Dick Gaughan,
Outlaws & Dreamers
(Appleseed, 2001)

I've just misplaced nearly an hour of my life somewhere in the lines of Outlaws & Dreamers. I didn't think I'd get trapped by such simple guitar magic or such a straightforward voice.

I'll blame my hypnotism on that voice. Dick Gaughan admits to being "firstly, and most importantly," a Scot, and he has the accent to prove it. That thick accent made the first few verses of the opening "The Yew Tree" almost indecipherable, and forced me to listen closely. By the time the light instrumental spring day of "Florence In Florence" had given way to the ominous strains of "Dowie Dens o Yarrow" I could understand him clearly, but by then my attention was stuck.

Gaughan's songs all pay homage to a hero from the fringes, and I appreciate his choices. It would have been easy to cover the "outlaws" everyone already knows about. Instead, he focuses on the overlooked heroes, who worked without any expectation of glory. There's a strong ballad to Flora MacDonald, the woman who managed to get deeply involved in two civil wars. "John Harrison's Hands" gives credit to an inventor who had his prize kept from him far too long. The exuberant defiance in "Tom Paine's Bones" does justice to its subject, wherever he now lies. Both Woody Guthrie and Tom Joad get a homage in Gaughan's cover of "The Ballad of Tom Joad." Gaughan replaces Guthrie's stoic delivery with dramatic flair and a fast, running guitar, with fine results. Detailed liner notes tell the history of the people whose essential spirit he captures so well.

Gaughan seems to do better tackling individual stories than generalized groups. "Outlaws & Dreamers" verges too close to self-congratulation to do proper honor to the heroes it's supposed to be about. And speaking as one of the disabled people given so much attention in "What You Do With What You've Got," I'm a bit uncomfortable with being some sort of mascot for good intentions. Both have fine tunes, with the simple, emphatic guitar that marks this album. And they're fine songs, but nothing in them quite matches the righteous anger in the lines of "John Harrison's Hands" or the poetic lyrics in "Strong Women Rule Us All."

Outlaws & Dreamers ends with the lovely "Wild Roses," whose free, uncaring attitude may do a better job with the theme of the album than its title song. Gaughan notes some amusement at performing this Texas song with his strong Scottish musical attitude. But there's no clash of traditions evident here, just proof that fine songs, like fine people, can flourish everywhere. Grab this album; you can't hear it soon enough.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 15 February 2003

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