Recorded in 1940, and later reissued by Folkways Recordings in 1950, Guthrie’s first album chronicles the American Dust Bowl through his prosaic style of talking blues. Using only guitar and vocals, the album follows the exodus of Midwesterners headed for California and mirrors both Guthrie’s own life and John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. Along the way, characters are forced into theft, murder, and unbearable hardship against a biblical backdrop of the American West. Hugely influential, Dust Bowl Ballads has been revered by Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen. In Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People, Steinbeck wrote of Guthrie: "Harsh voiced and nasal, his guitar hanging like a tire iron on a rusty rim, there is nothing sweet about Woody, and there is nothing sweet about the songs he sings. But there is something more important for those who will listen. There is the will of the people to endure and fight against oppression. I think we call this the American spirit."
Click to enlarge