Before I listened to Mightier Than the Sword, my experience with John McCutcheon’s music consisted of one track from his 1987 Step by Step, which featured the hammer dulcimer. The song is “Babylon is Fallen,” which is an old Sacred Harp tune, and one of my favorites to sing. When I bought that CD some years ago, I was singing with a shape note group in Kentucky. Now I’m in Washington, surprised to discover that this hammer dulcimer player is also a guitar-playing contemporary singer/songwriter of repute.
Mightier Than the Sword first attracted my attention because of its theme. McCutcheon has been a voracious reader for most of his life, and the themes from the books he read found their ways into his songs. For this recording, he took that a step further and collaborated with willing authors to write a collection of songs inspired by a particular book or poem of each author. I haven’t read any of the works that inspired this recording, but after having listened to it, I feel like I know the essences of them.