Joel Rafael Band
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Joel Rafael Band


Band Americana Acoustic


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The best kept secret in music


"Sing Out"

Half a century since his active years as a songwriter and folksinger and 35 years since his death, the spirit of Woody Guthrie lives on. Through his songs' inspiration he's influenced generations of folksingers and songwriters that have been going down the road following his footsteps and singing his songs. With Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie, Joel Rafael takes his place among the great interpreters of Woody's songs. Rafael's voice resonates with the plain-spoken experience that Woody's songs demand and his small group of acoustic musicians brings just the right amount of familiarity and freshness to the arrangements.

Most of these songs are familiar staples of Woody's canon, including "Pretty Boy Floyd," Woody's tale of the depression-era bank robber with a Robin Hood streak, "Ramblin' Round" and "I Ain't Got No Home," two of his many songs about migrant workers, and "Dear Mrs. Roosevelt," his tribute to FDR.

There are also several more obscure songs including "When the Curfew Blows." Other than Woody, the only artist I've ever heard do the song, until now, is Country Joe McDonald. Rafael includes a fine rendition here. Another obscurity is "Don't Kill My Baby and My Son," a very moving story about the lynching of an entire black family in Okemah, Oklahoma, Woody's hometown. There is also the infectious "Dance a Little Longer," which weds a set of lyrics that Woody wrote in 1950, and were discovered in the Woody Guthrie Archives, to a bright melody by Rafael.

The album closes with Rafael's own "Talking Oklahoma Hills," a song about a visit to Okemah in which Rafael brings out the spirit of the everyday people, the "you and me," that is at the heart of Woody Guthrie. --MR
- Winter 2003


Joel Rafael - Woodeye: Songs of Woody Guthrie - This is a simple, but brilliant idea. The story has much more to do in telling about the CD than I could ever do. They have a folk festival every year for Woody Guthrie. Rafael Joel is a winner of a gazillion or so Folk Music awards. This entire album is of songs by Woody Guthie, (two of which he never recorded), but recorded by Rafael in Woody's style. Beautiful and brilliant interpretations that leave you wanting to either buy Joel's next album or one of Woody's. new pop - March 2003

"Taylor Guitar Wood & Steel"

Many artists have performed Woody Guthrie songs with varying degrees of sincerity and artistic success. On the triumphant Woodeye, the Joel Rafael Band is up to the challenge of not only reproducing, but faithfully interpreting Guthrie’s songs.

Rafael is careful not to let his voice or delivery intrude on the complex subtleties of the human condition that are the soul of Guthrie’s narratives. An immaculate blend of strings, percussion, and Taylor guitars provides a warm, vibrant, musical backdrop as the band takes a journey that retraces Guthrie’s steps through Okemah, Oklahoma.

In an amazing bit of opportune timing, someone heard this album and decided that the band should provide the live music for Frank Galati’s theatrical adaptation of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. The Tony Award-winning production was presented last October by L.A. Theatre Works in Los Angeles’ Skirball Center.—DK
- March 2003


Woodeye (2003) Inside/Nine Yards Records
Hopper (2000) Inside Recordings
Old Wood Barn (1996) Reluctant Angel Records
Joel Rafael Band (1994) Reluctant Angel Records
Folkscene, Vol. 3 (2001) Red House Records
If I Had a Song; The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol. 2 (2001) Appleseed Recordings


Feeling a bit camera shy


If there is one thing Joel Rafael likes as much as a good song, it’s a good story. And this is most definitely, a good story.

This is the story of a guy who moved to LA as a kid and discovered music in the form of his mom’s big band records and The Al Jolson Story on Million Dollar Movie. It’s about a boy whose parents drive him down to Tijuana to buy his first guitar for twenty-five dollars, which he uses to overcome his shyness. It’s the story of a young man who pursues a career as a folk artist, just as Dylan goes electric. It’s the story of a talented singer and songwriter who, after several near hits and near misses chooses the well being of his wife and children over chasing the star of his own career. And for ten years he works at The San Diego Wild Animal Park to provide stability for his family.

It is the story of a man, his children grown, his family secure, who is encouraged by his intimates to pick up the guitar and hit the road again. And it is the story of a talented musician and gentleman, who at an age where most careers are over or in sharp decline, finds his career only really just beginning. A music career that starts at fifty? It’s a miracle. A well-deserved, nice-thing-happens-to nice-guy miracle. And a very good story.

It is the story of Joel Rafael.

“Woodeye,” his new album, is a collection of Woody Guthrie songs. It is a record of remarkable depth and insightful humor. Helmed by Joel and Dan Rothchild, with a band that features Joel’s daughter Jamaica on vocals and violin, “Woodeye” is simply the best-produced folk album in recent memory. It is hands down the best collection of Guthrie songs I’ve ever heard. And I know I’ve heard almost all of them. Oh I know, I know, you’ve probably heard about Billy Bragg & Wilco and their hit album "Mermaid Avenue" and the various celebrities who have recorded Woody’s songs. In fact you may wonder how a guy without a famous name or even a big record label could get the rights from the Guthrie Foundation. “Well,” says Joel, “I just called them up,” as if it were that simple. Which, as it turns out, like a lot of things in life, it was.

Of course, Joel has been playing folk music for a while. And to see him play, to hear him play live, it is easy to understand why anyone would say yes to him. A jaunty man with a hippie’s long hair, a professor’s glasses, and a voice that sounds like a cross between Mercy and Vengeance, he walks and talks as if he came off the pages of a 1930’s Steinbeck novel. You can practically feel the dust swirling ‘round his work boots as he sings, a voice filled with muddy roads past and highways present. Hell, on first listen, he even sings a lot like Mr. Guthrie, until you get to the third or fifth listen and realize that his is as authentic as any American voice you have heard in a very long time.

For five straight years, Joel took that voice and his band that he lovingly says, “has been dressing and decorating my songs for a decade” to play at the annual Guthrie Festival in Woody’s hometown of Okemah, Oklahoma. His talent made first a fan, then a friend, of Arlo Guthrie himself.

“I had composed music for lyrics Woody had written called ‘Dance A Little Longer’,” Rafael said, “and I was hoping to record it. Nora (Guthrie) runs the Guthrie Foundation and Archives. So I called her up and she said, ‘well, Arlo gave you the thumbs up, so go ahead!’” An upbeat tune reminiscent of a Saturday night Square Dance and a prayer for words, it is the highlight on an album of highlights. What is amazing is that two of the best of a surplus of good performances sound as if they are replicas of Woody’s originals, except that Woody never recorded them. “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)” and “Don¹t Kill My Baby and My Son” feel as old as a sepia photograph, but are as evocative and provocative as anything you have in your CD Player this minute. His versions of “Pretty Boy Floyd” and “I Ain’t Got No Home” are far more accessible and moving than anything recorded by his big name counterparts singing their versions of these folk songs.

I know, I know. Folk music? Why should I listen to Folk music? Folk music is often seen as something quaint, outdated, something your grandfather sung before the family moved to the big city. But this album is only Folk in appearance: It is Rhythm in its veins, and Blues in its soul. Hard to believe that a few average folks armed only with their acoustic instruments and a great sense of harmony could compete with driving drum machines and screaming guitars, but it’s true. Though written over forty years ago, the band makes these songs sound like they were written today. In fact, if “Plane Wreck” were sung to a different kind of beat, its lyrics would qualify as Rap.

Look. I don’t have to tell you what’s going on out there in the world. You know. You know what we’re facing. We need this music, this traditional American music, which has been sung in cotton fields and concert halls,