; Tangled Up In Blue: Folk Uke

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Folk Uke

The legacy of Woody Guthrie has been a cherished vestige in folk circles since Bob Dylan popularized the notion of a rambling troubadour for a '60s-counterculture, melding the barefooted roots of folk music with popular culture.
I recently read Dylan's Chronicles: Volume 1 and gained a deeper appreciation for Guthrie and his rapturous influence on Dylan's words and understanding of the American fabric. Dylan wrote at-length about wading through pools of the polluted Hudson, just to gain a final glimpse at the man who inspired him to create such ferocious poetry. In the early chapters of Chronicles, Dylan's mentor was succumbing to Huntington's Chorea, and all Dylan could do was watch as his great hero wasted away.

You don't need to read Chronicles to comprehend Guthrie's echleon in the songwriting annuals. If you have a basic understanding of history and the "Dust Bowl refugees" Guthrie so eloquently wrote about, you realize that Guthrie captured an era of downtrodden outsiders. To use a tired adage, his music was by the people, for the people.
So you can imagine my numbing awe when I recently came across Guthrie's granddaughter at last weekend's Americana Music Association conference. Backed by a Brillo pad of curly hair and an aw-shucks grin, Cathy Guthrie was manning the fan booth for her father, Arlo. And truth be told, Guthrie is looking to capitalize on her grandfather's legacy in a slightly unconventional way: by good-naturedly poking fun at folk music's rigid confines.
Along with bandmate Amy Nelson, Guthrie is part of the Folk Uke collective, an admittedly crass duo who peppers the pure folk form with a mouthful of salty vulgarities. When you listen to Folk Uke's self-titled debut, the effect of songs like "Motherf----r Got F---ed Up" and "Sh-- Makes the Flowers Grow" is almost unsettling. (Who knew that a pernnial folk album would boast a parental advisory sticker?) But after the sting of it all has worn off, Folk Uke manages to poke fun at itself and Cathy Guthrie's place in history. Here's a folk act that doesn't take itself too seriously and is knowingly in on the joke. As a result, Billy Bob Thornton and Music City poet laurette Guy Clark can't get enough of Folk Uke.
And while her grandfather has a firm place in the history of popular music, Cathy Guthrie is willing to create a legacy all of her own. It may not be one of Dust Bowls and labor union disputes, but it'll have to do.


Blogger John H said...

Thanks for the heads up re Folk Uke. Sounds like a lot of fun.

Have you heard any of Billy Bragg and Wilco's Mermaid Avenue where they recorded a bunch of old songs that Woody had written that were lost and found and lost and found again? I think Dylan mentions these songs in Chronicles. The CD includes Natalie Merchant on harmony vocals. Outstanding stuff, including my favorite 'way over yonder in the minor key'.

3:42 PM  
Blogger TVonthefritz said...

Do you have that recording?

3:59 PM  
Blogger TVonthefritz said...

I remember Dylan complaining about it in his book. He basically called Jeff Tweedy and Billy Bragg whippersnappers for beating him to the punch so to speak.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

Funny name, if you say it drunk enough.

I am a diehard Arlo fan, which is odd considering I know next to nothing about Woody.

Hey! I got another almost-word in the password.


XK Buts

Can that be my stripper name?

5:00 PM  
Blogger Rex L. Camino said...

Tweedy didn't have nice things to say about Dylan in interviews for Mermaid Avenue. He essentially said that Dylan had just been ripping off Guthrie his whole career, and that he didn't need to listen to Dylan because Guthrie had done it so much better.

I would think that Tweedy probably wouldn't expect any birthday cards from Dylan after that.

Also: Welcome, Fritz.

And: Yes, Katherine, it can.

5:03 PM  
Blogger John H said...

I like Tweedy and Wilco a lot, but re his assessment of Dylan, he's as nuts as the Pan Galactic guy on race.

Fritz - I have most of the mermaid avenue songs downloaded from the net, but no CD or album. Worth the download, if you like Wilco..great tunes.

Katherine - MK Buts or Blood Bitch..you have some choices to make!

5:21 PM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

How about XK Buts the Blood Bitch?!?

This is my day to carve out a new entity.

7:59 PM  

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