"Dust Bowl Ballads" was apparently the most successful album Woody Guthrie ever made, especially since it gained him public acclaim. What stands out most for me on this reissue of the Guthrie's 1940 album are the two parts of "Tom Joad." Obviously Guthrie was impressed by John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath," (as well as John Ford's motion picture, which followed quickly on the heels of the publication of the classic novel). In just under 7 minutes time Guthrie relates the story of Tom Joad, in many ways a story song similar to "The Great Dust Bowl (Dust Storm Disaster)" or "Pretty Boy Floyd." What strikes me is that there is no explicit argument as to the meaning or import of the story, as if in telling the tale the point is obvious. Like reading scripture or even the old poets reciting the epic poems, the audience (or congregation if you will), recognizes the moral of the tale. Of course the Oakies would not have to be told the lesson of their lives. Singing the songs and hearing them sung validates their pain and suffering by making sure it is remembered and not blown away on the winds. Once you start thinking along these lines it is hard not to think of Guthrie's folk songs as the most sacred of our secular music. In many ways an album like this, where there is a clear thematic unity, represents Guthrie at his best better than a greatest hits collection. If you all you have head of the American folk tradition are Dylan and Springsteen, those who carry on the tradition, then it is about time you went back to the beginning and listed to the stories and songs of Woody Guthrie.