John McCutcheon is one of a small minority – an unabashed folk singer. On Passage, he performs 14 new original tunes that demonstrate his mastery of the idiom known as “folk music.”
McCutcheon’s subject matter touches the usual folky bases – love, social injustice, the sea, family, travelin’, death, and food. But what makes this album special is how each song is perfectly arranged and beautifully performed. John Jennings, who produced most of Mary Chapin Carpenter’s early albums, plays guitar and piano on three cuts. Other players include Tim O’Brien (mandolin, fiddle, and fourstring banjo), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Bryn Davies (bass) and a slew of guest vocalists.
As is required to get a full-fledged folk-singer badge, McCutcheon can fingerpick as easy as he can breathe. On the song “Friendly Competition” he keeps up with Stuart Duncan’s swinging fiddle licks. McCutcheon’s fingerpicked arpeggios on the opening of “Iowa” are so delicate and so rhythmically right-on they seem to melt in the air. He definitely has that magic touch.
If you’re ready for real folk music, Passage will fill the bill.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Mar. ’11 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.