The Klezmatics & Nora Guthrie: On Woody
By David Dye
As daughter of folk legend Woody Guthrie, granddaughter of poet Aliza Greenblatt and sister of folksinger Arlo Guthrie, Nora Guthrie is heir to a substantial legacy. After her father’s death in 1967, Guthrie expressed a desire to keep his music alive, and as director of the Woody Guthrie Archives, she’s done just that. Her primary goal in creating the archives was to reveal new and exciting glimpses into the life of her father, and 1998’s Mermaid Avenue, a collaboration between Billy Bragg and Wilco, was the first in Guthrie’s series of projects revisiting her father’s work. A sequel followed in 2000, while The Klezmatics’ new Wonder Wheel serves to highlight the Jewish themes in Guthrie’s work.
When Nora Guthrie approached The Klezmatics with this project seven years ago, the group was eager to take it on. Now 20 years old, the Jewish roots-music band saw the collaboration as a way to broaden its audience and its sound. Since coming together in New York City’s East Village in 1986, the group has brought its klezmer music (sung in both English and Yiddish) to fans on a worldwide scale, playing on numerous television and radio shows, traveling the world and serving as an integral part of assorted cross-cultural collaborations. However, like Nora Guthrie aimed to do with her father, The Klezmatics’ members wanted to broaden their audience.
Wonder Wheel, the band’s first album to be sung entirely in English, features the lyrics of 12 previously unreleased Woody Guthrie songs, backed by traditional klezmer music. The album serves as a fitting tribute to the legend and his timeless songwriting. At the same time, Wonder Wheel functions as a celebration of The Klezmatics, whose members, even after 20 years, continue to explore new territory with the usual Klezmatic spirit.