John McCutcheon has been described as the “rustic renaissance man of American folk music,” a moniker flawed only by its understatement. He is master of a dozen different traditional instruments, most notably the rare and beautiful hammer dulcimer. A songwriter whose work has been covered around the world. A storyteller “with the depth of fine literature.” Washington Post An author of award-winning children’s books. A recording artist with 6 Grammy nominations under his belt. A teacher, poet and political activist. The question is not how he does so much but how he does it all so well.
John McCutcheon was born in Wisconsin, the eldest of nine children. After a stint in the seminary and an even shorter stint in university he literally “headed for the hills” as a young man to study at the knees of many of the storied legends of Appalachian music. In the churches, union halls and community centers of his adopted mountain home he learned the ins-and-outs of traditional music, an ear for a good story and the importance of grassroots political movements. The result, some thirty five years later, is a world-hopping concert schedule, a huge network of loyal fans and a body of recorded work that is as diverse and expansive as that young man’s dream three and a half decades ago.
This Fire, McCutcheon’s thirtieth release, is subtitled Politics, Love and Other Small Miracles. It takes listeners on the same ride concert-goers have been raving about all these years. Whether tackling the foibles of American politics with his trademark humor, telling the story of a young Native American athlete’s response to racism or singing a moving love song John’s straight-forward delivery and poetic flair never fail. Audiences who have been waiting for the powerful Forgive Us since its first public performance in late 2006 will find its recorded debut here.
All the songs are by McCutcheon with a few notable exceptions. Hope Dies Last, the stunning opening track, was inspired by Studs Terkel’s book of the same name. John joined with frequent songwriting partner, Paul Reisler, to pen Fiddler’s Last Dance, a heartbreaking story of fated love. And John resurrects Pete Seeger’s infamous Waist Deep in the Big Muddy just when you thought nothing would ever feel like Vietnam again.
Thirty five years and now thirty albums into a career that never seems to flag, John McCutcheon still paints with a broad palette, a keen pen and a big heart.