Arlo Guthrie – Alice’s Restaurant – Reprise (1967)/ Pure Pleasure PPAN RS-6267 (2016) stereo vinyl, 34:36 ****1/2:
This is a great re-mastering of an iconic sixties folk album.
(Arlo Guthrie – guitar, organ, piano, percussion, harmonica, vocals)
Arlo Guthrie is an icon of modern protest folk music. The son of Woody Guthrie, he personally knew a variety of blues and folk artists including Leadbelly and Pete Seeger. He was able to carve out a successful career as a folk artist and performer. His breakthrough came in 1967 with the release of Alice’s Restaurant in 1967. Guthrie became a star at Woodstock (“…hey man, the New York Thruway is closed…”) and later had a hit with Steve Goodman’s “City Of New Orleans”. He was a versatile musician and played over twenty instruments. His erstwhile tenor voice and amiable persona resulted in a long recording timeline, albeit with limited commercial success.
Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered Alice’s Restaurant to 180-gram vinyl. Of course the signature track is “Alice’s Restaurant Massacre (pronounced “mass-ah-cree”). Clocking it at 18:34 it represents the entire Side A. Told in the first person, the jaunty talking blues/folk number is accompanied by Piedmont or ragtime-style guitar. Guthrie relates the hilarious account of his 1965 Thanksgiving-day run-in with Stockbridge law enforcement for littering. There is an upbeat feel to the narrative, despite the anti-establishment themes. The vernacular (“…twenty-seven 8 x 10 glossy pictures with the circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one…”, Group W bench) became touchstones for the emerging counterculture (including the second half of the song which recounts his draft board evaluation). Guthrie’s subtle, derisive rants were in contrast to many 60s era protest songs which relied on darker pessimism. The performance (it was recorded live) still resonates and doesn’t feel dated. It inspired the 1969 Arthur Penn movie.
Side B offers a collection of songs with diverse styles. “Chilling Of The Evening” is 60s pop with romantic escapism. The breezy melancholy is effective. On “Ring-Around-The-Rosy Rag”, Guthrie plays a variety of instruments (including piano, organ) and creates a zany Spike-Jones percussive feel. It reflects an appreciation for vaudevillian influence. On a lyrical note, the relaxed “I’m Going Home” is sentimental and has a lot of rural imagery. His troubadour credentials are framed against a near-Hawaiian musical groove. Guthrie’s unusual song construction and phrasing (rhyming pickle and motorcycle is a first) are brought to life on the blues romp, “The Motorcycle Song”. The finale is another heartfelt road song, “Highway In The Wind”. It would have fit nicely on the Easy Rider soundtrack.
The audio quality on this re-mastered vinyl is very good. Guthrie’s voice is clear and the reedy timbre is mellow and prominent. The stereo separation is precise and additional instrumentation shades the guitar and voice without unnecessary volume modulation. The iconic album cover dinner scene is a sly reminder of Guthrie’s tongue-in-cheek approach. The liner notes by Harold Leventhal give an anecdotal insight into Arlo Guthrie’s early life and career. There is also a reprinted New York Times review of his impactful performance at The Newport Festival.
Side A: Alice’s Restaurant Massacre
Side B: Chilling Of The Evening; Ring-Around-The-Rosy-Rag; Now And Then; I’m Going Home; The Motorcycle Song; Highway In The Wind