Jay Farrar, Yim Yames, Anders Parker and Will Johnson took unfinished songs, poems and other musings of Woody Guthrie and re-imagined them for “New Multitudes,” the veteran musicians' first project together. Because each of the men is in different groups, it took at least two years to get the album finished.
“The sessions (came) slowly but surely, as the thing has come from various corners of the universe in different recording sessions and different mixing sessions and all that,” Johnson said.
But the time it took for them to record the album seems relatively short given that the album was first considered almost 20 years ago.
Back then, Son Volt's Farrar was approached by the Woody Guthrie Archives to work on the working-class troubadour's incomplete work, a project with Billy Bragg. But then Bragg went on to collaborate with Wilco and the Guthrie project was shelved.
Years later, Farrar linked with Parker of the group Varnaline, and with the help of Guthrie's daughter Nora, the project was reborn. It caught the attention of My Morning Jacket's Yames (also known as Jim James), a longtime fan of Guthrie's music.
“He created a timeless body of work that as long as humans are on this Earth, humans will treasure his work like Beethoven or the classic masters,” Yames said of Guthrie, adding: “It's cool that a person can speak from beyond the grave.”
Johnson of Centro-Matic came to the project last.
Johnson said because of the members' commitments to their other groups, completing the project was a difficult task.
“It's been tricky getting the album recorded and setting up the short eight-show tour that followed,” he said. “I hope there will time in the next year or so for us to do some more shows.”
The band took Guthrie's writings and put its own musical spin on it. Yames says his fellow musicians felt like they accomplished a career goal by putting their stamp on something from Guthrie, who has inspired greats from Bob Dylan to Bruce Springsteen.
Yames hopes the New Multitudes album will help younger generations to discover Guthrie, perhaps best known for the song “This Land Is Your Land.” He died in 1967.
“He's one of the true treasures and one of the most powerful voices that humankind has ever known, and now it's a matter of passing his greatness onto future generations,” Yames said.