april 2008

Tom Paxton

Now 70 years old, folk music stalwart Tom Paxton is only getting better as time grants him a deeper perspective on things that matter, especially love, with which his captivating new album, Comedians & Angels, is mostly concerned. He certainly sounds great—his smooth voice is sturdy, soulful and expressive, and his phrasing is deeply nuanced, the better to heighten his telling insights and forthright confessions. Fully nine of the 15 songs are written expressly for his wife Midge, and not a single one is cloying or emotionally overwrought. Rather, they are all unfettered expressions of gratitude and affection for something pure, true and enduring, as reflected in straightforward titles such as “What a Friend You Are,” a meticulous, lilting hosanna to a connection that had taken root even before the artist recognized it as such; “The First Song Is For You,” a gentle country-inflected toe-tapper extolling the persistent source of inspiration his woman has been through the years; and the buoyant, sweet-natured shuffle, “Home to Me (Is Anywhere You Are),” as self explanatory a song as any ever was. His daughters Kate and Jennifer inspire a wry, balladic meditation on fathers and their offspring, especially his own, with Pete Crouch’s fiddle, Al Perkins’s dobro, Pete Wasner’s piano and Kirk “Jellyroll” Johnson’s rich harmonica providing a soothing Appalachian background for Paxton’s rustic ruminations. Warriors of the Old Left are saluted in the stirring, hymn-like opener, “How Beautiful Upon the Mountain,” and the firebrands of Paxton’s musical youth are summoned in the title track, thoughtful, unsentimental but deeply resonant of a time when Paxton, Dave Van Ronk, the Clancy Brothers and others gathered over drink, leftist politics and music at the Lion’s Head and solved the world’s problems—a moving postscript to a journey, and to an artist, listeners can cherish.—David McGee

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024