Music for the love of it

From the Schemers to the Men of Great Courage, Mark Cutler’s songs have always gotten to ‘that special kind of place’
By JIM MACNIE  |  May 5, 2010


‘A COMMUNAL KIND OF THING’ Cutler at the Liberty Elm Diner. Photo: Richard McCaffrey

MP3: "Cousin Mary's New Car," from Mark Cutler’s new disc, Red


The Schemers on Rudy Cheeks's "Club Genius"

The Schemers, "Some Fun"

Raindogs, "Too Many Stars" @ the Rat 9.15.88

Mark Cutler & Friends,  "Walking In the Night"

Mark solo, "We Shall Always" @ Lupo's 6.14.08

It’s Saturday night and neon beer signs are illuminating a well-worn pool table. A curvy woman with streaks of gray running through her long brown hair eyes her male opponent, thrusts her cue arm forward, and sinks the eight ball to a round of applause. The six or seven onlookers are glad she beat the guy, who now seems a tad embarrassed. Ten feet away, Mark Cutler sings a Rolling Stones song. “You’re outta touch my baby/my poor old-fashioned baby.” It’s tilting toward midnight, and Nick-a-Nee’s is pulsing. Some patrons are simply out to grab a little pleasure; some are, as writer Peter Watrous once put it, out to “dodge whatever law is on their tail.” Cutler’s music, vivid and potent, provides an apt soundtrack for this kind of scene.

Often, Cutler’s songs are telling snapshots of the unexpected disappointments, unusual achievements, and unassuming acts of kindness that pepper so many of our lives — he has a sharp eye when it comes to reflecting on how we all interact. Somehow, in this bar, on this evening, the music wafts through the air in an oddly fitting way. Whether driving his Men of Great Courage on a tune about a spooky midnight stroll, or gently declaring a deep camaraderie with “We Shall Always Remain Friends,” he’s concocting a soundtrack to the feelings in the room.

The 52-year-old rocker has been around the block a time or two. He spent most of the ’80s leading the Schemers, the acclaimed regional kingpins who bent punk and pop to form a sound both edgy and classic. After that it was the Raindogs, who made a couple of fetching discs in the early ’90s and toured with Bob Dylan, Don Henley, and Warren Zevon. For the last few years, Cutler has been in a pointedly active period. Five days a week he leaves his Riverside home for his software job in Boston. The weekends are reserved for gigs with one of his various ensembles. The Tiny String Band features bassist Jim Berger, accordionist Dick Reed, mandolinist David Richardson, and banjo player Bob Kirkman. The Men of Great Courage step it up a bit, rocking with the same personnel plus superb smacker Bob Giusti on drums. Cutler sometimes plays solo; his cozy breakfast shows at the Liberty Elm Diner enjoy an ever-increasing buzz. Then there’s Forever Young, the Neil Young tribute ensemble he shares with a scad of other local notables. And don’t forget the Dino Club and the occasional Schemers reunion and the visual art he enjoys making in his spare time. Suffice to say there’s no dust on this dude.

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