In May 1941, Woody Guthrie began working for the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), a job that required him to write songs to promote development (dams) on the Columbia River. He would later claim that he wrote a song per day during his month-long association with the BPA, making it one of the most productive periods of his life.

Several of his best-loved songs came from this period, including “Ramblin’ Round,” “Hard Travlin’,” and “Pastures of Plenty.” “Columbia River Collection” has two strong points to recommend it. First, it collects all of the available material that Guthrie wrote during this time in one place, giving the collection a thematic unity similar to “Dust Bowl Ballads”. Next, it includes 11 versions of the songs originally recorded in Portland, OR, in 1941, and never before released.

This latter quality is “Columbia River Collection”‘s strongest point, which makes it seem odd that the liner notes aren’t more helpful with sorting out which of the 17 tracks are from these early sessions. It is clear, however, that versions of “Roll on Columbia” and “Roll Columbia, Roll,” two favorites, are new. It’s also clear that Rounder borrowed the other six songs, including “Pastures of Plenty,” from Smithsonian Folkways. The important thing, though, is that the listener can now gain a better view of Guthrie’s artistic vision at this important juncture in his career. It also doesn’t hurt that “Columbia River Collection” is a strong group of songs that capture the Dust Bowl Balladeer in top form.

Woody Guthrie – Columbia River Collection
(ca. 192 kpbs, front cover included)

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