Pocket Hang Glider

Pocket Hang Glider

Boris McCutcheon

“Pocket Hang Glider” is a solitary project in every aspect. No other players were employed on this album. It is pure concentrated Boris. Can you handle it? You will find, no surprise, that you more than can. McCutcheon will debut this new album in Holland and the EU, offering first-ever live performances to Dutch audiences during the HOTH Brothers

“Pocket Hang Glider” is a solitary project in every aspect. No other players were employed on this album. It is pure concentrated Boris. Can you handle it? You will find, no surprise, that you more than can. McCutcheon will debut this new album in Holland and the EU, offering first-ever live performances to Dutch audiences during the HOTH Brothers tour. This is a special moment in McCutcheon‘s career, his first truly stripped-down authentic, intimate set of songs, emphasizing his poetic lyricism. At no other time in his two decades of touring in the Netherlands has he released a strictly do-it-your-self solo album stuffed with his own songs. Weaving through his HOTH Brothers sets with Bard Edrington V and introducing their phenomenal singer and bass player Sarah Ferrell, fans will also get some solo Boris. Pocket Hang Glider was recorded, mixed and produced by Boris McCutcheon himself, at his Dead Skunk Studios in northern New Mexico. The new CD will be available for sale, along with the albums of all the artists on tour. ••••• We asked Boris why he created Pocket Hang Glider?

A: In the Fall of 2021 I was wondering what I should do next. I was trying to get a read on the direction of HOTH Brothers. Sarah was starting a new massage school and was dedicated to that dream for good reason. Bard had recorded a collection of hunting songs by himself to promote to various publications in that vein. As I had amassed a collection of some pretty decent songs worthy of

recording, I thought to myself: should I make a trippy folk rock album with the Gral Brothers out of Albuquerque? Wouldn’t that would be a cool, a get out of my comfort zone project? Or should I push making another HOTH Brothers album? By the end of November in the middle of COVID, I decided to just stay home and work on my own projects here at the Dead Skunk Studios. I chose to finish up an old project that I had been kicking around for years with my old East Coast bandmates Jeff Berlin and Steve Mayone. We had been sharing files for months back-and-forth between Brooklyn, Vermont and New Mexico. The still-unnamed project is a file-swapping collage of misfit tunes being polished by guitar genius Steve Mayone (producer of “I’m Here Let Me In”) and the best drummer in the northeast, Jeff Berlin. This project continues and it’ll be another story to tell down the road upon its eventual release. In December 2021 while this was happening, I began recording my own project. It was a second thought. I had some new songs I wanted to freshly capture in my own studio in the same way that I had captured new songs on my phone and sent them to Jeff and Steve. I began with a song barely out of the oven called, “New Mexico Bound “, written about my family’s annual Thanksgiving pilgrimage to Moab Utah and back. It’s the most stripped down song of the album — a waltz about coming home. Later In a phone conversation with Jeff Berlin he joked about me “huffing in my shed” too much. This set me off on a new song called “Old Crow”, that I wrote and simultaneously recorded. After tracking “Old Crow” and “New Mexico Bound” I felt excited to have things working out well in my studio. I decided to continue onward and use this new energy and momentum to return to some older material with the next songs “Apple Shine” and “Golden Shovel”. These songs are complete opposites of each other. “Apple Shine” is the infinitely hopeful opening track, while “Golden Shovel” is probably the darkest song I have ever written. I had not played these songs for a long time and by ignoring them, I was now allowed to remove myself and not be intimidated by them in the recording process. I recording “Apple Shine” and “Golden Shovel “ in a relaxed manner, retelling the stories without too much pent-up feeling, and got the job done. In fact this is how I proceeded throughout the rest of the album. I viewed it with a bit of a distance — a job that needed to be done. No screwing around and no musicians to herd. Ironically, it became an album of songs with significant emotional heft.

With a rekindled interest in the recording and mixing process itself, I finished up an older song called, “Mack Attack” and recorded it with double mandolins creating a new technique for the mandolin parts. The rock track, ”PTSD” follows, earning forgiveness points for its content by delivering a delicious Chuck Berry groove with Mose Allison phrasing. I can’t remember what I recorded next, it could’ve been the track, “Niamh‘s Bum Lamb”, a song I wrote on octave mandolin about an orphan lamb my daughter Niamh raised during the pandemic. Easterner meets Westerner in the track “Walking My Mandolin” which probably came next. I wrote this song while hiking and playing my mandolin in the mountains about the folk hero, musician/ethnomusicologist Ralph Rinzler. Ralph was an old employer of mine and he had learned how to play banjo from Elizabeth Cotten. He later taught me the power of three chords. The somewhat psychedelic work song “Staring at the Sun”— a track that might’ve been called, “the orchardist” — needs to be explained. It was written in an apple tree whilst pruning in an old orchard I prune every year in the Catholic pilgrim-destination town of Chimayo, New Mexico. There in the Sanctuario they sell sacred soil to tourists. While pruning I had a vision of my past and my future coming together inside an apple tree. It was a quiet sunny winter day and the lambs were bleating in the corrals in the next field. I was fixated on destiny and It felt like I was pruning myself, pruning the dark branches shading out my youth. Clarity and yet unshakable fate. The banjo-laden baritone guitar flanging,”Trouble and Pain” leaves you satisfied in a way that only a true country-blues song can, with tongue in cheek of course. ”The Mystery” is another song that came to me in Española NM, driving past the aptly named hair salon called, “Do or Dye”. It’s the only song I have that touches on the unsolved cattle mutilations blamed on aliens and hippies — a phenomenon singular to the mountains and canyons of New Mexico. I went for a long walk before Christmas and wrote the last song, “Pocket Hang Glider”. Pocket Hang Glider is a reference to an imaginary contraption you can extract from a pocket in order to fly across beautiful quiet lands beyond. This glider in your pocket can become larger than life with some faith, grit and a little drop of water. It comes from something I say to people after climbing to unforgettable vantage points... “Hey! This would be a good time to get out a PHG.” It’s also a reference to traveling in your mind through space and time — something I used to do a lot when I was young, after my parents gave me a

book called “The Universe”. PHG can also be a reference to human consciousness or even a time machine, or host of other things we summon from our imagination. It ends the album with a final consideration of the darkness, and a flight into hope and light. •••• For the album, Boris’s long-time friend and fellow musician Mark Ray Lewis (Trilobite) wrote a pensive and luxurious memoir of simpler and younger times they spent together. “When We Were In the Garden” will become liner notes for the vinyl LP of Pocket Hang Glider, no release date yet. Mark Ray Lewis, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow, is the winner of the 2008 O.Henry award for his short story “Scordatura.”


Read more…

Boris’s long-time friend and fellow musician Mark Ray Lewis (Trilobite) wrote a pensive and luxurious memoir of simpler and younger times they spent together. “When We Were In the Garden” will become liner notes for the vinyl LP of Pocket Hang Glider, no release date yet. 

Mark Ray Lewis, a former Wallace Stegner Fellow, is the winner of the 2008 O.Henry award for his short story “Scordatura.”

We lived in tents in an open grassland that was edged on the perimeter by a dense forest on three sides. The fourth side spilled downhill toward the ocean. We had arrived at the beginning of April, after the last of the drenching winter rains. Our little tent city was sanctioned by an ancient arrangement that had been secured by an old English gardener who seemed to have figured out how to overcome any obstacle by leading with a large bouquet and vegetables and plums and strawberries and dripping honeycomb. We were there to learn this same trick. Or at least how to grow these things.

A total of 40 tents had been setup under a line of sweeping Cypress trees that had been planted as a windbreak. Boris' tent was about 23 tents away from mine and it was an old green canvas family tent that was tall enough to stand. It was empty except for a dufflebag full of clothes and sleeping-cot on one side. In an opposite corner, a black widow spider took up residence and Boris left her in peace, like a roommate that clearly preferred being left alone.  

We woke at first light and walked up the hill to a sloping garden that had been carved out of a dense parcel of forest. We had only hand tools: an English bulldog spade and a fork and a hard rake. We drove stakes to run string like masons building a wall. We dug and forked and raked the soil until the beds were straight and flat and dark and delicious and ready for seeds. We broadcast seeds by hand across this fine surface and took turns watering, directing the water toward the sky so it would crest and arc and fall back like gentle rain.  

We took turns in the kitchen in a shared rotation and everything we made was from scratch—fresh bread and muffins and cakes and scones and colorful stir-fries and salads from the garden. After lunch, we walked over to a cold spring in a shady and secluded part of the forest. The pool that formed below the spring was not much larger than a bathtub and so we had to stand naked as we waited our turn to jump in solo, gripping a large root. It was impossible not to scream when our warm worked muscles and sweaty skin hit that cold water. We sun-dried ourselves in a small open grassland clearing. We were beautiful and insecure. We were exhilarated and shy and quiet lying there on the grass of the meadow until the sun and air had dried us and we dressed and went back to work.

We spent hours harvesting buckets of flowers and vegetables to sell at a farm-stand on a busy corner at the bottom of the hill. In the late afternoon, we took a break and made two big bowls of buttery popcorn, one savory with tamari and yeast, and the other sweetened with honey.

An older relative loaned Boris a four-wheel-drive and we drove east across the state of California and up into the Sierras to a campground under tall pines and alongside a streambed of white granite flaked with blue. After a couple of nights, we got back into the truck and drove north to visit a farm in a round valley. All the fields of this farm were tilled by draft horses. Boris told stories about his mom and her work with horses as we considered becoming apprentices at this farm. But the farmer there seemed grumpy and repressed and severe. We couldn’t imagine moving from our current paradise to this place. In fact, as more months passed, it seemed to grow increasingly difficult to think about what our next step should be. Few among us had land, or the money to buy land.

When September arrived, we tried to thicken and slow our time together. We sang back and forth through an old hymnbook of folk songs. Boris said he had not brought his guitar because he worried it would be too distracting. Soon it was obvious what he meant when he borrowed someone’s guitar and spent days holed up obsessively working on a Spanish flavored version of Take Me Out to the Ballgame. As a child, Boris been had been taken to Fenway Park where he had been fully distracted by seagulls flying over the outfield and wishing he could pull some contraption out of his pocket that would allow him to catch a thermal and go sailing out over the Green Monster and down the coast toward Tarpaulin Cove. His rendition of that old baseball standard was a son disappointed in himself for disappointing his father and maybe being disappointed in his father for being so easily disappointed. Or that’s one interpretation.

Boris wrote a beautiful poem that was an ode to sunflowers. His talent was obvious but he usually had to be coaxed into performing. One of our friends was named Gatua and he had grown up in Kenya at a time when a song sung by Kenny Rogers was popular and he would say, “Boris! Please! Play The Gambler!”  

In October, the tents were packed away and and everyone had to leave except for a small crew allowed to remain and help with the transition. Boris moved into a room in a barn and I moved into an old goat-shed that was four feet at the tallest point. Boris visited and we played and sang songs for many hours. I had written some depressive dirge-like songs and Boris would wake and vivify them with agile melodies and improvised lyrics. We played Velvet Underground and Neil Young. You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain.  

Our temporal paradise was ending, our time was almost up. We couldn’t figure out what to do with ourselves. We smoked weed and spent hours staring into flowers, falling into them with insect eyes. This was glorious fun and wonderful, and I have no regrets, but I should also note that my next paying job would be the worst — stuffing videotapes into mailers for an Evangelical organization that was headed by my dad. So much for trying to live in the moment!  

A woman who was much better at planning ahead came to my rescue. She had found us apprenticeships, living in a teepee, at a friendly sounding place called Full Belly Farm. Boris was similarly led away from that paradise by a wise woman who had the means to buy herself a piece of land up north. These two new places were several hours apart over hilly terrain and coastal mountains, but we traveled across to visit each other nearly every weekend. We skipped more than a thousand stones across the rippled surface of Cache Creek. We played chicken with our strong-legged and athletic girlfriends riding on our backs, or vice-versa.

At a store near the beach, we bought two-handed kites that could dazzle and spin through spirals and figure 8s until a wrong move or a change in the wind might send them diving to the ground. But when we were lucky and when we were quick and if there was enough room under our feet, we might take a step back and pull in some slack and manage to arrest that downward motion and send the colorful kite back up against the sky again.

~ Mark Ray Lewis