In April 1944, 31-year-old Woody Guthrie discovered a recording outlet when he hooked up with record company owner Moses Asch, who agreed to let him cut a virtually unlimited number of masters informally. Guthrie simply would turn up at Asch's studios alone or with such friends as Cisco Houston, Sonny Terry, Leadbelly, and Bess Lomax Hawes, and record his repertoire of original and traditional songs. The repository soon grew to hundreds of titles, far more than even a major label, much less a tiny independent, could release contemporaneously. Over the decades, Asch did release many of the tracks, but by 1962, when he assembled the LP Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs, he still had a significant caché of unissued material like that found on this disc. In the ensuing 18 years, the folk revival had kicked in, and such artists as Joan Baez were taking folk music into the upper reaches of the charts. Guthrie was considered the godfather of the movement, and Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs played right into that, as he could be heard singing songs like "The Rising Sun Blues" (aka "The House of the Rising Sun") and "The Boll Weevil," the same songs that the new generation of folk singers were performing in coffee houses. In truth, with the combination of guitars, mandolin, harmonica, and fiddle, plus Houston's rough high harmonies, the arrangements often were more evocative of the old-timey country string bands of the '30s, such as the Monroe Brothers, than early-'60s urban folk. Then, too, although some of the songs were credited to Guthrie as a songwriter, this was not the Guthrie of "This Land Is Your Land," but rather Guthrie the traditional folk singer. Still, Woody Guthrie Sings Folk Songs was an excellent representation of rural folk music that consolidated Guthrie's position as the newly fashionable genre's main progenitor.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann