An odds-and-ends collection spanning 17 unreleased tracks recorded from 1944 to 1949, most being originals and not just alternate takes, Long Ways to Travel is a fine addition to any Guthrie fan's collection. Started as a project in 1991 to wade through Guthrie's unreleased catalogue, this undertaking was no minor feat, seeing that Moses Asch kept sketchy records at best, and it is obvious that considerable work has gone into this collection. As such, not every track is note-perfect, with Guthrie occasionally stumbling over lines, but it does offer a very well-rounded picture of who Guthrie was as an artist. Though it might not be the best place to start for the uninitiated, there is some seriously interesting music here, from harmonica workouts on "Rain Crow Bill" with Sonny Terry to fiddle tunes like "Girl I Left Behind Me" and the bluesy "Long Ways to Travel." Many tracks focus on Guthrie's love of riding the rails with train narratives like "Seattle to Chicago" and "Train Ride Medley (part 2)," as well as a dialogue he delivered as an emcee at a concert. A wide variety is represented with "Wiggledy Giggledy," a song of mostly nonsense rhyming, while the strange mock radio show performance of "Rocky Mountain Slim and Desert Rat Shorty," one of the many featuring Cisco Houston, seems to be some sort of off-the-cuff comedy skit. In addition, the haunting autobiographical narrative of "Along in the Sun and the Rain" and the eloquent tribute "Harriet Tubman's Ballad" are tracks that no Guthrie enthusiast should be without. Interesting historical references such as "Warden in the Sky," written while Guthrie was briefly in jail, and the topical "Farmer-Labor Train," which was written for presidential candidate Henry Wallace's rallies, are a few of the more political pieces here, considering that the majority of the tracks are more autobiographical in nature. An excellent extensive transcription of an interview of Moses Asch, detailing his relationship with Guthrie is also of note. No doubt, when taken in addition to Guthrie's more quintessential work, this is a pretty substantial collection.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Matt Fink