Scottish singer-songwriter-guitarist Dick Gaughan describes "Outlaws & Dreamers," his fifth and latest Appleseed CD, as "a bit of a departure from what I usually get up to in the studio. It's pretty much just me - voice and guitar - and Brian McNeill on fiddle and concertina on two tracks. I decided I should concentrate on getting the performances and spirit right and go for as 'live' a feel as possible."
Gaughan's previous recordings in a 30-year career include those as a member of the Celtic bands The Boys of the Lough, Five Hand Reel and Clan Alba and over a dozen albums as a solo or occasional duo artist. His music has never been accused of slickness or commercialism, and the sparse approach of "Outlaws & Dreamers" provides a particularly bracing dose of undiluted Gaughan, one of the world's most stirring musicians.
In the CD's liner notes, Gaughan defines "outlaws" as "those who refuse to conform to society's conventions and prejudices." By that definition, the material (and recording method) on "Outlaws & Dreamers" could be regarded as a tribute to those outlaws and their quest for personal and universal freedom through activism and self-determination.
Whether the songs on the CD are original or interpreted, most carry freedom as their subtext. In the version here of Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad" (based on John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath"), Gaughan pledges, "Wherever people aren't free/Wherever working people are fighting for their rights/That's where I'm gonna be."
At the other extreme, Gaughan celebrates the peaceful beauty and unattended freedom of the titular "Wild Roses," a song by Texas performer Kimmie Rhodes. The interior strength of those with disabilities is paid tribute on the Si Kahn composition "What You Do With What You've Got," a perennial Gaughan show-opener.
The freedom to experience life is found in Gaughan's cover of Phil Ochs' "When I'm Gone," the freedom to protest in Graham Moore's "Tom Paine's Bones," and the freedom of self-sacrifice in "Strong Women Rule Us All," a lesson in Scottish mythology by Brian McNeill (a Gaughan colleague in Clan Alba and frequent source of songs). Another McNeill composition, "The Yew Tree," views the ebb and flow of Scotland's freedom and history from the viewpoint of a 1000-year-old tree.
Gaughan's own compositions include the title track ("And here's to the future where dreams will be honored/And the fierce flame of freedom that burns in our hearts") and a nimble, charming guitar instrumental, "Florence in Florence." He also collaborated with McNeill on "John Harrison's Hands," the true story of an inventor long denied the freedom to reap the rewards of accomplishment because of his low social standing.
As the son of a Scottish mother and Irish father, Gaughan is steeped in the traditional music of the British Isles, and on "Outlaws & Dreamers" he finally records "Dowie Dens o Yarrow," which he describes as "one of the first big Scots ballads I ever learned and sang. I haven't sung it for thirty years and decided it was time to revisit it."
Gaughan also chose to revisit "What You Do With What You've Got" and "When I'm Gone," both of which he had previously recorded on 1988's "Call It Freedom." His explanation is that the first version of "When I'm Gone" was missing two of its crucial verses, and, acknowledging the frequent requests he receives for "What You Do" at his live shows, "the earlier album is ridiculously hard to get hold of," so he recorded it a second time.
"Outlaws & Dreamers" is a worthy addition to Gaughan's body of recorded work and to his reputation as one of the world's best singers, guitarists, songwriters and musical interpreters.
Dick Gaughan is a singer, songwriter and musical interpreter of tremendous depth and passion, often labeled "the Scottish Woody Guthrie." He has one of the finest and most sublime voices on the planet, capable of capturing the heart with the most tender of traditional ballads in one moment and stirring the fire of the spirit with his uncompromising commentary on social injustice in the next.
Born in Leith, Scotland, in 1948, Dick Gaughan was brought up immersed in the musical traditions and culture of the Gaels, both Scots and Irish, which provide the foundation for everything he does. Playing guitar since the age of seven, Gaughan recorded his first of many solo albums in 1971. He was also an early member of the Boys of the Lough, served with the Scottish folk-rock group Five Hand Reel and, in the early '90s, founded the short-lived but extraordinary Clan Alba.
Gaughan is deeply committed to fighting social injustice and standing up for the common man in the face of oppression. As an indefatigable worker among workers, Dick was often found collecting on street corners for the miners during their last strike and has supported workers throughout his career through fund-raising concerts. His unwavering belief in the strength of the human spirit to conquer seemingly insurmountable obstacles has fueled Dick's commitment to singing new songs and reworking old ones to point out the essential optimism and belief in humanity's ability to stand up and be free. In this, he has become a leading voice in the topical song movement and has inspired an entire generation of songwriters, such as Billy Bragg, who has recorded and sung with Dick. His 1980 masterpiece album, "Handful of Earth," was voted by a Folk Roots critic's poll as "the album of the decade."