John McCutcheon

Bigger Than Yourself

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The opening notes of "I Got a Dime," the first song on Bigger Than Yourself, are enough to make you wonder if the right CD was in the jewel box. This is supposed to be a kids' album, but the guitars have a bluesy crunch and the vocals are gruff and soulful. Listen for a minute and it becomes clear -- the song is a wonderful metaphor for pooling both money and talent to make the world better. Kids like it and adults are likely to play it even when the young ones aren't around. The second song, "The Principle," carries the theme forward in a more traditional style, with music reminiscent of a '30s musical. Bigger Than Yourself is aptly named -- most of the songs are about collective action and compromise, about relationships and society rather than individual feelings. McCutcheon's unabashedly leftist sentiments are delivered with sufficient subtlety and style most of the time, though he does get preachy on a few cuts. If children try the tactics suggested in "Kids on Strike," they may find that unionism has its limits when practiced by preteens, and some parents may find the allusion to child molestation on "Safe at Home" disturbing. About half of the songs here are explicitly political, and some will see this album as a manifesto designed to raise happy little socialists. Libertarian and conservative parents will have a problem with that, even though all the material is artfully expressed, well arranged, and winsomely sung. There are some songs here that could even win doubters over, such as "Play Fair" and "Friends Don't Let Friends," both of which call for children to develop an individual ethical sense. The title cut is the most poetic and beautiful on the album and the least explicitly political, as well as the best. On Bigger Than Yourself, John McCutcheon set out his ideas on society with passion and clarity, and if you agree with those ideas and want to expose a young audience to them then you will want this album.

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