After releasing three CDs of original material since 1994, the nationally acclaimed and award-winning singer-songwriter Joel Rafael felt it was time to honor one of his formative inspirations, the late Woody Guthrie, godfather of topical folk music. On "Woodeye," a 2003 release on Jackson Brownes Inside Recordings label, the acoustic, San Diego-based Joel Rafael Band recorded 13 Guthrie compositions, most significantly including a previously unpublished Guthrie lyric ("Dance a Little Longer") set to music by Rafael with the blessing of Woodys daughter Nora Guthrie, director of the Woody Guthrie Foundation and Archives. "Hes one of the true interpreters," Nora said of Rafael, who has played Guthrie material alongside his own songs for decades.
Having made one album "that would bring a Woody Guthrie experience to a new audience," Joel wanted to present more of the unpublished and unrecorded lyrics Guthrie left behind after his 1967 death. "Woodyboye: Songs of Woody Guthrie (and Tales Worth Telling) Volume II" expands "Woodeyes" scope by shifting the balance of Guthrie originals to include four songs combining Woodys lyrics and Joels melodies amongst its eleven Guthrie-penned tracks, plus a Woody-esque Rafael original. In selecting Guthrie lyrics to complete with music, "I was looking for songs that would show off his tremendous lyric skills and his appetite for diverse subject matter," says Rafael, "For songs that would demonstrate his timeless sense of how things work and the way things are." Rafaels one original composition, "Sierra Blanca Massacre," recounts a true-life 1987 tragedy involving undocumented Mexican immigrants.
This spectrum of events and ideas is lovingly colored by the authenticity and empathy of Rafaels trio (Joel on unaffected vocals and guitar; daughter Jamaica on violin and harmony vocals; Carl Johnson on acoustic lead guitar), joined on various tracks by guest vocalists Jackson Browne, Jimmy LaFave (who trades verses with Jackson and Joel on "Stepstone"), Woodys son Arlo Guthrie, the Burns Sisters, and Jennifer Warnes. Van Dyke Parks, who penned the lyrics for Brian Wilsons SMiLE CD, provides flavoring on piano and accordion.
"...Eminently satisfying...Possessed of a warm and rich voice, Rafael delivers [these songs] in a charmingly straightforward manner..." -- Rambles, April 30, 2005
"...[A] public service...Dont miss the moving version of Guthries Stepstone'...(3 stars)" -- Rolling Stone, May 19, 2005
"A tasty set for contemporary folk fans that aren't afraid to have one eye looking back and one looking ahead." -- Midwest Record Recap, April 27, 2005
"Joel really hasn't put a foot wrong in his delightful, affectionate and accurate evocation of the essence of Guthrie..." -- NetRhythms, May 2005
"Tributes to Woody Guthrie are nothing new, but Joel Rafael's is an especially fine one." -- Ottawa Citizen, April 23, 2005