stipulate the greatness of the Del McCoury Band and move on to the triumph of Del And Woody. Refusing to mess with Woody’s songwriting, Del successfully went through page after page of lyrics to find a dozen songs that sound as if Guthrie wrote them for him. Someone ignorant of the songs’ source could easily think that the Del McCoury Band is just crushing it on yet another terrific album, since that is exactly what they did.
While these songs lack enduring classics like “This Land if Your Land” or “Pastures Of Plenty,” they contain good, often hilarious (see “Wimmen’s Hats”) lyrics made into great bluegrass songs. Broke-down cars, flour sack underwear, left in this world all alone, family reunions, working in coal mining and lumbering—these are classic bluegrass topics. The Del McCoury Band makes them fresh, powerful, hard bluegrass music. Thus, they connect to Woody’s roots in bands self-described as hillbilly as late as his 1939 California radio shows.
A few tracks deserve individual attention. Del made “White House Blues” an early signature song. The lyrics (From Baltimore to Frisco Bay) suggest Woody, an inveterate melody borrower, had that tune in mind when writing “Dirty Overhauls,” one of the few social commentary pieces here. “Californy Gold” fascinates me, since it might be a reference to his first marriage, giving up his successful radio shows, a commentary on consumerism, or just a funny song—maybe all of the above. “Government Road” serves as a worthy and funny new addition to the genre of Great Depression era WPA songs. On Del And Woody, the Del McCoury Band has poured delicious old wine into a new wine skin with magnificent results.(www.delmccouryband.com)AM