On March 17, 1956, a benefit concert for Woody Guthrie's children was held at the Pythian Hall in New York City. Guthrie by then was hospitalized, suffering from Huntington's disease, but he made one of his last public appearances sitting in the audience. Millard Lampell, a former member of the Almanac Singers along with Guthrie, wrote a script narrated by Lee Hays and Earl Robinson in between performances of Guthrie's songs by various folk singers. Named after Guthrie's 1943 autobiography and subtitled "The Songs and Story of Woody Guthrie, the album Bound for Glory is a similar sort of project, an audio documentary in which excerpts from Guthrie's prose writings, edited by Lampell and narrated by the actor Will Geer, serve as introductions to recordings by Guthrie drawn from the large catalog of Folkways Records. Of course, in addition to writing an estimated 1,000 songs, Guthrie also wrote a lot of prose, most of it autobiographical, in a poetic, Whitmanesque style, and in Lampell's selections the rough narrative of Guthrie's life, from its Dust Bowl beginnings to travels around the country and even several voyages with the merchant marine during World War II, is recounted, along with some of his politics and philosophy, and followed by some of his best-known songs. "This Land Is Your Land" is preceded by Guthrie's statement about the kinds of songs he likes and dislikes; he says, "I hate a song that makes you think that you're not any good," adding, "I am out to sing songs that will prove to you that this is your world...." It's a good introduction to his famous standard. "Jesus Christ," Guthrie's claiming of the founder of Christianity as a sort of militant socialist, is prefaced by Guthrie's proud admission that he is not a conventional singer: "I know that my voice is not one of the smooth-riding kind, because I don't want it to sound smooth." While Guthrie's well-chosen writings thus help illuminate his songs and performances, the documentary approach is one that works better in a concert, experienced once by its audience. After the first listen, record buyers probably would prefer to just hear the songs. Still, the choice of songs amounts to a Guthrie best-of.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann