John McCutcheon made his name as a traditional folk performer--playing banjo, acoustic guitar, fiddle and hammer dulcimer and writing songs of domestic warmth and political protest in the Appalachian mode. He was smart enough, however, to recognize the contradictions of performing rootsy, leftist "people's music" for the mostly middle-aged, highly educated, upper-middle-class audience of modern singer-songwriter folk music. He tried to bust out of that bind with his 1994 album, Between the Eclipse, which set his songs in electrified folk-rock arrangements played by the likes of Nanci Griffith guitarist Pete Kennedy, Bruce Hornsby saxophonist Bobby Read and Mary Chapin Carpenter singer Jon Carroll. Now McCutcheon has followed up that effort with Nothing To Lose, a similar project with the same musicians. The irony, of course, is that this old-fashioned, refined brand of roots-rock, with its echoes of Hornsby, Griffith and Bruce Springsteen, merely attracts a slightly larger version of the same audience drawn to singer-songwriter folk. Nonetheless, this audience deserves quality songs as much as any, and McCutcheon delivers the goods.--Geoffrey Himes
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And everything to gain
loce_the_wizard | Lilburn, GA USA | 06/06/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"John McCutcheon figured he had nothing to lose by crafting an excellent collection of tunes that veered from his usual niche of traditional folk music. And he was right: McCutcheon proves that he can arrange, perform, and sing electrified folk-rock, and does so with verve and gusto. He taps into the style and substance favored by peers such as John Hiatt, Boz Scaggs, and Bonnie Raitt and delivers an original, fresh-sounding set of songs.If you a hard core fan of McCutcheon expecting banjo, fiddle, and dulcimer, park your expectations. Yes, there are dulcimers and acoustic guitars, but these are not the primary focus. Instead prime your ears for a collection that runs the gamut from the reflective shimmering folk tracks "Wish You Goodnight" to the piano ballad "Here on the Islands" to the jazz-tinged "Paint Me a Picture." A crew of stellar session musicians brings the songs to life, adding electric guitars, keyboards, sax, synthesizers, percussion, and wonderful harmony vocals. He covers the cannon of themes that commonly loom during middle age: loss of family and friends, life's lessons, love (both lost and found), leisure, and wonder. If the themes of poverty and loss at first seem too hard to listen to, listen again: McCutcheon's optimism and his ethusiasm cannot be suppressed."