Now these are the real monsters of folk!
Yim Yames (nee Jim James of My Morning Jacket) was one member of that quartet and here is joined by Jay Farrar (Son Volt, Gob Iron & Uncle Tupelo), Anders Parker (Varnaline and Gob Iron) and Will Johnson (Centro-matic and South Central San Gabriel), all of whom are equally inspired by their access to the unpublished words of Woody Guthrie. Each chose lyrics of the iconic folksingers from the archives, wrote original music to accompany it and collaborated in a remarkably sympathetic production of New Multitudes.
A track such as "Hoping Machine," haunts long after it concludes due not just to Farrar's forlorn vocal or Johnson's lockstep drumming, but a sense of the words' willful optimism carrying through the years from its original source. Production is kept to a minimum on New Multitudes through the creative use of familiar tools: for instance, acoustic and electric guitars intermix behind Parker's stream-of consciousness vocal on "Flying High, " there by conjuring multiple senses of motion.
Contrasts of style in arrangement effectively solidify the bond of the musicians as well as the unity of the album. On "My Revolutionary Mind," shadowy orchestration creates high drama accentuated by Yames' familiar echoed tenor. Shepherded by Johnson, "VD City" follows, the arrangement built on corrosive guitars that are the antithesis of the preceding strings. It's a brilliant stroke of contrast in track sequencing that elevates the momentum of the album from that point onward.
Farrar, Johnson, Parker and Yames were no doubt aided tremendously in the studio by recordist and multi-instrumentalist Mark Spencer (who brought such versatility to the last lineup of Son Volt). No track lasts a nanosecond longer than it has to on New Multitudes, simultaneously an exercise of intuitive restraint and a collective demonstration of faith in the material. This is the first entry into "Best of 2012" sweepstakes.