on November 15, 2005
1970's 'Washington County' is easily Arlo Guthrie's finest collection of songs, and so exists as one of the finest albums in one of the most accomplished years of rock and roll history. In the same year Rod Stewart released 'Gasoline Alley', Neil Young, 'After the Goldrush' (at number 18 this was Rolling Stone Magazine's highest rated album of 1970 in their Top 200 albums of the 1970's; 'Washington County' doesn't make the list), and Tim Buckley, 'Starsailor'. But for my money none of these fine works approximates what Arlo Guthrie accomplished on 'Washington County'.
Arlo Guthrie has always been something of a spiritual explorer, and on this release, it seems Christianity was on Arlo's mind, in his heart, and just a bit on his sleeve. Several songs feature direct, intimate allusions to a faith awakening, including 'Gabriel Mother's Highway Ballad #16 Blues' ("Come on children, all come home, Jesus gonna make you well"), 'Valley To Pray' ("I went down to the valley to pray, learnin' about the good old way", and "who will wear the starry crown, Oh, Lord, show me the way"), and on 'I Could Be Singing' ("You and your friends have a party, Welcome your heavenly Dad"). That last song also stands as the strongest protest song on the disc, illustrating how the Guthrie tradition continued to meld morality and social consciousness. The lyrics swipe at Spiro Agnew, the '68 police riots in Chicago, and the shootings at Kent State (which took place only months prior to the recording of 'Washington County'). Despite the drab storyline, 'I Could Be Singing' chimes with an upbeat tempo and melody, as do many of the other tracks Arlo offers. Similarly, 'Percy's Song' (written and recorded by Bob Dylan in 1963, but not released until his 'Biograph' box set appeared in 1985) begins with the lyric "Sad news, sad news..." and proceeds to tell a tale of judicial injustice, yet with a light and airy acoustic atmosphere. The only songs even hinting at 'the blues' are the eighth track, the yearning 'If You Would Just Drop By', and Arlo's cover of his father's 'Lay Down Little Doggies', which comes off warm and tender until, in the final verse, we find the 'doggies' are cattle being carted to the stockyards. Again, despite the sad conclusion, one cannot help but to crack a wry smile.
The first seven songs on 'Washington County' will whisk you off to a country and folk dreamland. 'Introduction' caresses us with a promise, "Come closer to me babe, and hear what I say, lay down beside me, listen to my song, it's something other than it's right or it's wrong", before blending into 'Fence Post Blues', carrying a guarantee of "Stand on the good land, children, you know it won't do you in". Of the seven tracks, only the slick and jumping, banjo driven instrumental title track has not yet been mentioned. The album concludes with 'I Want To Be Around', another upbeat track emulating the 'love and peace' values the era idealized with lyrics like "I want to be around, when the stars fall on the ground, walking hand in hand with everyman, sleeping in the sun with everyone". Appropriately, the cover photograph shows Arlo hand sharpening an axe. It was razor sharp by the time he was ready to cut each of these tunes.
'Washington County' was remastered in 2004 and reissued on Arlo's own label in 2005, so there has been ample opportunity to pad the 10 original vinyl tracks with live or alternate takes, or perhaps an unreleased recording from the 'Washington County' sessions. Unfortunately that hasn't happened. Nevertheless, the disc is nothing less than a gift from above (thank God, because it includes printed lyrics), with Arlo and friends (including Hoyt Axton, Clarence White, and Ry Cooder) lovingly tracing out these special compositions. It truly represents the epitome of folk and country rock from an era not easily forgotten. I don't hand out five stars easily, but this is an easy call.
on October 13, 2005
I first heard this album when I was a hippie. Now that I'm a responsible adult I get up and make coffee instead of rolling something in paper. But, somehow this is still in my music player some 30 to 40 years latter. I probly bought it 3 or 4 times over the years as it was lost, stolen, and went from LP to 8-track to CD. It is an astonishing record - deep, melodic, intelligent and oh so pretty. For anyone who enjoys Dylan, or Sheryl Crow, or anyone in between, the lyrics are profound, the instrumentation complex and powerful, the joy unavoidable.
on October 31, 2005
I was 11 years old when my older sisters boyfriend brought this shiny and new from the record store. I remember listening to it and thinking that it was really cool. The title track, "Washington County" is a smoking hot bluegrass instrumental that you can't help tapping your feet and any other loose appendedge to.
From the roots of his father, Arlo Gutherie has been aming increadably timeless music, this was released over 35 years ago and it still is relevent and speaks to the concious human inside you.
The words of the music on this record still echo in my mind. They provoke thoughts about who we are as a people, who I am as an individual.
Get it, listen to it, enjoy it.
on December 13, 2006
This was a favorite album for many "hippies" in the early 70's. Still basking in the idealistic, post Woodstock belief that simplifying life can solve all of man's problems, Arlo released this album of uplifting, well played, almost spiritual songs. Listen to this album a few times and you'll be scanning the real-estate ads for some country acreage. This is a feel good album that was released during a time of social turmoil. It was a salve for the spirit at the time and even now soothes the nerves and offers simple rest and some cool shade. Just looking at the album makes me want to grab my overalls and hoe and head for the country. Great memories of a way of life that promised escape from what was perceived as a corrupt, materialistic society. Too bad the majority of the people of that time now live the same lives they rebelled against 35 years ago. Want a break from the complexities of life? Next sunny day, grab this CD; jump in the car; and take a drive in the country.
on June 30, 2012
I bought this album in 1970, then the cassette, then the CD, and finally the MP3. I don't like country and am ambivalent about blues and am not quite sure why every song in this album resonates with me. I find that it isn't a collection of individual songs and would tell you to listen to the songs in order, they tell a tale. From the instrumental Introduction, with big piano chords, drums, and an overlay of electric guitar it segues into songs that you have a great beat and make me want to sing along. The best song, in my opinion, is the title track, and remains the only "banjo" music in my entire music collection. It's an album you can listen to in most any mood. When MP3s are history and we move on to music in "the next big thing", this will be the first album I buy in the new mode. Enjoy!
on December 29, 2008
Arlo Guthrie had a childhood of son of... Woody
an adolescent of ...Bob Dylan
a young adulthood of... "Alice's Restaurant"
and this, an amalgam of all he grew up to be.
Songs devoted to daddy, Bob, and hisself.
This is Arlo's purist LP, a young man loving his father's legacy, his godfather's songwriting art, and his spiritual ache/blessing.
This is Gospel as pure as praying on a drunken Saturday night knowing what might happen on Sunday.