John McCutcheon

Sprout Wings and Fly

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    9
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AllMusic Review by

Sprout Wings and Fly is arguably John McCutcheon's most fully realized album. It is certainly his most innovative and experimental, combining his usual neo-Appalachian instrumentation with African drums and Australian didgeridoos to create a kind of hybrid world music suite that is impressive in reach and scope. A trio of traditional Southern folk songs forms the backbone of the album, each getting a radical face-lift by McCutcheon while still retaining their original structure and feel. The classic mountain train song "Reuben" gathers a powerful energy from the infusion of log drums and didgeridoos over McCutcheon's driving clawhammer banjo, while "Oh Death" gains an eerie, atmospheric resignation with nearly the same instrumentation (McCutcheon plays guitar rather than banjo). A third folk chestnut, "Jack of Diamonds," pairs McCutcheon's Virginia (by way of Wisconsin) drawl against the Louisiana accordion of Steve Riley, a trick that preserves the traditional strength of the song while suggesting new possibilities. Ending with a joyous spree of clawhammer banjo on "Cumberland Gap," Sprout Wings and Fly manages to sound traditional and experimental all in one swoop -- not an easy trick, no matter how effortlessly McCutcheon seems to make it appear. McCutcheon continues to find ways to work outside the box while preserving the integrity of the box itself, and he's never done it more effectively than here.

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