Vintage: John McCutcheon
PUTNEY — "Trolling for Dreams," John McCutcheon's 38th album, may be the finest of his storied career. The songs are vintage McCutcheon -- that is to say, rooted in traditional Appalachian instruments, rhythms, and storytelling -- but then the album turns on a dime and reminds us that this musician still knows how to rock.
It is a compilation of life in all its glory and wretchedness and redemption. Trolling for Dreams opens with the song "Gone." A man, a diner, and an unwelcome message on a sign, remind us of the ephemeral nature of all things. By contrast, "Longing," a song about passion and yearning, spits embers at the listener. "The Dance," sung from the perspective of four participants, showcases the songwriter's storytelling genius. "Y'all Means All" is a Southern anthem to decency and solidarity that makes you want to stand shout, "Hallelujah!"
But an album about life's most luminous moments -- remembered as McCutcheon "trolled through his memories" -- must include songs such as "This Ain't Me," a reckoning with mortality and "New Man Now," a love song that aches with all the complicated glory of adult life. "Between Good and Gone" is a song in which McCutcheon presents us with a snapshot of a "humbling and revelatory" road trip with his father as he descended into the gentle fog of Alzheimer's Disease. As with so many songs in this collection as well as regularly throughout his career, McCutcheon touches a chord so common, so real, we feel as though it were written about our own lives.
For forty-five years McCutcheon has been defying our expectations. Just when you thought he could be, understandably, coasting through his sixties, he releases an album like "Trolling for Dreams." The six-time Grammy nominee is also the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, a widely recognized world master of the hammer dulcimer, and is the author of celebrated books for children. With this latest addition to his body of work, McCutcheon epitomizes the Washington Post's moniker for him of "folk music's rustic renaissance man."
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