Michael Daugherty – This Land Sings (Inspired by the life and times of Woody Guthrie)
Annika Socolofsky; John Daugherty; Dogs of Desire; David Alan Miller
Naxos 8.559889 (naxosdirect.com/items/daugherty-this-land-sings-inspired-by-the-life-and-times-of-woody-guthrie-534848)
Celebrated American composer Michael Daugherty’s musical tribute This Land Sings: Inspired by the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie arrived just after George Floyd’s death and the protests against racism. The CD’s theme of social injustice in the songs and life of Woody Guthrie (1912-1967) is timely. But how did Daugherty in 2016 compose music out of music? The answer is versatility. Travelling across America in space and time, the tribute includes many stops: Utah at the 1915 death of singer-labour activist Joe Hill; Oklahoma during the 1930s dust storms; with Guthrie as a cook on US Merchant Marine convoy ships; and at a Jewish community in New York where Guthrie lived after World War Two. The composer alludes to well-known Guthrie songs and parodies traditional American songs, mixing in his own often-satirical poetry and music. The brilliant David Alan Miller-conducted small ensemble Dogs of Desire begins with a quasi-Stravinsky-ish Overture that has eerie suggestions of Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land. Soprano Annika Socolofsky’s low vibrato-less sound is especially effective in the duet The Ghost and Will of Joe Hill, but I wondered if baritone John Daugherty’s ringing timbre was appropriate in this composition’s initially rough milieu.
Nevertheless, the two singers later became the work’s saving graces as Daugherty’s lyrical musical voice emerged. Hearing the spare voice/single instrument combinations in Bread and Roses (soprano/bassoon) and I’m Gonna Walk That Lonesome Valley (baritone/clarinet), I had travelled a long way indeed.