Jonatha Brooke's has just completed a new album of Woody's unpublished lyrics from the Archives. This is a very significant project. For the first time ever a woman has composed, arranged, produced and performed a complete album of Woody Guthrie songs. The gods must be shaking their heads, " 'bout time!"
At the suggestion of Philly folk DJ, Gene Shay, I first met up with Jonatha when we both participated in a benefit for the Philadelphia Folksong Society in December, 2007.
I met with her in the Archives to begin looking over some possible lyrics for her to work with. I had found a wonderfully sexy lyric, "All You Gotta Do is Touch Me", and somewhat mischievously showed it to her to get a reaction. She loved it! From then on, we were on the same wavelength. She premiered "All You Gotta Do" and "New Star in Heaven" at the PFS event. We also discovered that we had both been dancers, so I suspected that her music would be uniquely rhythmic, maybe even ... oh god, dance-able!
Jonatha researched in the Archives in January, 2008 and by February she was already in the studio recording. (This is also the speediest project I've ever worked on!).
I had the opportunity to go to the Avatar Studios in NYC on February 10th (the day of the 2008 Grammy's) to watch her work. I have to say, I was stunned by the musicians Jonatha had gathered around her - Steve Gadd on drums and Christian McBride on bass for starters! And sitting at the control booth, engineering and co-producing this incredible session, was the legendary Bob Clearmountain.
She also brought in Greg Leisz, Keb Mo, Derek Trucks, Eric Bazilian and Glen Phillips to share in various spotlights. They are each gorgeous in their additions.
Jonatha is one of the most organized and professional musicians I've ever had the thrill of observing. Complete with charts in hand, she ran the session in a way that even bandleader Paul Schaffer would have been impressed with! When I got there, they had already laid down tracks for about 14 of the songs.
Midway through the day, Joe Sample walked in to lay down some tracks. I had to catch my breath. "Sheesh!! Where are we going with this?!"
Joe started playing on one of the songs, then felt like doing another. and another. Midway through, I got a call from LA that we had just won the Grammy for "The Live Wire"! This was one of those moments where something just seems to happen and you know - you feel - that this is no longer in (just) your hands! All you can do is totally give it up - look out a window - give a nod - and say "thank you".
Jonatha's antennae honed in on Woody's love songs, which are still relatively unknown. Some are sweetly childlike, other's more spiritual. Some are downright pissed off or downright sexual! But they all swirl around Woody's broad concept of love, as a complete theme in and of itself.
On "My Battle", Jonatha sings, "Show me how to find my union in life, how to fight for all of my people, teach me how to love" - ending with the promise - "And I'll run away with you."
For a change, Woody hopes this deal can be made with a lover, not the devil!
Over and over, Jonatha's voice demands an answer from a mysterious sage-lover; "Teach me how. Show me how. Teach me how. And I'll run away with you."
I find myself singing this refrain to myself now most days. So many of us are feeling exactly this way as we see what's happening around the world. We keep working in so many ways to connect, to help, to be involved, to correct. Yet, so many of us still yearn for a bit more, wondering, "Who will show us how?"
"All or none". The Greatest Lover's words. My father wrote it down on various hospital and official forms - whenever he was asked to state his religion. I love this line. I've always used it as a personal guideline, extending it to include styles of "musical religions". From my first collaborations with Billy Bragg and Wilco, to The Klezmatics, Dropkick Murphys and Anti-Flag, from Janis Ian to David Amram, and on and on working with so many musicians. I guess I do this so I can actually hear the truth of these words, "all or none", over and over. And, I get to sing along!
Jonatha's immense creativity as a composer and arranger, and her utterly gorgeous talent as a singer, has added a new dimension to this phrase. I thank her for giving me a new tone of "All" - a woman's. And while her music plays in my ears, I run away with her.