When it comes to talking about Greenwich Village folkies of the sixties (as I’m sure many of us do on many occasions) several spring immediately to mind. Dylan, of course, Phil Ochs, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, Dave van Ronk,Tim Hardin, Fred Neil and even the Clancy Brothers. Tom Paxton was in there also and for a number of people he remains second only to Dylan in terms of talent and popularity. Somehow however it’s rare to see him namechecked these days while the likes of Neil and Ochs are constantly “rediscovered.” Perhaps it’s because he remained a darling of folk clubs and was never really picked up by a hip crowd after the early seventies. Nonetheless he remains an important part of the folk revival jigsaw and throughout the sixties and up to the present day he has written many memorable songs which are part of the standard folk repertoire in addition to a multitude of topical and protest songs, sometimes hard hitting, sometimes humorous.
Anyway, Tim Grimm, a fine writer in his own stead and who after years of listening to Paxton got to know him offers here 12 Paxton songs ranging from 1964 to 2007. While Paxton’s best-known song “Last Thing on my Mind” gets a wonderful airing the remainder of the songs are less well known. The album opens with “Rumblin’ In The Land,” a song from Paxton’s first album. Backed by banjo and guitar Grimm delivers a muscular performance very much in the vein of the early sixties, a great start. There’s a terrific rock groove to “Bishop Cody’s Last Request” and the satirical “General Custer” gets a solid and swinging bluegrass delivery. The band continue to rock on “My favourite Spring” which is a vivid account of a Korean war veteran’s bitter sweet recollections of a failed baseball career, a tremendous delivery here. Paxton’s more tender moments are faithfully recalled on several songs. “Whose Garden Was This” is a poignant early ecological song while “All Night Long” is enhanced by the fine harmony vocals from the Bowman sisters. Another song from Paxton’s first album, “Fare Thee well, Cisco,” a tribute to the then recently departed Cisco Houston stands out with some fine accordion and a delivery that sounds a little like John Prine in his prime. The deeply sardonic ”Forest Lawn” about a soldier’s final resting place is given a Leonard Cohen type waltz style. The highlight however is indeed the song that most listeners would recognise. The cover of “Last Thing on My Mind” is superb. With an arrangement that is ever so slightly reminiscent of Tim Hardin’s If I Were A carpenter, especially on the drums, Grimm revives a great song with a great deal of affection and respect while stamping his own authority on it.
An album certainly for Paxton fans but even if you don’t know his songs this album stands up as a collection in its own right.
Rumblin’ In The Land