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Cover Tune : Liz Vice : This Land Is Your Land (Woody Guthrie)


Photo credit: Katrina Sorrentino


Let's call this my belated 4th of July piece, and start with America's national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner." Yeah, we all know the story. Francis Scott Key, a 35 year-old lawyer, who also dabbled in poetry (to impress the ladies, no doubt), scribbled down the words while watching Fort McHenry getting leveled by the British Royal Navy. Then, someone got the bright idea of setting that poem to the tune of (Irony alert!) "To Anacreon in Heaven," a British ditty written by John Stafford Smith. And by the time everyone had their say, we were stuck with a four verse/19 semitone anthem that only Mariah Carey, and the late divas, Minnie Riperton and Whitney Houston, could hope to do justice to.


Of course, every couple years some brave soul will suggest that the anthem could be changed. You know, maybe something a little more appropriate, less Anglo, and just maybe, something your average Joe and Sally Sixpack can sing with making the neighborhood dogs run for cover.


And inevitably, that person is decried as a Communist.


More times than not, the song that comes up to replace the current anthem is Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," a song Bruce Springsteen (a pretty decent songwriter in his own right) has called, "about one of the most beautiful songs ever written."

Of course, Guthrie's song too has something of a wacky history. Fed up with hearing Kate Smith caterwauling her way through Irving Berlin's "God Bless America" on the radio, Guthrie, in 1940, penned multiple versions of his response song, lifted the melody of The Carter Family's "When The World's On Fire" (which itself had its melody lifted from the hymn "Oh, My Loving Brother") and, in a particularly snarky twist, named it "God Blessed America For Me."

Thinking better of it, he later renamed the song "This Land Is Your Land," then promptly forgot about. Four years later, with an opportunity to record a slew of his songs, he dragged it out and committed a version to tape that included an additional two verses that have thrown Guthrie scholars into a tizzy, largely because they have since disappeared.


There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;

Sign was painted, it said private property;

But on the back side it didn't say nothing;

This land was made for you and me.


In the squares of the city, In the shadow of a steeple;

By the relief office, I'd seen my people.

As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking,

Is this land made for you and me?

I think that question mark at the end of the last verse speaks volumes.


Which finally brings me to Liz Vice, and her minor key variation of Guthrie's song, which doesn't shy away from calling out this country on at least a few of our...well, let's call them missteps.

Vice, a Los Angeleno by way of Portland, penned her powerful and prescient version with friends Paul Zach and Orlando Palmer back in August 2018, and while not quite a dirge, it's far from uplifting, adding yet another layer of complexity and subtext to Guthrie's original. Perhaps more importantly, it fosters questions and conversations.


Sadly, as great as it is, I don't see this becoming our new national anthem, simply because it doesn't lend itself particularly well to the subsequent dropping of pucks or F-16 flyovers.


Our loss.


The "This Land Is Your Land" single is available now through your preferred digital music retailor, and if you're looking to expand your musician horizons, you could certainly do worse than digging deeper into the not quite folk, not really R&B, and not totally gospel Vice.

"Baby Hold On" is lifted from Vice's previous release, the Save Me EP, which dropped earlier this year and is also readily available, so you really have no excuses.

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