I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night,sang Joan Baez at Woodstock, alive as you or me. Now, almost 50 years later and a full 100 years after Joe Hill's death, folk music icon John McCutcheon is bringing Joe Hill's music back to life with his new release, Joe Hill's Last Will. The six-time Grammy nominee has gathered a baker's dozen of Hill's songs and breathed new life into them. There are the required fiddle/mandolin duos, McCutcheon's world-renowned hammer dulcimer player, certainly. But there is also a swing version of Casey Jones, songs worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan, an Irish ceilidh version of Overalls & Snuff featuring some of America's greatest Irish musicians, and even a full-brass band treatment of The Preacher & the Slave.
But there are surprisingly intimate pieces as well: the foot-stomping treatment normally given The Rebel Girl is traded for a far more personal and lovely performance, and the title track, given a melody by McCutcheon, finally, a century after its composition, emerges as a spare and powerful tribute to a worker's life.
Hill's ability to take contemporary songs and re-write them to reflect the issues of his day served as a template to later writers like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and, truly, the music of the Civil Rights Movement. Never before has his music been given the kind of treatment and depth evident in Joe Hill's Last Will. As Rust Magazine recently opined, Joe Hill's Last Will is an essential album on many, many levels.