When John McCutcheon returned to Georgia in mid-March after touring Australia, he was all set to record a new album. The songs were written, the studio time was booked, and the backing musicians were scheduled.
About two months later, McCutcheon had a finished album in the can, but it was not the one he originally intended to record and release.
McCutcheon’s U.S. arrival on March 16 coincided with shutdowns and safety measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic, so he postponed his original recording plans and also self-quarantined as a family precaution for three weeks at his Georgia cabin.
While at the cabin, he did a lot of writing.
“I had plenty of time, and I had plenty of space. It was just me and my dog,” the veteran folk musician recalls. “I started having conversations with folks and realized this is one of those times that would be really interesting to sit down every day, as I have done many times in my life, and just write every day until I decide I’m not going to write anymore, and see what happens.”
The results became the 18-track Cabin Fever: Songs From the Quarantine, which McCutcheon released digitally June 5, allowing fans to pay what they wish.
“The first song I actually wrote up at the cabin was ‘Six Feet Away,’ ” he says. “It just began as a great exercise after my wife and I were musing, ‘Oh, what would it have been like if we had met now?’ ”
McCutcheon also had others important to him in mind when writing “The Night That John Prine Died” and “My Dog Talking Blues.” “One Hundred Years” was a song he’d started a few months prior and finished during his time at the cabin.
Upon returning to his regular home, McCutcheon consulted Bob Dawson, his longtime co-producer and engineer, for feedback on the batch of songs.
“I said, ‘I think I might have something here.’ He said, ‘You absolutely have something here,’ ” remembers McCutcheon. “So he coached me on turning my little demo studio into something that could do work that it was not normally outfitted to do. I did all of the recording myself here in my studio, and then through the vagaries of modern technology, sent him the files. He waved his magic wand over them and made them sound good.”
McCutcheon has kept busy with live streaming concerts and has received requests to play songs from Cabin Fever. For one show, he performed the entire album in sequence.
“I view this as part of my body of work,” he says. “It is of its time in that a handful of the songs are absolutely pertinent to this time or use language coined by this time. It’s truly a record of what I did at this point and time.”
— By Chris M. Junior