Michael Daugherty evokes Woody Guthrie — and more

I’ve said in previous reviews that Michael Daugherty is a national treasure. And this release adds credence to that argument. Daugherty regularly reinterprets aspects of American life and culture in his music. The works are complex yet accessible, blending classical and traditional music. They sound as American as Aaron Copland, yet as far removed from that composer as possible.

In this case, Daugherty’s inspiration is “the life and times of Woody Guthrie.” The orchestra, Dogs of Desire, comprises members of the Albany Symphony. The stripped-down ensemble sounds as if it was created by whatever instruments were on hand.

Annika Socolofsky, soprano, and John Daugherty, baritone sing in a style that seems to blend classical tradition, Broadway, jazz, and Americana. Daugherty effectively creates a Depression-Era Cabaret.

This is music for the hard times — be it Guthrie’s Great Depression of the early 1930s or the Crazy Years of the early 2010s. Sometimes Daugherty uses Guthrie’s melodies (usually just individual phrases). Sometimes he sets the words to new music. And sometimes it’s something else.

My favorite track is “Hot Air.” Here Daughtery takes Guthrie’s attitude towards radio preachers and gives us a current take. “I am a radio talk show host, spinning my lies from coast to coast.”

Daugherty perfectly evokes the spirit of Woody Guthrie in this work. It calls out injustice, indites economic inequality, and even if it doesn’t quite kill fascists, it does rough them up. And it sounds, well, distinctively American.

Michael Daugherty: This Land Sings
Inspired by the Life and Times of Woody Guthrie
Annika Socolofsky, soprano; John Daugherty, baritone
Dogs of Desire; David Alan Miller

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