In March 1940, 27-year-old folksinger Woody Guthrie, newly arrived in New York City, played at a benefit for migrant workers, where he encountered Alan Lomax, the assistant in charge of the Archive of Folk-Song at the Library of Congress. Lomax invited Guthrie to Washington, D.C., to be interviewed and perform songs for the archive. These were not intended to be commercial recordings, but in 1964, at the height of the folk revival for which Guthrie served as the godfather, they were released by Elektra Records in a three-LP box set. In the second volume, recorded March 22, 1940, Guthrie and Lomax, having explored Guthrie's personal biography already, turn to his social views, which have a Depression-era slant in their sympathy for outlaws, chain-gang convicts, and hoboes. In one of the longest spoken sections, Guthrie provides his version of the life of bank robber Pretty Boy Floyd before singing his song about Floyd, which recounts the same information in a more succinct and witty manner. Guthrie enlists Jesus Christ as a compatriot in "They Laid Jesus Christ in His Grave" (aka "Jesus Christ"), which opines that, if Christ were to preach in the modern world what he preached in Galilee, he would be killed again. "Jolly Banker" is sung in the voice of a popular Guthrie target, claiming that bankers "scalp" and "rape" their customers. As interviewer, Lomax only steps in now and then, for example asking for Guthrie's definition of the blues as a lead-in to "Worried Man Blues." Guthrie's earliest recordings, these songs and stories offer an invaluable look into the life and recollections of the major folk music artist of his time.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann