Not only is Mr. McCutcheon a very strong folk composer and player, but he's a helluva yarnspinner as well, a favored performer at the National Storytelling Festival. This 2-CD set is a prime showcase of both sides of his dauntingly firm talent. WARNING!: if you already like McCutcheon, bypass the next paragraph, as I'll be giving away the surprise element in one of his stories.
The Word CD is actually a series of mated doubles: stories with a running banjo or guitar beneath then paired up to a song serving as the epigram for it. I particularly liked the true-life story of Paul Robeson performing for the workers who were in the process of building the Sydney Opera House because Robeson had such a strong socialist heart and put it on the line every chance he got. The song accompanying it? Joe Hill. Oh, but there's a good deal more, so don't be too disheartened that I revealed that much. There's a subtle and overt treasure trove of humor in McCutcheon's writing and voice, and I was more than once reminded of my cherished old Bill Cosby LPs, not just for the material but also the pace, inflection, and overall delivery. As any know, Cosby was a master of the shaggy joke, a story unto itself. Oh, and there's also some Arlo Guthrie and Alice's Restaurant in him, not to mention a bit of Kip Addotta.
On the musical side, John favors old masters like Pete Seeger but I swear I hear quite a good deal of Burl Ives in him as well, not to mention modern cats like John Gorka, Cliff Eberhardt, etc. A lot of his lyrics, as in Old People in Love, would make superlative Norman Rockwell Americana paintings, albeit with a lot more of the sense of classical Eros and innuendo than Normy would ever have dared. It's very obvious this troubadour is a large-hearted guy with some very special affections for the side of humanity that is these days so much in doubt. Even the occasional goopy song (Forgive Us) is pretty damned stirring, showing the humility that was intended in The Lord's Prayer, rather than the desperation to escape accountability so common to Christianity.
The Song CD boasts a good backing band but both discs, and especially the 'Word' slab, demonstrate that McCutcheon is a very fine string player (banjo, guitars, hammer dulcimer) along with everything else. This sort of release is rare, and the execution and quality herein even more so. Pass it by and you won't find another like it any time soon.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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