Music: New Light

John McCutcheon returns to the North Bay with forthcoming album

Folk songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John McCutcheon cannot keep himself from singing. Since 1975, McCutcheon has written, produced and put out a staggering 39 albums, with his latest LP, Ghost Light, slated for release in early February.

“I had not planned on making an album this year,” says McCutcheon, whose last album, Trolling for Dreams, was released in early 2017. That album garnered some of McCutcheon’s best reviews, and his thought-provoking and socially conscious approach to storytelling music continues with Ghost Light, written last spring after McCutcheon led a songwriting camp.

“In the closing of camp, people wanted to know how do we keep this up,” says McCutcheon, referring to the inspiration to write music, such as in the camp’s setting.

In response, McCutcheon shared the story of Vedran Smailović, known as the “Cellist of Sarajevo,” who in 1992 performed a piece of music every day for 22 days in a bombed-out downtown Sarajevo marketplace after a mortar round killed 22 people there during the Bosnian War.

“It was a vigil, it was a defiant thumb in the eye of the violence surrounding him,” says McCutcheon. “This is what musicians can do, and must do, in fact. So, if you want an exercise, honor that. Sit down and make music every day.”

McCutcheon took his own advice, and on May 27 last year, the 25th anniversary of that bombing, he began a daily songwriting exercise, and Ghost Light is the result of that.

Financially, McCutcheon calls himself an anachronism for his prolific output, but he has no plans of slowing down any time soon. “In this world where people don’t buy CDs anymore, I’m putting out these things still believing in the power of a group of songs telling a story that’s greater than the sum of its parts.”

John McCutcheon performs on Friday, Jan. 5 at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, 2020 Addison St., Berkeley, 8pm, $28-$32, 510/644-2020 and on Monday, Jan. 8 at Sebastiani Theatre, 476 First St. E, Sonoma, 7:30pm, $25, 707/996-9756.

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