Since he first came to attention as a 17 year old prodigy invited to join The Battlefield Band back in the early nineties John McCusker has become a cornerstone of the UK folk music scene. His fiddle playing has graced many an album while his production and arrangement skills have seen him work with numerous artists and ensembles, one off projects, television and film work. Regularly nominated for (and often winning) all sorts of folk awards he is as often to be found working with rock and pop musicians and regularly tours as part of Mark Knopfler’s band.
Hello, Goodbye is his sixth solo album and it features a fine cast list including James Mackintosh, Ewen Vernal, Ian Carr, Michael McGoldrick, Andy Cutting, Tim O’Brien, Phil Cunningham, Jarleth Henderson and McCusker’s partner Heidi Talbot (heard briefly as the album opens). Coming 13 years after his last solo effort it’s the first to be recorded at his new home studio, a converted bothy next to his Borders home and is a welcome return to the frontline for this folk Renaissance man.
Aside from a (very) brief sung part as the album opens, it’s all instrumental with all of the tunes written by McCusker. Having said that the album is as traditional as the hills, jigs, reels, waltzes and laments all represented, sounding as if McCusker has grasped them from the very air, melodies of the ages, reshaped by each generation. There are modern elements in there, the funky bass line of FooFog for example or the nod to the American duo The Milk Carton Kids on the same titled tune, a fiddle lament with acoustic guitar gracings. Throughout the album McCusker duets with various musicians on more fiddle, mandolin, guitar or flute as the rhythm section skip merrily along defying the listener to sit still. From the titles of the tunes it’s apparent that he’s written these almost as a musical diary, the titles reflecting life events, his own or of friends. It’s A Girl, The Wedding, A Trip To Roma, Molly’s Waltz/Heidi’s Waltz and Tune For Nana probably all resonate strongly with McCusker and his family and friends but there’s no sense here of exclusivity. Instead it’s indicative that, despite his impressive CV, McCusker has kept close to his roots, as happy to write a reel to celebrate a friend’s wedding as he is to share a stage with Bob Dylan. A cert to be on the lists of top folk albums by the end of the year.