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Amigo
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 2005
Between 1972 and 1979 Arlo Guthrie released an album each year. 'Amigo' was released in 1976, but the albums released just prior to and after 'Amigo' were a live disc and a compilation, so it stands in the midst of one of Guthrie's least productive eras. Eleven tracks are offered, six penned by Arlo, and one a shared effort with Adrian Mitchell. The album may be one of Arlo's most diverse, drawing from African, South American, Mexican, and New England themes.

By 1976 Arlo Guthrie had matured greatly as a performer and composer. The overall sound of 'Amigo' is perhaps most closely compared with his 1972 release, 'Hobo's Lullaby'. On both discs Arlo makes extensive use of rich background instrumentation and vocal accompaniment. And both discs find a moment for Arlo's trademark off-kilter humor, with the 1972 disc offering 'Ukulele Lady', while 'Amigo' offers the country-fied and domesticized 'Grocery Blues'. Check out what drives Guthrie to conclude that, "If my woman don't want to go to the store, the family isn't gonna eat no more"! Each disc also offers well-chosen covers, the best here being Leah Kunkel's outstanding and vibrant 'Walking Song'. Leah Kunkel (sister of Mama Cass Elliott) also plays keyboards and lends vocals to the disc, while husband Russ provides percussion. Both discs also feature vocal contributions from Linda Ronstadt.

While the overall quality of 'Amigo' does not match up with Guthrie's finer works, such as 'Washington County', all of the tracks are well-written and performed. The best tracks include the traditional African strain titled 'Guabi, Guabi', the Marabi Dance Song once recorded by Ramblin' Jack Elliott. The song describes a game in which a bun and a banana are held behind the back while another participant tries to guess which is in each hand. The third track, 'Victor Jara' may be the most emotionally gripping song, telling the true story of Victor Lidio Jara Martinez, a left-wing folk singer and political activist from Chili whose work was first recorded in 1966. In 1973 Jara was tortured (his hands were broken) before being executed for his support of Salvadore Allende when he lost power in a CIA instigated coup. The lyric "His hands were gentle, his hands were strong" are the focal point of the message. An oddity on the disc is a cover of a Mick Jagger and Keith Richards composition, 'Connection', which appeared on The Rolling Stones disc 'Between the Buttons' in 1967. It is one of The Stones' weaker albums, though it does contain the appealing 'Ruby Tuesday'. 'Connection' is a fast tempo rock number which seems completely out of place on Arlo's disc.

While the remaining tracks are listenable but undistinguished, the packaging does offer printed lyrics, running times on the disc itself, and brief liner notes penned by Guthrie in 1976. If you're an Arlo Guthrie aficionado, 'Amigo' is an essential element to a comprehensive collection. If not, the disc is certainly worth a listen, and the finer tracks may even convince you to hold onto it for a bit.
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