Storied Ground

John McCutcheon
Rounder Records

1999 Walnut Valley program

Harold "Pee Wee" Reese was captain of the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the year that Jackie Robinson joined the team and broke the color barrier. The Louisville, Kentucky native showed great compassion for his black teammate, who quietly endured taunts all season. Once in Cincinnati, when the abuse got particularly ugly, Reese put his arm over Robinson’s shoulder, a show of unity from a white to a black that spoke volumes. They were teammates, and that was all that mattered to Reese. John McCutcheon pays tribute to Reese in "Cross That Line," a moody but ultimately optimistic song on the new CD "Storied Ground."

McCutcheon has always had a knack for finding everyday heroism, whether in stories of major leaguers, pioneer activists or ordinary folks making a living. "Two Foot Seam" introduces us to a father and son, both miners, using an Appalachian-sounding musical tag between verses. "Crazy or Courageous" recalls a union man who asked "What’s the use of living/If you’re nothing when you die?" Familiar to people who were at Winfield in 1998 is "One More Mountaintop." Again visiting the baseball theme, it preserves the story of a groundskeeper who returned the most important ball hit in decades.

Joined with these stories are songs that reflect McCutcheon’s own activism. "Piece by Piece" honors the Names Quilt and the people remembered by it. "Jericho" points out the places and times Rosa Parks’ action has been felt in the last 40 years. It is built on cool percussion supplied by "Jos" Jospe. The blistering "From Us" features Pete Kennedy’s intense electric guitar. "Closing the Bookstore" mourns a hometown turning into a thousand others and asks us to look around at the corner shops in our own towns.

It is almost unnecessary to add that McCutcheon’s musicianship arrangements are as outstanding as always. One collaboration is a surprise, though. He and hammered dulcimer wizard Paul Reisler from the group Trapezoid collaborate on "Key to the City." Instead of dueling dulcimers, the track is a guitar-and -saxophone driven pop song about contentment. This could be the song your favorite Top 40 artist borrows and records, so take a listen to the original while you can.

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: