'… a much more straightforward, touching tribute to the singer-songwriter, who is one of the iconic figures in the history of American music…It’s all done with a light, affectionate touch that often disguises its sheer musical fluency and ingenuity…' The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 4 June 2020
Now out on Naxos Records is This Land Sings, Michael Daugherty's evocative musical homage to the singer-songwriter and political activist Woody Guthrie.
Premiered in 2016, a commission from the Tulsa Camerata, Daugherty's moving tribute is a series of his own original songs and instrumental interludes, scored for soprano and baritone soloists and chamber ensemble, with an optional radio announcer/narrator. It's recorded on this first release in the 60-minute version without narration, with David Alan Miller conducting the Albany Symphony’s new music ensemble Dogs of Desire, together with soprano Annika Socolofsky and baritone John Daugherty.
The composer writes:
"During these times of turbulence and uncertainty, I think back to the songwriter and political activist Woody Guthrie, who travelled across America with his guitar and harmonica to perform songs of hope and social justice during the Great Depression and World War II. As a musical tribute to this Dust Bowl troubadour, I have composed This Land Sings: Inspired by the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie, a song cycle with seventeen original vocal and instrumental numbers, like a Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast. It is my hope that this Naxos recording, featuring the Albany Symphony’s new music ensemble Dogs of Desire, will remind us that music can make a difference.”
"Michael Daugherty’s music has always embraced the full, polyglot spectrum of American culture. He’s composed a Metropolis Symphony after the Superman comics and an opera called Jackie O, while Dead Elvis was a work for bassoon and ensemble, and Tales of Hemingway is his cello concerto. But This Land Sings, “inspired by the life and times of Woody Guthrie”, first performed in 2016, is a much more straightforward, touching tribute to the singer-songwriter, who is one of the iconic figures in the history of American music.Daugherty likens his portrait to “a Grand Ole Opry radio broadcast”. The original version also included narrations by a radio announcer, but those have been left out of this studio recording, so that the sequence of 17 vocal and instrumental numbers for soprano, baritone and a seven-piece ensemble suggests something between a song cycle and a revue. Most of the texts are Daugherty’s own; they provide a chronicle of Guthrie’s life and activism during the Great Depression, but his original songs are used sparingly, though the brief instrumental overture, further developed halfway through the work, is built around the most famous of them, 'This Land Is Your Land'.But there are plenty of musical references from American folk music and borrowings and near-quotes from elsewhere, too – the flugelhorn solo in one number depicting Guthrie’s wanderings near the Mexican border owes a lot to Miles Davis’s 'Sketches of Spain', while another puts new words to the tune of the country favourite 'Ghost Riders in the Sky'. It’s all done with a light, affectionate touch that often disguises its sheer musical fluency and ingenuity, while the performances by Annika Socolofsky and John Daugherty (no relation, apparently) with the ensemble Dogs of Desire under their conductor David Alan Miller, get just the right balance between edgy precision and freewheeling exuberance."The Guardian (Andrew Clements), 4 June 2020"Across 17 short movements that last about an hour, Daugherty accomplishes much. It sometimes feels like a song cycle but it’s not hard to envision the material being expanded into a theatrical or a multimedia piece.Listening from start to finish, first in concert and three years later streaming, 'This Land Sings' was primarily a musical experience, tight and impressive. Taking it about in order to write this review, what comes through is politics, struggle and grief. Maybe that’s Guthrie speaking to these troubled times."Times Union (Joseph Dalton), May 2020"Is it a chamber opera, a song cycle, or funky music? 'This Land Sings' is the latest in Naxos’s ongoing cycle of works by the American composer, Michael Daugherty.Composing in a style that retains its roots in the melodic world of previous generations, yet, at the same time, looking to present a new sound stage for today’s concert-going audiences. Maybe this newcomer goes as far as he has yet ventured, the work seeking to mark the ‘Life and Times of Woody Guthrie’. Travelling around America with his guitar and harmonica, he captured and promoted, in his all too short life, the essence of folk music in the first half of the twentieth century. Michael Daugherty also travelled around the dust bowl of the United States before commencing the work, savouring the backdrop to Guthrie’s life as a writer and performer. It has resulted in an overture and sixteen vocal and instrumental tracks, the words for the songs written mostly by Daugherty. They are funny; they question life and our existence; suffering and love, all expressed in a mix of classical, folk and jazzy rhythms using a soprano, baritone and an eclectic group of instruments to form the instrumental forces. Having reviewed most of Daugherty’s music on Naxos, and having greatly enjoyed the experience, this one I have to leave to you for a personal repost. It is certainly a different experience that takes the composer down a new road, particularly so in the early part of the score. It is performed by the very individual soprano voice of Annika Socolofsky, and an excellent baritone, John Daugherty, more often seen on the opera stage, but here perfectly adapting to Daugherty’s music, Dogs of Desire is an enterprising group of seven instrumentalists drawn from the Albany Symphony, and conducted by their Music Director, David Alan Miller. Excellent punchy sound ideal for the work. Do listen to it."David's Review Corner (David Denton), May 2020"Daugherty has created an original musical tribute to the singer-songwriter and political activist Woody Guthrie. Traveling the backroads of America from coast to coast with a guitar and harmonica, Guthrie performed folk songs of love, wandering and social justice during the Great Depression and the Second World War. Daugherty has composed his own original songs (11) and instrumental interludes (6) that give haunting expression, ironic wit and contemporary relevance to political, social and environmental themes from Guthrie’s era."Records International, May 2020
There's more about the piece in this illuminating article for Explore Classical Music.