The celebration that helped marked the centennial of Woody Guthrie's birth helped turn the spotlight on a man who still reigns as the greatest folk singer America's ever produced. Just ask Dylan, Seeger or Springsteen, all of whom give him due credit for that accomplishment. It's hardly any wonder then that the star-studded year-long festivities Guthrie inspired culminated in one spectacular party.
As if any further evidence was needed, it lies herein on a CD/DVD combo recorded at the Kennedy Center this past October. With Woody's daughter Nora presiding, it may seem odd not to have son Arlo Guthrie or granddaughter Sara Lee Guthrie participating, but the performers that do turn out - Jackson Browne, Judy Collins, John Mellencamp, Donovan, the Del McCoury Band, Tom Morello and Lucinda Williams among them - show the lure Guthrie still possesses on those who revere both his music and his message.
Seventy years after Guthrie composed these odes to the poor unfortunates that inhabited America's underbelly, there's still a powerful point and purpose in what he sang, and it resonates in the songs covered here. There are highlights a-plenty as Guthrie himself might have said, among them Joel Rafael's compelling Ramblin' Reckless Hobo, Rosanne Cash's heartfelt renditions of I Ain't Got No Home and Pretty Boy Floyd, Sweet Honey in the Rock's stirring take on I've Got to Know and Ani DiFranco (with Ry Cooder and Dan Gellert) offering a reverential cover of the tragic Deportee. The treatment that's accorded these songs runs a wide gamut from Morello's emphasis on revolutionary fervor to Browne's reflection on romance, but all bear the same somber devotion that only a tribute of this sort can inspire.
If the music alone wasn't enough - and well it should be - the accompanying DVD offers heartfelt readings of Guthrie's words from actor Jeff Daniels and bonus snippets featuring rare glimpses of Guthrie himself performing his songs. The sum total is bound to inspire appreciation, not only for an influential icon, but also for the causes he encouraged that still remain undone.