Many kids and parents may know John McCutcheon best for his whimsical children's albums, but like many folkies he's also dedicated to the idea of social justice, equality, and intelligent songwriting. Early in his career, the Wisconsin native traveled through the Southern Appalachian Mountains collecting folk songs and learning traditional instrumental technique from old-timers, and he started his recording career with albums that featured mostly traditional tunes. Even when he was making his children's records, McCutcheon found time to write serious songs, political and humorous, that would give parents something to think about. He's in serious singer/songwriter mode on Passage, 14 new tunes that run the gamut from serious songs of hard times and hard luck like "One More Day," dedicated to the victims of the 2010 coal mine disaster in Montcoal, WV, to more lighthearted fare like "Friendly Competition," the rollicking tale of his first best friend, and even a poem, "Ode to a Krispy Kreme," which is, despite its tantalizing title, probably the album's weakest track. Songs about the hardships of the working class bracket the album. The aforementioned "One More Day" is a slow bluegrassy retelling of the explosion that killed 29 miners. McCutcheon sings from the viewpoint of a miner trapped in the dark, recounting his life and his pride in his job. Tim O'Brien's mandolin and Stuart Duncan's fiddle give the track its down-home ambience. "Come Home" is a gospel tune dedicated to union organizer Nimrod Workman. Martin Kearns plays piano and churchy organ on this song of salvation and reconciliation. "Father Forgive" is the story of his grandfather's first days in America and his struggles to support himself and his new family, and is sung with an understated power. Now a grandfather himself, McCutcheon sings the touching melody of "Along Came You" to his first grandchild. It's also a prayer for a better world for all children. On the lighter side there's "With My Father," an uptempo country tune filled with warm childhood memories; "Glory Halleluiah," a celebration of good food, good friends, and family played with a jaunty ragtime feel; and "Tallahassee Waltz," which recounts a one-night stand in a backstage dressing room -- Suzy Bogguss duets with McCutcheon while Duncan's fiddle suggests "The Tennessee Waltz" without ever quoting it.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet