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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

McCoury Band graces City Winery stage thanks to 'Del and Woody'

Del and Woody

"Del and Woody" (McCoury Music)

The Woody Guthrie Archives house come 3,000 song lyrics that Guthrie either never set to music, or his music has been lost. In recent years, then, it has given lyrics to artists including Wilco and Billy Bragg to match them with original music, with the Del McCoury Band joining the club in 2015 by way of Del and Woody (Original Lyrics of Woody Gurhrie Set to Music by Del McCoury, Performed by the Del McCoury Band)—about as good as it gets in terms of Guthrie's words accompanied by traditional acoustic music.

Sunday night the McCourys (Del on guitar and lead/harmony vocals, sons Ronnie on mandolin and lead/harmonies and Rob on banjo and harmonies, Jason Carter on fiddle and harmonies and Alan Bartram on upright bass and harmonies) performed most of the album at City Winery in the top spot of a four-act Crossover Touring booking agency package--part of the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference.

It did indeed make perfect sense to pair Del with Woody—down to the Del and Woody CD cover illustration from Shepard Fairey depicting them as near contemporaries while showing their kinship as artists and men. The set opened with the album's lead track "The New York Trains," black-and-white video projections showing New York at the time when Okie Guthrie first came to New York in the 1940s: Grand Central Station, of course, and the subways—and the song lyrics typed out on a sheet of paper, most notably "And you spend another nickel every time you turn around," no less true today albeit substituting a dollar.

Another photo showed Guthrie with his famous "This Machine Kills Fascists" guitar sign, and while McCoury's demeanor is too peaceful for such musical aggression (he even joked about people wondering why he looks down at the floor all the time, admitting it's actually a teleprompter since "I don't like rewriting a song on stage"), you know his heart is clearly in the right same place.

McCoury and band did do a few key songs from their regular repertoire: "Nashville Cats," the Lovin' Spoonful hit, as McCoury noted, also written in New York, and Richard Thompson's "Black Vincent 1952." He also led the group in Carl Smith's 1952 country chart-topper "Are You Teasing Me," and the gospel tune "Get Down On Your Knees and Pray," ending with another gospel song, "All Aboard," essentially bringing the set back to the beginning thematically.

The rest of the bill then came out for a "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" finale, the City Winery stage filled to the brim with the McCourys, the back-to-bluegrass Mark O'Connor featuring the O'Connor Band (besides his fiddle and vocals, his wife Maggie also fiddle and vocals, son Forrest mandolin and vocals, his fiance Kate Lee on fiddle and vocals, National Flatpick Guitar champ Joe Smart and upright bassist/banjoist Geoff Saunders), Sierra Hull and Leyla McCalla.



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