Music Review: John McCutcheon’s Four Seasons

It’s been a while since I have visited John McCutcheon’s Four Seasons, a beautifully conceived project that was launched 10 years ago to celebrate the universal memories that linger with us through the ever-changing seasons of our lives. Reflecting a small-town feel, this four-CD, 48-song collection is as fresh and real today as, well, a real reality show, but way better. The songwriting by McCutcheon and Si Kahn is first rate, the musicianship is first rate, and the production is exemplary.

The first season represented in song is Summersongs, a celebration of all that is good, right and just in our world: no school, no rules, no shoes and service with a smile. I particularly loved the song “Power Mower,” a paean to that magical moment when we find ourselves at the controls of some mechanism that could, at any moment, lurch out of control and mow every lawn in the neighborhood! Meanwhile, “Dad and Me” is a poignant tale of a young boy with divorced parents who looks forward to spending the summer, and building memories, with his father.

Autumnsongs is a refreshing blast of 12 crisp songs that crunch through the fallen leaves and cover familiar terrain of being a “New Kid in School” to the “Halloween” and “Thanksgiving” holidays and baseball recollections in “World Series ’57” – when a town loved a team and a team loved a town. The beautiful changes of this season are mirrored in “Colors” as the leaves on the trees transition. “Sî Se Puede” (Yes, We Can) sung in Spanish, honors the founder of the United Farm Workers, Cesar Chavez – an upbeat celebration.

Wintersongs will take you back to the simple pleasures of being a kid when the first snows of winter hit the ground, like the opening track “New Boots” that smokes from the get-go! This CD is as close to sensory music as possible – you can just smell and taste the “Hot Chocolate” and “Soup” that has a special allure at this time of year. Again, each song is carefully crafted and evokes universal emotions. Especially touching is “Footprints,” a tribute to McCutcheon’s older sister as they searched for a Christmas tree: I was walking in your footsteps/Counting every step/Measuring every move you made/And every word you said/I was dancing in your shadow/Doing what you’d do/I was learning how to be like me/By being just like you.

Springsongs completes the seasonal circle of life. “I Hope I Make It,” portrays that tense moment, staring at the Little League roster searching for your name. “Spring Fever” is self-explanatory – I still get it. “Going to the Prom” is a young chap’s observations of his sister’s coming of age: My sister’s going to the prom/She’s got a long, blue dress on/Isn’t it strange how a person can change?/My sister’s going to the prom. “Summer Is A-Coming” is a rip-roaring anthem to the approaching much anticipated season and that brings us right back to Summersongs.

In my humble opinion, McCutcheon’s Four Seasons quartet is a national treasure. Track it down, seek it out and enjoy it for years to come.

Four Seasons – Summersongs, Wintersongs, Autumnsongs, Springsongs, John McCutcheon, Rounder Records, 1995-1999; $8.99-$12.99 CD; and

– John Wood

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