For fifty years now “Folk Music’s Rustic Renaissance Man” (Washington Post) John McCutcheon has been everywhere in the folk music scene. A breath-taking multi instrumentalist, a traditional music archivist, one of the primary revivalists of the hammer dulcimer, a pioneering children’s and family artist, a prolific and wide ranging songwriter, and the very definition of the touring Road Warrior. Until COVID.
Starting in March 2020, fresh from his twelfth Australian tour, he settled into homelife and wrote. And wrote. On September 2, 2022 he’s releasing Leap!, his third album of songs written during the pandemic. “These are not songs about the pandemic, they are songs because of the pandemic,” the multiple-Grammy-nominated McCutcheon mused.
The 18-song collection covers lots of ground. He takes you from backroad Appalachian to Belfast, from a front-porch salesman to an immigrant’s first day of work waiting outside a steel mill, from a 9-year-old at recess to a chance meeting in a New York subway. McCutcheon’s legendary storytelling illuminates moments great and small, elevating the ordinary to the extraordinary, all delivered with his warm baritone and his long-time bandmates, fleshing each tale out perfectly.
Fiddle ace Stuart Duncan is omnipresent as a lyrical and emotive element on nearly every song. Keyboardist Jon Carroll, long the centerpiece of McCutcheon’s recordings, is reliably brilliant, while bassist JT Brown adds the perfect foundational anchor. Guest artists include drummer Robert “Jos” Jospé and guitarist Pete Kennedy, longtime McCutcheon collaborators, Irish flutist Seamus Egan, and singers Kathy Mattea, Tim O’Brien, and Tommy Sands.
“The Ride” starts the trip, a usually-timid kid taking a brave leap at the local quarry, recalling his grandad telling him, “If you ain’t livin’, then you’re dyin’!” “The Troubles” sees the decades-long conflict in Ireland reflected in today’s polarized times. “Second Hand” honors the passing of Greece’s oldest Holocaust survivor, who spent her life recounting her experiences to school children.
There are lighter moments as well. “Listen” opines that “They say that love is blind, love is deaf, as well!”, while “Song When You Are Dead” is a laugh-out-loud take on a commissioned eulogy.
Leap! follows on the heels of Cabin Fever: Songs from the Quarantine (2020) and Bucket List (2021) and brings to 54 the new songs written and released since the 2020 lockdown. “And that’s less than half of what’s been composed, not counting at least that many from my weekly Zoom sessions with Tom Paxton and others!” said McCutcheon.
With this, his 43rd release in his 50-year career, John McCutcheon proves again that his is one of the most creative, prolific, reliable, and satisfying of American folk music’s stalwarts. Leap! puts a big exclamation point on his already impressive legacy.
Song When You Are Dead
You Used to Be
Kora on the Subway