Milwaukee has a thing for Woody Guthrie. In February 2018, an all-star cast of Milwaukee musicians (led by Johanna Rose) paid tribute to the folk icon with the GuthrieUNCOVERED show at Turner Hall. In November 2018, Rose and fellow Milwaukee musician Klassik recorded Guthrie’s “Ship In The Sky” for the American Klassiks record. Now, another all-star cast of Milwaukee musicians is getting in on the Woody action. On Friday, July 19 at Company Brewing, new band The Hatchets will celebrate the release of The Uncounted Blue Jillions, a “concept album of sorts based around the life and work of Woody Guthrie.”
Press materials for the record explain that Guthrie led a hard life, and that he suffered from an inherited degenerative nerve disease “that robbed him of many aspects of his identity.” Furthermore:
While this is admittedly an obscure topic to make a rock record about, it serves as a lens through which to examine how the complicated legacy of American history is in our blood. The record is an attempt to grapple with that legacy; ultimately asserting that even as the ghosts of the past live on, hope proves equally durable.
Justin Otto leads The Hatchets on guitar and vocals. He’s joined by guitarist James Sauer (L’Resorts, Ladders), bassist Allen Coté (Peter Mulvey, Lyric Advisory Board), and drummer Nick Lang (Buffalo Gospel, everything). The album was recorded at Midwest Sound in Rockford, Illinois, and The Chair Company in Milwaukee. It was engineered by Ian Olvera and produced by Lawton Hall.
The one and only Caley Conway also appears on Blue Jillions, reading excerpts from Guthrie’s lyrics and poems. Take the otherwise rollicking “Love Will Heal You,” which Conway opens with a calming voice of peace, tranquility, and hope:
The whole album is like that: bright and clear-eyed roots rock made even clearer by words from Guthrie himself. It’s a summer record, but a summer record that will likely linger long after the season ends.
The Uncounted Blue Jillions will be available on vinyl at the July 19 release show; one dollar from every album sold will be donated to The Woody and Marjorie Guthrie Fund to assist people with Huntington’s Disease.