It's been more than four years since Billy Bragg first called upon Wilco to help him dig through the archives of Woody Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics. Guthrie's daughter Nora had uncovered more than 1,00
It's been more than four years since Billy Bragg first called upon Wilco to help him dig through the archives of Woody Guthrie's unrecorded lyrics. Guthrie's daughter Nora had uncovered more than 1,000 unheard songs, and from these vaults, Bragg and Wilco recorded about 40 for 1998's "Mermaid Avenue" and last year's "Mermaid Avenue Volume 2" (Elektra). "Man In The Sand," a documentary that looks at the making of both albums, will be released on DVD/VHS tomorrow (March 27).
"Man In The Sand" was commissioned by BBC 2 Television, and is being released domestically by Ryko Disc's Rykovision division.
Featured in the film are multiple studio takes of "At My Window Sad And Lonely," including an acoustic, off-the-cuff version by Wilco lead singer Jeff Tweedy; live performances of "Hoodoo Voodoo" and "Ingrid Bergman"; and Bragg and Tweedy debating whose version of "Birds And Ships" is the keeper. Multiple rehearsals are shown, including those for "When The Roses Bloom Again" and the Natalie Merchant-fronted "Birds And Ships."
The film uses Bragg's "pilgrimage" to Guthrie's Oklahoma birthplace as a jumping-off point for Guthrie's daughter to narrate what becomes a crash-course in his life. What is known about Guthrie goes head-to-head with the leftist, bohemian myth that surrounds his life. In one scene, we even see Bragg and Tweedy debating which portrayal of Guthrie will appear on the album.
"The political side of Woody to me is more obvious, more open, more out, that's the general perception in a lot of ways," Tweedy tells him. "Him writing about Ingrid Bergman isn't. In 'She Came Along To Me,' there's fascists. In 'My 3,000,' there's fascists, so fascists are going to get their say on this record."
Tweedy later told Billboard that his collaboration with Bragg "affected me as a person. The experience made me open up a little bit and trust myself more."
The film captures both Bragg's anxiousness and excitement to participate in the project, and he emerges as the driving force behind the production of the albums. This caused some minor friction between Bragg and Tweedy, most notably in what mixes of the songs to use.
"In the conversations that we've had that have not been arguments, but just discussions, Billy starts talking about the big picture," Tweedy says in the film. "And these are things that I haven't thought about at all. My only response to him is, 'You know what, I bet Woody would just pick the songs that didn't suck.'"