Sunday, April 16, 2017

Tom Paxton – Boat in the Water

Boat in the Water

I’ve written about Tom Paxton a lot over many years: here on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches blog, in Sing Out magazine, and in the Montreal Gazette. I’ve worked with him a bunch of times in coffee houses and concert halls and folk festivals – and, more than once, I’ve told the story of how an encounter with Tom when I was about 14 or 15 (and he was 31 or 32) was that “it moment” for me that led to a lifetime’s involvement in folk music. All this to say, without trying to be too repetitious, that I regard Tom to be one of the most important and significant songwriters and folksingers of all time. Period.

At age 79, Tom remains a vital artist. On Boat in the Water, his new album, Tom offers eight new songs and new versions of five of his classics from the 1960s and ‘70s all delivered from the perspective of wisdom and experience – whether they are songs reflecting his own life or reflecting the lives of characters created from his (and his co-writers’) creative imagination(s).

Among the most poignant of the new songs are “The First Thing I Think of Each Morning,” co-written with Jon Vezner, and “It’s Too Soon,” co-written with Pat Alger, both of which made me think of Midge Paxton, Tom’s late wife, who passed away in 2014. I always enjoyed so enjoyed Midge’s company when she came up to Montreal with Tom or at folk festivals we were all at.

Other highlights from the new songs include “Boat in the Water,” co-written with Pat Alger, a breezy let’s-get-away-from-it-all-together tune; “A Daughter in Denver,” in which Tom’s character, a divorced dad with grown kids, laments how his family has scattered; and “Eleanor’s Song,” co-written with Jon Vezner and Don Henry, a portrait of a woman who has lived life strictly on her own terms.

Highlights from among the older songs that Tom revisits are “Outward Bound,” a beautiful farewell song that takes on even more poignancy in hearing it sung in Tom’s older voice; and “The Last Hobo,” a story of a man left behind by society that is filled with the subtext of ever-changing times.

Tom on vocals and guitar is well supported throughout the album by bassist Ralph Gordon and co-producers/multi-instrumentalists/harmony singers Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer. Cathy also takes the lead vocal – and does a very nice job – on “Home to Me,” a tender love song that Tom used to sing at the Golem, the Montreal folk club I ran in the 1970s and ‘80s.

To paraphrase the title from a 1973 Tom Paxton LP, it’s always great to have new songs (and new versions of old songs) from an old friend.

Pictured (from left): Billy Bragg, Sonia disappear fear, Mike Regenstreif, Tom Paxton and Greg Greenway (with Zachary Stevenson looking on as he does a sound check) at the Kansas City Folk Festival after the Folk Alliance International Conference (2017).

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Jayme Stone’s Folklife

Jayme Stone’s Folklife
Borealis Records

A little over two years ago, the masterful banjo player Jayme Stone released Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project, an superb album in which he and a revolving cast of singers and musicians reimagined 19 songs – mostly traditional folksongs – that had been collected by legendary folklorist Alan Lomax (1915-2002) over a period of many years. As I noted in my review, “it is an extraordinary collection at once timeless, traditional and utterly contemporary.”

Although the CD featured different musicians and singers on different tracks Jayme worked with more focused smaller groups when taking the Lomax Project out on the road. The superb Lomax Project concert that I got to see and hear – March 16, 2016 in Ottawa at the National Arts Centre Fourth Stage – featured Jayme with primary lead singer and accordionist Moira Smiley, bassist Joe Phillips and fiddler Sumaia Jackson. Moira and Joe had each appeared on about a third of the tracks on Jayme Stone’s Lomax Project while Sumaia was recruited sometime after the recording was completed.

While I went into that concert wondering if Jayme, Moira, Joe and Sumaia would be credible performing the often complex arrangements that had been played by other combinations of musicians on the CD, it was quickly obvious that the four had formed a wonderful, tight performing unit. It was one of the finest concerts I’ve seen in recent years.

Jayme Stone’s Folklife is the follow-up to the Lomax Project CD. At about 43 minutes and 10 songs it’s a shorter CD than the first one (which had 19 songs and clocked in at 66 minutes). But it’s a tighter, more focused group with nine of the 10 songs featuring the core group of Jayme, Moira, Joe and Sumaia – sometimes augmented by drummer Nick Fraser and/or harmony singers Felicity Williams and Denzel Sinclaire. And although most of the songs come from Lomax field recordings, there are a couple here that came through other collectors.

Although each of these tracks is a terrific performance highlighted by great playing and Moira’s charismatic lead vocals, a few of my very favorites include “Mwen Pas Danse” with its bouncy, breezy Caribbean rhythms; “Hey, Lally Lally Lo,” which I learned at summer camp in the 1960s as a singalong song that we’d improvise verses to, but which Moira turns into a sexy torch song; and the a cappella finale, “Wait on the Rising Sun,” with Moira’s lead vocals supported by Jayme, Sumaia, Joe, Felicity and Denzel in glorious harmonies.

“Buttermilk” is the only song on Jayme Stone’s Folklife not to feature the core musicians. On this song Jayme, on banjo, is joined by Dom Flemons who sings and plays guitar and quills (a panpipe flute made from cane reeds) and jazz musician Ron Miles on cornet. It’s a delightful, energetic performance on which you can also hear percussive bones playing – I assume by Dom who I’ve seen play them during his days with the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

As I said about Jayme Stone's Lomax Project, this album is an extraordinary collection at once timeless, traditional and utterly contemporary.”

Find me on Twitter.

And on Facebook.

--Mike Regenstreif