This Land Sings: Inspired by the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie
Annika Socolofsky (soprano), John Daugherty (baritone); Dogs of Desire/David Alan Miller
Naxos 8.559889 66:44 mins
‘Any fool can make something complicated. It takes a genius to make it simple,’ said the American folk musician Woody Guthrie. A classical take on the life of this iconic musician is a risky undertaking, not least because the deceptively simple output of the ‘Dust Bowl troubadour’ is so complete in itself. Yet composer Michael Daugherty has succeeded in creating something wholly engaging and original without tampering with Guthrie’s own musical legacy.
This Land Sings: Inspired by the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie (2016) is an arresting tribute to Guthrie that evokes the themes of his work and landscapes of his travels with wit and imagination. Scored for soprano, baritone and chamber ensemble, the piece is divided into 17 short ‘numbers’, some vocal, some instrumental, in homage to radio shows of the 1940s and ’50s that Guthrie so often played on. Daugherty’s agile score fizzes with colour to explore the character and preoccupations of Guthrie with both courage and sensitivity. Amid the recast folk tunes and rich evocations of landscape are flashes of activism, including ‘This Trombone Kills Fascists’, a dynamic duet for trombone and percussion that is a witty play on the slogan Woody painted on his guitar: ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’.
Dogs of Desire bring a luminous clarity to the score while vocalist Annika Socolofsky sings with raw beauty, albeit occasionally struggling with the more operatic corners of the work. Skilfully scored and performed with exuberance, this excellent release offers a fitting celebration of the inimitable Woody Guthrie’s life and work.