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Arlo Guthrie

In Times Like These

Review by Gary Hill

Recorded live with a symphony orchestra (the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra), this is the latest disc from Arlo Guthrie and it might well be his best. The disc finds Guthrie stretching out a bit musically, wandering into old school jazz and blues, but it never stumbles or falters. Instead each track is a wonderful slice of music and texture, telling its tale with instrument and voice. While there is nothing weak here, I’d have to say that a few tracks stand above the rest, at least in the ears of this reviewer.

All in all, whether you are an old fan or a new recruit to the legions of Guthrie devotees, you really can’t go wrong with this disc. If I’d have one complaint it would be that we don’t get any of the spoken wit of the man, but when the music is this good, that really doesn’t matter all that much. There are other discs where you can find that – here’s one to pop in and let the sounds wash over you.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Darkest Hour
Feeling a bit like one of the more poetic works (ala Dylan), “Darkest Hour” is a strong track. It works well with the orchestral arrangement and serves as a great introduction to the disc.
Last Train
This one feels a bit slower and rather bluesy at times (perhaps you could say more like gospel music). It’s another strong piece of music that gains quite a bit from the inclusion of the orchestral instrumentation. Guthrie shows that he can handle some intricate guitar work, though.
St. James Infirmary
I think this is my favorite track on the CD. It starts on just the acoustic guitar as a gritty sort of down home blues track. Guthrie carries it for a verse without any other instrumentation. On the second verse we get the first hints of other instrumentation, still quite understated. Once he hits the chorus the arrangement fills out more into a full scale Dixieland jazz approach that’s just incredible. This thing is a great groove that’s so much fun it might be illegal in some municipalities. This track by itself would be worth the price of admission.
If You Would Just Drop By
Guthrie switches over to the piano on this track that reminds me a bit of something you might have expected from Randy Newman. This is pretty and gains even more beauty from the contribution of the orchestra. It’s another standout piece.
Last To Leave
The orchestra starts things off here and holds the track for the first 30 or so seconds. We get more of Guthrie’s piano work on “Last To Leave.” I almost hear a bit of Elton John on the song structure here. While this works quite well, it is a bit pale in comparison the songs that have preceded it. That’s not due to any real weakness on the part of this piece, but more due to the strength of those other compositions.
Epilogue
Here again we get the orchestra leading the way. This is pretty and rather sad song that again finds Guthrie tickling the ivory keys. Slow and a little understated, the evocative nature of the piece is really its most shining attribute. If the orchestra is over the top at any point in this release, I’d have to pick this track as the one. That said, there are times when I spin this and think it’s just about right, and on other listenings it feels a little overdone. So, as that conveys, the excess (if there is any) is slight.
In Times Like These
Written as Guthrie’s response to Hurricane Katrina, this one finds Guthrie back behind his guitar. Guthrie’s voice and strings, without any real accompaniment, tell this tale in fine fashion. It’s good to get the artist in his un-augmented glory here.
Patriot's Dream
Here Guthrie makes it back to the piano. This is a powerful and moving piece of music. The orchestra plays it fairly subtly for a lot of the song. It’s another winner on a disc that has no shortage of them.
City Of New Orleans
You just don’t get much more classic Arlo Guthrie than this Steve Goodman penned tune. With Guthrie again on the piano, the orchestra serves as the icing on the cake of this arrangement. I especially like how the orchestra occasionally simulates a train horn. I really like this rendition a lot. Of course, I’ve always loved this piece of music, anyway.
You Are The Song
This one is an orchestra and vocal journey that doesn’t do all that much for me. It has a definite musical theater feeling to it – and I’m not a big fan of that genre. The truth is, though, while I’d probably pick this as my least favorite piece on the CD, it would still be fairly strong on another album. That’s how good this disc is.
Goodnight Irene
Here we get an old classic piece of music. It’s delivered in a bouncy sort of sing song approach. It’s fun and manages to work mostly because of its unique nature.
Can’t Help Falling In Love – Bonus Track
Another classic piece of music, this one is a pretty ballad as performed here. I guess you just can’t hear this song without thinking of Elvis Presley, but I really like Guthrie’s rendition a lot. It’s bouncy and energetic at times, but always entertaining. s disc is.
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