Arlo Guthrie's second album was a live effort, a follow-up to his curious 'Alice's Restaurant' debut. The album was recorded at the famed Bitter End Cafe, located on Bleeker Street in New York's Greenwich Village, the quaint home-away-from-home for many folk artists of the 1960's. While most live sophomore releases are replete with covers of tunes from the debut disc, Guthrie only offers one cover, and that's a more desirable, extended version of 'The Motorcycle Song', so the album actually stands on its own merits. And while sophomore discs are often rushed into production and are inferior to their predecessor, Arlo Guthrie's second album actually expands on both the artist's first impression as a humorous storyteller, and his budding career as a serious folksinger and composer, a symbolic nut that did not fall far from father Woody's tree.
The album opens with the extended version of 'The Motorcycle Song', a humor-laden dash down a mountain at 150 miles per hour, featuring a catchy chorus and storyline playing on the anti-establishment, counterculture values Guthrie espoused in that most liberal of era's. In case you happen to forget where Arlo is coming from, the album closes with a simliar exposition of the New Left mindset in the entertaining 'The Pause of Mr. Claus', being an unusual blend of liberal indoctrination and Christmas carol. Sandwiched between are four new Arlo Guthrie compositions, and a cover of honky-tonk singer Ernest 'ET' Tubb's 'Try Me One More Time', also cloaked in humor as Arlo introduces it as a Lyndon B. Johnson theme song, drawing laughs from the first lyric, "Yes, I know I've been untrue", to the last, "Won't you take me back and try me one more time".
Among the new Arlo compositions are two standouts. The hypnotic and aptly named 'Meditation (Wave Upon Wave)' features ethereal lyrics such as "Wave upon wave of life within me, Give me the strength to go on, Wave after wave of love all around me, Give me the time to catch on". Another lovely ballad, both in music and lyrics, 'Standing at the Threshold', follows. The other two compositions are less noteworthy, especially 'John Looked Down', which features an unusual cadence, and even more unusual lyrics, which I'm still trying to understand.
Because 'Arlo' was released early in the artist's career, it may be more commercially oriented than discs that were issued after Guthrie felt more established as an artist. This disc was originally released in 1969, and prepared the way for what I believe was Guthrie's finest moment, the wonderfully textured 'Washington County', released in 1970. There is hardly a disc in Guthrie's career, however, that isn't worth investigating by any serious appreciator of Twentieth Century folk music. Guthrie possesses enormous taste, talent, and a tradition few cutting-edge artists from the 1960's and 70's can lay claim to. This disc comes nicely packaged with Henry Diltz photography and printed lyrics.