Tom Paxton‘s soul-stirring performance at The Barns at Wolf Trap brings us near the end of his more than 50-year career as one of America’s most influential folk singers. He retires in October, 2015 after at least one more stop at Wolf Trap.
While active in the foment that was the folk music scene in the 1960’s, the music he showcases today seems to focus more on the bonds of family and friends rather than broader social issues.
One of his best numbers of the evening, “Bravest,” was a touching tribute to the 343 firemen who died in rescue attempts on 9/11. Another new song, “Virginia Morning,” showed that Paxton has not lost his song-writing chops. Both songs will be included in his new album to be released in June.
“The Names of the Trees,”also had a very personal feel, describing the relationship between a man and his father who was suffering from senility or Alzheimer’s. “The Last Thing I Ever Meant to Do,” addressed the often fragile communication and relationship among people.
Paxton was accompanied by Grammy Award Winner Cathy Fink and Robin Bullock, an outstanding musician in his own right. Bullock started the first set with a mesmerizing performance of “Shenandoah.” I have never heard a finer rendition.
Paxton’s second set included odes to his two daughters (“Jen,”“Katy,”then “Jennifer & Kate”)and “Marry Me Again,”a timeless love song to his wife of fifty years, Midge. Remembrances of his old buddies in “John Hurt” and “The Mayor of Macdougal Street”were in keeping with his motto, “It is OK to look back, just don’t stare.”
Some of his older, best-known songs, “Ramblin’Boy,”“Bottle of Wine,”“Battle of the Sexes,”and “The Last Thing on My Mind (lessons too late for the learning, in the sand, in the sand….)”, among others, easily lent themselves to audience participation.
Along with Pete Seeger, Phil Ochs, and Dave Van Ronk, Tom Paxton was one of the regulars in the early 60s at the Gaslight Cafe on Macdougal Street in Greenwich Village. Like others in the Folksong Revival of the 60’s, Paxton addressed issues of injustice, the absurdities of life and the tenderest of bonds of family, friends and community.
Paxton’s first break came when he approached Seeger with a new song, “Ramblin’ Boy,” just for a listen. And listen Seeger did! Two nights later, Seeger sang Paxton’s song with the Weavers in a live recording at Carnegie Hall. If the rest of his new album is half as good as “Bravest”and “Virginia Morning,” it will be a fitting capstone to his profound effect on folk music in America.
Running Time: Two hours and thirty minutes, with one intermission.
Tom Paxton’s website.