Woodie Guthrie - Columbia River Collection

Avery and I have been rocking this CD for a week or two now. It is an obscure disc created by Rounder Records by rescuing some tracks created to publicize the big federal Columbia River dam projects in 1941.

Wikipedia Guthrie was commissioned by the Department of the Interior and its Bonneville Power Administration to write songs about the Columbia River and the building of the federal dams; the best known of these are "Roll On Columbia" and "Grand Coulee Dam." Around the same time, he joined Pete Seeger in the legendary folk-protest group Almanac Singers, with whom he toured the country, and moved into the cooperative Almanac House in Greenwich Village.

It is fun because the songs reference Oregon and Washington landmarks, rivers, etc. It is also a pretty amazing thing because most of the songs are fairly good songs and all 17 are about the same subject, the Columbia River dams. The songs are also all about the common farmer of the time, with lots of stories of the hardships and trivial details of rural life. It seems bizarre today to have the government commission a set of recordings. But then, the music recording industry was pretty young, and still trying to figure out what worked and what didn't.

The Columbia River dams were put up during the term of FDR, as part of his massive public works programs. They still provide power for the Pacific Northwest today. Although today we question the environmental impact of dams (which makes me wonder if Woodie, who leaned to the left politically, might sing against the dam were he alive today), at the time, electricity represented a huge opportunity to improve quality of life and grow the economy. Electricity was one of the tools FDR used to squelch the great depression.

Anyway, as with the Pete Seeger CD, this CD's liner notes has lots of history about the songs, which is very fun to read.

No comments: