Tom Paxton ‘Peace Will Come’/’New Songs For Old Friends’ (Morello) 4/5

tom-paxtonA handy pairing of two albums that US folk legend Tom Paxton recorded in the UK during his sojourn here in the early 1970s and previously unavailable in CD format, this welcome re-issue sheds useful light on the post-Elektra period of Tom’s output when briefly he achieved a modicum of popular acclaim, at least on this side of the Atlantic. Of the two, the second, a live recording before an invited audience at the Marquee club in London is by far the superior one and captures Tom in performance with some of the UK’s finest folk musicians including Danny Thompson, Ralph McTell and, perhaps, unusually some nifty percussive work that adds vibrancy to the set.
The gentle-paced numbers work best with a highlight being, ‘Faces and Places’, with lovely melodic double bass and guitar accompaniment and McTell doubling up on vocals. In general, there is a deceptive simplicity to Tom’s sound and the often gorgeous melodies give way to some serious reflection on life. One classic folk melody is to be found on ‘When you shook your long hair down’ while for a deeper message, look no further than ‘When princes meet’ which focuses on social class divisions. Producer Tony Visconti deserves credit for the excellent sound quality and this lends a surprisingly contemporary feel to the music with harmonica, classical guitar double bass and percussion all featured at various points. Tom has always excelled as a quality storyteller of some conviction and this is showcased on the intimate reading of ‘Who’s been passing dreams around’. The joint harmonies with Ralph McTell work a treat on ‘Hob in my mind’ whereas those of Tom’s then young daughters are, with the passing of time, a little hard going on ‘Fred’. Nonetheless, his devotion to his family comes to the rescue on ‘Katy’, written for his daughter and sung a cappella throughout. It is at once humorous and entertaining and Tom’s skills as a witty raconteur are beyond question.

In 1972 Paxton scored a minor pop chart hit with the title track of the first album here, the studio recording, and the significantly enhanced instrumentation on the album with drums, cello, harp, vibes as well as banjo gives the album a layered, but in some respects a somewhat dated sound. Where the sound is most traditional is where Tom’s voice come shining through and ‘You come throwing colours’ is probably the pick of the bunch, though a homage to the west coast in ‘California’ is not at all bad with just guitar and bass, and with Mary (Hopkin) Visconti backing on vocals. Neither album sold as well as Tom Paxton had hoped and, after completing his label contract with Reprise, Paxton moved back to Long island with his family, though the contacts with both the UK and Ireland have remained permanent ones.

Tim Stenhouse