Review: John McCutcheon Displays True Folk Finesse

John McCutcheon/Leap!/Appalseed Records
Four out of Five Stars

Videos by American Songwriter

A dedicated artist, advocate, educator, and multi-instrumentalist known throughout the entirety of folk music realms, John McCutcheon has kept a focus on a traditional template throughout his entire career. That’s no small achievement considering he has a remarkable 43 albums to his credit thus far. 

Its title aside, Leap! isn’t a real leap beyond what he’s done before, but rather a profound revisit to his archival roots. The 18 songs shared here remain true to folk tradition, as purveyed from both a personal and worldly perspective, whether touching on a horrific religious conflict (“The Troubles”), an immigrant’s attempts to find work in the country he’s adopted as his own (“Third Way”), an ode to a person recently passed (“Song When You Are Dead”), the scourge of the environment (“Sorry Land”), sharing the story of the Holocaust through succeeding generations (“Second Hand”), a door to door salesman who puts up with a mundane job in order to feed his family (“Fuller Brush”), a homeless man who benefits from a donation to Goodwill (“Nobody Knows”), and the dignity of the Native Americans (“The First One”). As a result, they’re both touching and timely, flush with the emotional embrace McCutcheon is so adept at delivering. 

That’s not to say he does it alone. He’s enlisted an able cast of support musicians, one that includes Stuart Duncan, Jon Carroll, Kathy Mattea, Tim O’Brien, and Pete Kennedy, and in their capable hands, these tales of struggle and survival emerge with exacting detail. So too, McCutcheon’s rich, robust vocals provide the perfect narrative, infusing each song with the emotional resolve that’s so intrinsic to each offering. 

Here then is further proof of the fact that McCutcheon is not only a national treasure but an essential individual when it comes to passing a musical legacy forward towards the future. With those 43 albums behind him, one can only hope there are 43 more to come.

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