“When I was 19, I worked for this guy named Ralph Rinzler,” Boris McCutcheon tells SFR. “He was a music collector who worked for the Smithsonian Institution and discovered Doc Watson. At the time, I really didn’t know what folk music was. I was listening to really weird pop music like Syd Barrett, Violent Femmes and The Velvet Underground. But this guy sat me down and gave me a lesson one day. He taught me how to play some Woodie Guthrie and that’s when I fell in love with folk.”
In the mid-’90s, after driving thousands of miles with Rinzler’s art collection—and a new appreciation for music—in tow, McCutcheon settled in New Mexico.
“I had four days [on the trip] to spare so I camped out and drove around New Mexico, and I thought it was amazing” McCutcheon recalls. “The mountains grabbed me.”
He stayed for 10 years but, at 30, McCutcheon decided to move back East where he subsisted simply and played music.
“I didn’t do anything but play music for four or five years,” he says. “That’s all I did.”
After recording two albums on the East Coast, McCutcheon headed back to New Mexico to resettle and sign with Santa Fe label Frogville.
On his latest Frogville release, Bad Road, Good People, McCutcheon’s introspective Americana offers a freshness and originality untarnished by mainstream influences. It’s what he describes as “high-road hillbilly desert rat folk,” and the album narrates McCutcheon’s travels perfectly.
Bad Road, Good People plays like the perfect soundtrack for a long road trip. On the album opener “The Ballad of Rusty Strange,” McCutcheon describes a fictional man he encounters on the road.
“Small Town Blues” is armed with an infectious hook that grabs the listener’s attention as McCutcheon shines a light on his decision to leave the big city. Midway through the track, McCutcheon busts out with a harmonica solo that is reminiscent of Neil Young or Bob Dylan.
“Big Old World” takes the energy down a notch and delivers a touching ballad about teaching his daughter about the ups and downs of life.
The next three songs kick up the tempo only to slow down again with “Peace With The Pines,” in which the bluesier side of McCutcheon slowly seeps out—the country-folk blend remains magically at the core.
Album closer “I Long (Then I’m Gone)” features blues legend Taj Mahal and is easily one of the strongest tracks on the record. From the aptly placed harmonic and delicate piano accents to McCutcheon’s raw, gritty vocals and lyrics.
“All of my albums are so totally different—how they were made, who’s on it, the mindset and the timing,” McCutcheon says. “Every album before Bad Road, Good People, I did on tape. This one I did on Pro Tools, but I didn’t really enjoy it. It’s like having too many different kinds of cereals to choose from.”
Nonetheless, McCutcheon adjusted to digital technology extremely well: Bad Road, Good People finds him in top form. His backing band, the Saltlicks, comprised of upright bassist and vocalist Susan Hyde-Holmes, banjo and electric guitar extraordinaire Brett Davis, multi-instrumentalist Kevin Zoernig and drummer Jeff Berlin, leaves people salivating for more. The album also features guest appearances from staples of the Santa Fe music scene such as Bill and Jim Palmer, Sharon Gilchrist and Paul Groetzinger.
McCutcheon’s painfully genuine and refreshingly innocent observations on everyday life expose the softer side of an outwardly rugged, hard-working man. He just may be the last of his kind.
BORIS McCUTCHEON and the SALTLICKS CD release party
7:30 pm Saturday, Nov. 8
Santa Fe Brewing Pub & Grill
27 Fire Place