A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
I donīt think John McCutcheon needs an introduction. For a quarter of a century he has recorded music, toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, the USSR and Australia, and has appeared with a bunch of other music legends.
"John is one of our greatest songwriters, musicians and song leaders. And not just incidentally, he is dedicated to organizing and moving this world in a better direction." This quote from Pete Seeger pretty much sums up Johnīs talents and commitments, which are showcased on Storied Ground, his twenty-fourth release.
The heroes in his songs are both people of today and historical figures, who through personal courage, helped to improve the lives of working class people and those facing discrimination. His ability to tell a personal story and build a bridge to make it relevant to the listener makes each song a moving experience. Some songs are so touching that they can bring tears to your eyes, while others may make you want to raise your fist and shout "yes, damned right!" You feel the compassion in his voice, or the anger which gets a hopeful twist for a better future in the end.
In Jericho, the walls come a-tumblinī down due to the actions of Rosa Parks, striking factory workers, a Mexican wetback mother and a South African woman riding the bus. Vultures was written after the death of Lady Diana, with an interesting perspective on the sleazy magazines and the people who are addicted to reading them. The scene in Cross That Line is a baseball game in Cincinnati in 1947, where the first black Major League player takes the abuse of the crowd until their local favorite calls for time, and shows with a heartfelt gesture that he doesnīt tolerate their behavior. "Heīs got the key to the city, Iīve got the key to your heart" - money canīt buy everything! A Vietnam vetīs struggle to adapt to life is the theme of Homecoming Time, while a portrait of a coal miner is painted in Two Foot Seam. John delivers a passionate plea not only for gun control but also against global weapon sales in From Us. He laments the disappearance of the small town businesses as theyīre Closing The Bookstore Down. He highlights the struggles of the union movement in Crazy Or Courageous. Another baseball story gives us encouragement to dream and do our best no matter whether we pitch the ball or cut the grass in the stadium in One More Mountaintop. The Abby D is the name of a small fishing boat that gets squeezed out by giant factory ships. In a wonderful conclusion to the album, he recalls the comfort of his childhood quilted blanket, and weaves the thread to the AIDS Quilt and the stories it tells: "itīs a common thread that binds us and our work will never cease till we stitch this world together piece by piece."
Melodies and instruments are used to great effect in delivering the message behind the lyrics - sometimes just a lone acoustic guitar with bass accompaniment backs up a song, while at other times a full band, drums, organ, saxophone and electric guitar provide the instrumentation.
At the beginning of a new century itīs an important reminder to hear about the courage of people who stood up for their own rights as well as the rights of others. They can still inspire us!
|John McCutcheon - vocals, 6 & 12 string guitars, banjo, didgeridoo |
JT Brown - bass and harmony vocals
TJ Johnson - mandolin
Art Wheeler - piano and organ
Robert "Jos" Jospe - drums and percussion
Pete Kennedy - electric guitars
Michael Aharon - cello
Mike Crotty - saxophone
Bruce Molsky - fiddle
Mike Munford - banjo
Moondi Klein - harmony vocals
Produced by John McCutcheon & Bob Dawson
Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz