Woody Guthrie wrote on everything. He would draw and scribble lyrics on old napkins, the backs of menus, anything that he could get his hands on. Though his work has been covered by countless others — Springsteen, Wilco, Billy Bragg and the Klezmatics to name a few — most of legendarily prolific musician's work has been left untouched. In honor of Guthrie's 100th birthday, his daughter invited Jay Farrar (Son Volt and Uncle Tupelo), Will Johnson (Centro-Matic), Anders Parker (Varnaline), and Jim James (My Morning Jacket) to find lyrics from among Guthrie's archives that spoke to them and put the words to music. The resulting twelve songs became the album New Multitudes.
You can feel loneliness and heartache in every note of the Jim James-led "Empty Bed Blues." The song is kept simple — just voices and acoustic guitars — to emphasize Guthrie's lyrics about "stumblin' home" and "singin' the wrong kind of song." It slowly builds to a hopeful note with the quartet singing together about hoping for a better future but ends quietly, James' guitar slowly going silent.
We asked James about his connection to "Empty Bed Blues:"
I was going through this period of just having been injured and spending a long time in an empty bed recovering. I felt like the portions of life when you're not in love or when you're not experiencing romance or some kind of connection at that time had been so long for me. I felt like I was in an empty bed so much and the lyrics of that song really resonated. Shortly after the injury experience though — I fell in love ... and had this new person that I was and am really in love with ... so it was new then and in the beginning phases of a long-distance relationship ... when they're so far away, but you want them near you so very bad. You're in your empty bed suffering and you want them close and you are really thinking about it with everything you have ... and you believe that if they'd just come see you soon ... that everything could be A-OK ... that they could save your life somehow just by being there ... and then they do.
New Multitudes will be released tomorrow, February 28th, on Rounder Records.