You'd think the last word in Woody Guthrie reissues would have appeared before this. After all, the legendary folksinger recorded most of his best work nearly 60 years before this was released, and the bulk of it has been regularly reissued in fine collections on Folkways, Rounder, and other labels. So this CD is as surprising as it is welcome. What makes it probably the single best Guthrie disc you can own? For one thing, the compilers had total access to the archives of Folkways Records founder Moses Asch, for whom the singer made the lion's share of his most important recordings. And they picked for this package 27 songs that showcase the incredible range of his writing and performing talent -- everything from children's ditties ("Car Song") to social commentary ("Do-Re-Mi") to historical tales ("End of the Line"). Then there's the title track -- Guthrie's most famous tune -- which was only sporadically available until this CD. It's here in two versions, including one that features the famous yet previously unreleased "private property" verses.
The sound quality is as notable as the program. The compilers went back to the master recordings and did a magnificent job of cleaning things up without altering what Guthrie waxed. The result sounds pure and intimate -- as if the singer were right there in the room with you. Finally, there's a superb 36-page book with all sorts of fascinating detail on Asch, Guthrie, and every track. The best news: This is only the first volume in a four-CD series.