Chuck McCabe,
Sweet Reunion
(Blah Blah Woof Woof, 2005)

Sweet Reunion marks McCabe's first real flirtation with Celtic musical influences. The thought of a meat-and-potatoes American folk musician like McCabe dealing out Celtic fiddle and Scottish pipes at first seems questionable. But there's no attempt here to be another faux-Celtic musician. McCabe borrows just enough from his Irish-Scottish roots to inspire his own style. The results are an exuberant and very American synthesis.

Two songs draw most obviously from McCabe's Celtic experiment. "The Junk in Murphy's Yard" is a simply perfect song that covers art, life, death and immortality with the imagination and whimsy of a Dr. Seuss or Shel Silverstein poem. The sparkling percussion that echoes the rain of the song turns into a step-dancing rhythm or a dirge with perfect timing. "Erin the Fair (& Caledonia the Brave)" is a homage to the suffering of the Celtic immigrants who made the McCabe name and so many others into common American surnames. Pipes and whistles call out the defiance and sorrow of all those who left their homes behind to find a better future across the sea.

But no matter where McCabe comes from, he's an American boy, and Sweet Reunion has the rhythm and blues to prove it, and plenty of wild country to prove it in. "Grandpa Played Softball" and "That's What I Like About My Baby" show off McCabe's flair for celebrating the everyday, along with some surprisingly elegant rhyme schemes and outright great guitar work. "Gone to Utah" paints the vibrant colors and wide open spaces of the American Southwest in strokes of steel strings and the lingering touch of suspended chords. "Deliver Us from Evil" and "No Good to Me Now" borrow from the distant but related realms of blues and gospel, one a thunder-heavy prayer on the wickedness of life, the other a joyful, horn-backed celebration of personal growth. "Sweet Reunion" is the perfect ending to an album full of separations and brief alliances, a powerfully hopeful promise of better eternities.

McCabe is one of our great singing poets, and he does it all without any overt pretense at poetry. No straining experimental rhyme schemes, no deconstructed traditions. He just gets out there and says the important things that everyone knows, but few can put it into words. He can put those things into words; better still, he can put them into music. His guitar work is powerful, his vocals are low and pitched right into the spine; but it's that rare gift of expression that makes Sweet Reunion truly satisfy, ears, mind and soul.

by Sarah Meador
1 April 2006