March 2008

Tom Paxton - Comedians & Angels
Appleseed APR CD 1105
Format: CD
Released: 2008

by David J. Cantor

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ****
Overall Enjoyment ****

Pioneering folksinger / singer-songwriter / protest singer Tom Paxton sounds a tad geezerish (at 70) on his new Comedians & Angels CD, but 15 original songs are nothing to wheeze at, and rather than register as a failing voice, Paxton's rings warm and patient. In the refrain of the opening tune, "How beautiful upon the mountain / Are the steps of those who walk in peace" (from Isaiah), where a tyro -- including the1960s Paxton -- might have waxed bombastic, he’s restrained while remaining intense. You can easily imagine his eyes glowing with the aging activist’s gratification at the next generation’s taking up the fight.

The songs’ straightforwardness might raise a "simplistic" flag. But "Deep in the peace of the morning, I see: / She is my reason to be" and "The Mets were either best or worst, / And Marx was wrong or right" suggest their emotional depth and concreteness. Paxton calls them "[l]ove songs, songs of remembrance and regret, even a hymn." Several are very catchy, too.

The arrangements mirror Paxton’s clarity, warmth, and honesty. Lots of folks contribute to the tracks -- on backing vocals, guitar, bass, keyboard, accordion, and more. But they show their talents in blending, not in standing out, so you walk away with Paxton’s words and melodies in your head. Production, engineering, and mastering do not sound like one day’s work. You hear each track’s multiple players without getting a cacophony, and each of the many sounds is clear.