Scottish singer-songwriter-guitarist Dick Gaughan describes Outlaws & Dreamers, his fifth and latest Appleseed CD, as “a bit of a departure from what I usually get up to in the studio. It’s pretty much just me – voice and guitar – and Brian McNeill on fiddle and concertina on two tracks. I decided I should concentrate on getting the performances and spirit right and go for as ‘live’ a feel as possible.”
Gaughan’s previous recordings in a 30-year career include those as a member of the Celtic bands The Boys of the Lough, Five Hand Reel and Clan Alba and over a dozen albums as a solo or occasional duo artist. His music has never been accused of slickness or commercialism, and the sparse approach of Outlaws & Dreamers provides a particularly bracing dose of undiluted Gaughan, one of the world’s most stirring musicians.
In the new CD’s liner notes, Gaughan defines “outlaws” as “those who refuse to conform to society’s conventions and prejudices.” By that definition, the material (and recording method) on Outlaws & Dreamers could be regarded as a tribute to those outlaws and their quest for personal and universal freedom through activism and self-determination.
Whether the songs on the CD are original or interpreted, most carry freedom as their subtext. In the version here of Woody Guthrie’s “Tom Joad” (based on John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath), Gaughan pledges, “Wherever people aren’t free/Wherever working people are fighting for their rights/That’s where I’m gonna be.”
At the other extreme, Gaughan celebrates the peaceful beauty and unattended freedom of the titular “Wild Roses,” a song by Texas performer Kimmie Rhodes. The interior strength of those with disabilities is paid tribute on the Si Kahn composition “What You Do With What You’ve Got,” a perennial Gaughan show-opener.
The freedom to experience life is found in Gaughan’s cover of Phil Ochs’ “When I’m Gone,” the freedom to protest in Graham Moore’s “Tom Paine’s Bones,” and the freedom of self-sacrifice in “Strong Women Rule Us All,” a lesson in Scottish mythology by Brian McNeill (a Gaughan colleague in Clan Alba). Another McNeill composition, “The Yew Tree,” views the ebb and flow of Scotland’s freedom and history from the viewpoint of a 1000-year-old tree.
Gaughan’s own compositions include the title track (“And here’s to the future where dreams will be honored/And the fierce flame of freedom that burns in our hearts”) and a nimble, charming guitar instrumental, “Florence in Florence.” He also collaborated with McNeill on “John Harrison’s Hands,” the true story of an inventor long denied the freedom to reap the rewards of accomplishment because of his low social standing.
As the son of a Scottish mother and Irish father, Gaughan is steeped in the traditional music of the British Isles, and on Outlaws & Dreamers he finally records “Dowie Dens o Yarrow,” which he describes as “one of the first big Scots ballads I ever learned and sang. I haven’t sung it for thirty years and decided it was time to revisit it.”
Gaughan also chose to revisit “What You Do With What You’ve Got” and “When I’m Gone,” both of which he had previously recorded on 1988’s Call It Freedom. His explanation is that the first version of “When I’m Gone” was missing two of its crucial verses, and, acknowledging the frequent requests he receives for “What You Do” at his live shows, “the earlier album is ridiculously hard to get hold of,” so he recorded it a second time.
Outlaws & Dreamers is a worthy addition to Gaughan’s body of recorded work and to his reputation as one of the world’s best singers, guitarists, songwriters and musical interpreters.
ReviewsI'm pleased to have Dick's revisits to Si Kahn's wonderful "What you do with what you've got" (a long-established Gaughan clarion call) and Phil Ochs' world-weary, but powerful "When I'm Gone". Both suit DG's intense delivery - which, us usual, moves from suppressed explosiveness to actual explosiveness without warning. There's a beautiful self-penned acoustic guitar tune ("Florence in Florence") that reminds us, as if we'd ever forget, just how good this man is with an unplugged Martin and a plectrum. Add in two of the finest versions of Brian McNeill's "Yew Tree" and "Strong Women ..." that you'll ever hear and this rises to "Handful of Earth" quality. I do not say that lightly, as "Handful .." is one of my desert-island discs. Nice one Dick ... very nice one. - Alan Murray, Living Tradition