Colin Cutler (from the album Hot Pepper Jam available as a self-release) (by Mason Winfree)
The Piedmont of North Carolina is home to various musical traditions that make up the vast lexicon of American roots music. From the rhythmic fingerpicking guitar style of the Piedmont Blues to the two-finger rolls of the old-time banjo in the vein of central North Carolina’s very own country music pioneer, Charlie Poole, the musical landscape of North Carolina has cultivated some of the most seminal artists carrying on roots music traditions today. Many of these traditions are collected and demonstrated on the latest release from acclaimed musician, Colin Cutler, in the form of an album titled Hot Pepper Jam. The album not only serves as a celebration of the land that reared him but also as a homecoming with the music signifying his return to the United States to receive a hospitable embrace.
Kicking off the album is the banjo-driven “Bristol City Breakdown” which pays homage to the birthplace of Country music, the twin cities of Bristol, Tennessee and Virginia. A self-proclaimed true story of a night of playful inebriation where Colin Cutler started his night in Tennessee, but woke up in Virginia. The tune features great fiddle work by Greensboro’s very own, Christen Mack, whose brilliant playing can be heard throughout the entire record.
The title track of the album, “Hot Pepper Jam”, is a rollicking number that clocks in as the second track of the album, and transplants Colin Cutler to a hot pepper field in Carolina. With steamy subtlety, Cutler crafts a narrative of new-found love; disclosing a very true story of meeting his significant other for the first time while she was wearing a hot pepper suit for the farmer’s market and looking hot pepper cute. Serving as the epitome of the album itself, the track possesses the qualities that exhibit Cutler’s artistry – layered lyricism, brilliant storytelling, and hot picking.
Hot Pepper Jam also contains interpretations of traditional American Folk tunes including “Cruel Willie”, “Am I Born to Die”, and “Waterbound” – a tune originally recorded in the 1920s which encapsulates the overarching theme of the record: a return to home. After spending several years teaching abroad, Colin Cutler’s interpretation of “Waterbound” is particularly fitting on this new collection--the number relaying a weary traveler’s plight to get back home to North Carolina. The presence of “Waterbound” on the record also connects Cutler to another traditional Piedmont artist from North Carolina: Greensboro’s Rhiannon Giddens who also included the tune on her latest release, They’re Calling Me Home.
Other highlights on the album include the instrumental “Lindley Park”, a tribute to the neighborhood Cutler lived in as a student while attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The stripped-down track features Colin Cutler solo on guitar, and its whimsical melody has the ability to ease your mind and take you back to a simpler time. The song “Red Bird” is an original tune that sounds just as old as the traditional numbers on the collection. Filled with images recalling the geography of North Carolina such as the muscadines that grow in the Coastal Plain, and the redbuds (which happen to be one of the very first trees to flower in the state), the song craftily paints a vivid image in your mind of the old North State and honors the cardinal, North Carolina’s state bird.
“Back in Gate City Again” features a weeping steel guitar provided by the great Mark Byerly laid over a fine piano accompaniment by Jack Gorham, and Mack on fiddle. The song is a beautiful salute to the city of Greensboro; a place that Colin Cutler holds dear to his heart, and now calls home once more. With such eloquent lyricism complemented by a stellar cast of fine musicians, the song stands out as a favorite and positions the listener directly in the landscape that the album is celebrating.
Hot Pepper Jam is an album demonstrating that the rich musical traditions of the Piedmont are alive and well. Featuring some of the best musicians from the region, including Christen Mack on fiddle, Evan Campfield and Ryan Mack on bass, Wake Clinard on mandolin, Jack Gorham on piano, Tom Troyer on electric guitar, and Mark Byerly on several instruments including guitar, drums, bass, and steel guitar, as well as Colin Cutler himself on guitar and clawhammer banjo. The album was recorded and produced by Mark Dillon and Tom Troyer at Black Rabbit Audio in Greensboro, North Carolina. (by Mason Winfree)
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