John McCutcheon – Bucket List
This CD comes as an 18-song potpourri of short stories. John McCutcheon’s 42nd LP in a 50-year career. For some, an 18-song listen by a single artist who’s not Bruce Springsteen may be a stretch. But John’s worth exploring.
With Pete Seeger no longer with us, & many veteran folk-singers fading from view this experienced troubadour exudes creative simplicity, with spare instrumentation & articulate tales that may be the Rx needed. Bombastic dance songs take a backseat. These songs are for the ears.
McCutcheon shares space with Tom Paxton, Tom Rush, John Gorka & the late Fred Neil with his fine deeply resonant voice. John doesn’t draw heavily on controversial topics as the late Phil Ochs did. Not clever with broken characters as the late John Prine. On “Finally,” I do hear some Gordon Lightfoot phrasing. Quite good.
The songwriting may not be as penetrating as the classic folk songs handed down through the ages. Some traditionally come close (“Moonshiner”). There’s no Scarborough Fair, Matty Groves, or Blackjack Davey yet, but there are a few decisive compositions that rise to the top like cream.
Strong & memorable to my ears are “Farmer,” “Ghost Town,” & “Used To.” All from the impressively played 1-hour Bucket List CD (Drops Sept 17-Appalseed).
John said he was “in the zone,” when he wrote these. Authors, songwriters, musicians all get writer’s block. Then, they find inspiration & their fount pours. It can be hard to get it all down as it flows. John’s songs include a visit to a small French town that harbored refugees, moonshine, kids’ crayon art, some controversial asides, but his warm baritone provides sincerity.
The only drawback: with so many tunes it can become repetitive, rambling, melodies sound-alike & blur into each other. Songs may dip into traditional sources (Bob Dylan is guilty of that). This is why artists take years between LPs. They don’t want to go to the well too many times, they wait for replenishment. John’s songs are short & seldom embellished into a gray area.
John draws upon what many prolific songwriters lack. Experience. His musical faith is wide & while some writers have a melody possibility box of crayons with 20 colors, John has a big box of 125. Musicians engaged: John (guitar/banjo), Jon Carroll (piano/organ/Rhodes/Wurlitzer/accordion/percussion/vocal), JT Brown (bass), Stuart Duncan (fiddle/mandolin) & Bill Miller (Native flute/chanting).
This could’ve been edited to fewer songs, but the best part of his music is to just sit & listen. Give the dancing shoes the night off. This CD was produced by John & Bob Dawson.
Color image with Pete Seeger courtesy of John & image with banjo by Irene Young.
Available @ https://www.folkmusic.com/