For the hourlong live album Tales of '69, Arlo Guthrie has dug deep into the old tape archive to come up with a 40-year-old show that, if it had been issued on disc previously, probably would have fallen between his 1968 live album Arlo and his 1969 studio album Running Down the Road. It begins with an alternate version of "Motorcycle Song" with the story he told on Arlo and includes versions of "Coming into Los Angeles," which appeared on Running Down the Road, and "If You Would Just Drop By," later heard on 1970's Washington County. Guthrie, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar or piano, is joined by acoustic bassist Bob Atkins, and he is very much in his early cosmic hippie phase, frequently using the words "groovy" and "weird," criticizing the police, and indulging in frequent and highly favorable references to drugs. In fact, the bulk of the album resembles a Cheech & Chong routine full of drug humor. Half of the CD is given over to the 30-minute "Alice -- Before Time Began," one of Guthrie's shaggy dog stories set to his "Alice's Restaurant" music. He notes that there are three versions of "Alice's Restaurant," and if so, this may be the second with another one perhaps still in the tape vault. Not much of it refers to the restaurant this time, and none of it to Guthrie himself, though Biblical history and the arms race do feature prominently. (Incidentally, the references to Lyndon Johnson suggest this show actually may date from 1968, not 1969. Johnson was president for only the first 20 days of 1969.) The album also contains three Guthrie originals -- "If Ever I Should See the Mountain," "Road to Everywhere," and "Hurry to Me" -- that never made it onto his LPs at the time. Like much of his other material of the late ‘60s, they turn out to be heavily Dylan-influenced compositions sung in a voice often reminiscent of Donovan.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann