Outlaws & Dreamers
by Kemp Burpeau
As further demonstrated in Outlaws & Dreamers, Dick Gaughan is truly a Celtic troubadour of freedom and fair play. Although some of his songs highlight Scottish nationalism, Gaughan transcends provincialism with a broad egalitarianism and universal affirmation of human dignity. Clearly Gaughan is a true folk singer, both exemplifying and glorifying everyday people. Such authentic heroes abound in his lyrics: Tom Paine, revolutionary advocate of the rights of man; Flora MacDonald, stalwart defender of "Bonnie Prince" Charles's lost cause and Scottish nationalism; Tom Joad, Steinbeck's Dust Bowl champion of the dispossessed; and John Harrison, the humble practical inventor who struggled with bureaucratic authority.
As usual for this premier veteran of Scottish folk music, the CD is awesome. Gaughan accompanies his groaning Celtic-tuned guitar with a melodious Scottish voice that cannot be replicated. His superb guitar can embrace a full spectrum of moods, ranging from the sedate historic ballad to a hard-hitting, driving rhythm that destroys the boundaries between folk and rock. In this album Gaughan particularly demonstrates his mastery of the ballad, which he uniquely makes relevant to the contemporary situation. In several numbers Brian McNeill adeptly joins him with masterful fiddle and concertina.
Although Gaughan is without question a consummate musician, he performs to convey a message. You might think that some conservatives would object to a social, trade unionist orientation not grounded in denominational Christianity. Even Gaughan has admitted being one of the "angry old farts," using music to address poverty, inequality and subjugation. Yet even potential ideological critics must surely acknowledge that Gaughan's message is a charitable, encompassing vision of hope, reminding his audience of an obligation to use talents for a common good.
The title track perhaps sums up Gaughan himself as well as the ultimate hero. The liner notes (incidentally a fine read in and of themselves) define "outlaw" not as a criminal, but rather as the independent personality who defies unjust conventions and prejudice. The lyrics likewise describe Gaughan's thirty-five years of itinerant singing and playing, living "life at the edge," "laughing at tyrants, and spitting at despots," reaffirming a vision, a burning "fire," a "heart's pledge" not diminished by time.
This reviewer unhesitatingly recommends Outlaws & Dreamers as a recording that will entertain, edify, and motivate.