Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Woody Guthrie: Struggle [Smithsonian/Folkways, 1990]
Protest music with a vengeance--originally conceived as a six-song project by Guthrie in 1946, expanded by Moses Asch to mark the Bicentennial, and now reissued by the federal government for the good-politics people at Rounder. The title may be a progressive shibboleth, but there's nothing especially uplifting about these tales of class warfare, most of which detail grisly defeats. Guthrie's heroes are smothered or incinerated in mine disasters, massacred by company thugs, hunted down by bloodhounds, left to rot from nonslip hangknots. A few times they get to kill back, but if they're really lucky they're buried in union coffins--"Every new grave brings a thousand members." In short, morbid shit, its tradition the Appalachian ballad and Emily Dickinson rather than the deracinated spirituals and pink-cheeked camp songs of good clean American leftism. Can thrash covers be far behind? A-