John McCutcheon | Mightier Than the Sword

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Folk: Progressive Folk Folk: Folk Pop Moods: Mood: Intellectual
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Mightier Than the Sword

by John McCutcheon

Songs co-written with and inspired by major literary figures: Barbara Kingsolver, Woody Guthrie, Rita Dove, Wendell Berry, Lee Smith, Pablo Neruda, Carmen Agra Deedy, Jose Marti. Mostly acoustic treatments of rich, mature songwriting.
Genre: Folk: Progressive Folk
Release Date: 

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1. Our Flag Was Still There
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5:48 $0.99
2. La Mujer de Don Miguel
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2:12 $0.99
3. Claudette Colvin Goes to Work
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4:28 $0.99
4. Good 'Ol Girls
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2:58 $0.99
5. Dead Man Walking
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6:24 $0.99
6. Cultivo Una Rosa Blanca
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2:27 $0.99
7. Harness Up the Day
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2:50 $0.99
8. Single Girl
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3:40 $0.99
9. Sail Away
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5:09 $0.99
10. Old Cap Moore
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1:53 $0.99
11. Para Mi Corazón Basta Tu Pecho
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3:50 $0.99
12. It's the Economy, Stupid
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7:47 $0.99
13. Jayber Crow's Silly Song About Jesus
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2:54 $0.99
14. Ode to Common Things
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4:00 $0.99
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ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Literary inspiration and collaboration distinguish this ambitious project by veteran folksinger John McCutcheon. The album-opening "Our Flag Was Still There" celebrates a progressive brand of patriotism, taking its title from an essay by Barbara Kingsolver, whom McCutcheon invited to contribute lyrics. Among his other collaborators are poet Rita Dove (who even contributes a bit of spoken word to "Claudette Colvin Goes to Work") and novelist Lee Smith (who inspired "Good Ol' Girls" and, with McCutcheon, wrote "Single Girl"). His reading of Sister Helen Prejean's Dead Man Walking inspired a musical interpretation that's like a chain-gang holler, while a couple of musical settings for Woody Guthrie lyrics range from the romantically tender ("Harness Up the Day") to the playful ("Old Cap Moore"). Of the two inspired by Wendell Berry, "It's the Economy, Stupid" finds common spirit between beatnik jazz and modern rap, and "Jaber Crow's Silly Song About Jesus" has piano accompaniment that is as churchy as the lyric is subversive. The Spanish-language adaptations from Carmen Agra Deedy ("La Mujer de Don Miguel"), José Martí ("Cultivo una Rosa Blanca," much in the spirit of his "Guantanamera"), and McCutcheon's beloved Pablo Neruda ("Para Mi Corazon Baste Tu Pecho") provide some of the album's loveliest moments. --Don McLeese


Reviews


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Joe Ross

Powerful, and sometimes esoteric, messages
On “Mightier Than The Sword,” McCutheon’s focus is powerful, and sometimes esoteric, messages. For inspiration, he collaborates with Barbara Kingsolver, Lee Smith, Wendell Berry, Carmen Agra Deedy, and Rita Dove, as well as posthumously with Woody Guthrie. Multiple Grammy nominee McCutcheon’s 29th album is a voracious reader who spent many hours at his local public library. He considered books as his “refuge and launching pad,” and he had found “a horizon of unending pleasure and passion.” It was inevitable that the imagery and themes he encountered in books would eventually show up in his songs. “Dead Man Walking,” for example, was written in 1994 immediately after being inspired by Sr. Helen Prejean’s book of the same name. McCutheon composed the melody and a chorus for Guthrie’s “Old Cap Moore, ” a vignette originally written in 1949 when Guthrie and family were living on Coney Island. Guthrie’s lyrics for “Harness Up The Day” were found in the Guthrie Archives in 2005.

Songs are also literary works, and the challenge was to put to music the words or inspirations of celebrated authors, a former U.S. Poet Laureate (Rita Dove), children’s author (Carmen Agra Deedy), folk singer (Woody Guthrie), Nobel Laureate (Pablo Neruda), and Cuba’s national poet (Jose Marti). The 14 songs are mostly given intimate settings, and their messages call for contemplation and deliberation. Such reflective material is often slower-tempo’ed, and it might have enhanced this project to pen a few more up-tempo pieces for additional contrast. Lyrics (including English translation for “Para Mi Corazon Basta Tu Pecho”) are included in the CD’s jacket. The words for “It’s the Economy, Stupid,” cover 4 pages in the booklet, and the song is an interesting, almost free-form kind of profound statement. The album’s closer holds one of his wisest statements as McCutheon sings an ode to common things … simple, small and good. As he states, “I might forget them if I would not pause each day and thus attest, I am a man uncommonly blest.” Books and music could also be viewed as common things, but they hold great joy for those who explore them, capture their soul, and document their more uncommon intellectual depth of feelings or meanings. (Joe Ross)