Last month we heard a track off Jim James, Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, and Will Johnson’s new collection of music put to previously unpublished Woody Guthrie lyrics in the form of the memorable Farrar-led folk-rock cut “Old. L.A.” Now a second glimpse at New Multitudes, the 12-song set due later in February, is here via American Songwriter‘s new sampler mix.
Upon further inspection, however, it turns out the tune, “VD City,” has seen the light of day before: 41 years ago, Bob Dylan recorded a version after Ramblin’ Jack Elliott bestowed on him “those old VD songs by Woody that nobody wanted the young kids to know.” Guthrie reportedly wrote this one in 1949 among a set of themed tracks — “VD Day,” “VD Waltz,” “VD Blues,” etc. — about the U.S. Public Health Service. For Dylanologists, the images within “VD City” are said to have influenced at least one of his own masterpieces, “Desolation Row.”
You can hear samples of a rare 1961 recording of Dylan covering four of these tunes in his Guthrie-mimicking folk style at the time here. Meanwhile, Will Johnson and Co. take a very different, almost Steve Earle-esque angle on the track, injecting it with unhinged guitar distortion, bar-rock drums, and loose harmonies below: