Tom Paxton remains a fixture in Washington’s folk music community
Tom Paxton has announced that 2015 will be his last year of touring. The singer-songwriter, who will turn 78 in October, earned a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009 for a long career that began in Oklahoma and blossomed in the 1960s New York folk scene with such songs as “The Last Thing on My Mind,” “Ramblin’ Boy” and “Bottle of Wine.” For nearly 20 years, however, he has lived in Alexandria and become a fixture of the Washington folk community. And because he has promised to keep making music, his retirement from touring will affect us less than other localities.
To set the mood for this valedictory year, Paxton has released “Redemption Road,” an album of 13 original songs and the old Irish song of farewell: “The Parting Glass.” The recording’s two best songs wrestle with the experience of getting old. “Time to Spare” is a bittersweet ballad that looks back at the days of foolish youth when time seemed an infinite resource. “The Losing Part,” which musically echoes “The Last Thing on My Mind,” confronts the truth that no matter how healthy or spiritual you are, “sooner or later you get to the losing part.”
These contemplations of mortality are balanced by the typical breadth of Paxton’s songwriting: the children’s song “Susie Most of All,” the political protest “If the Poor Don’t Matter” and the comic number “Skeeters’ll Gitcha.” John Prine sings on the latter; Janis Ian sings on the title track; and two more folk-music pals, Arlo Guthrie and Dave Van Ronk, are evoked in the songs “Ireland” and “The Mayor of Macdougal Street.” When Paxton sings that he “paid the man all he was owed, tipped my hat and walked away down that sweet Redemption Road,” that road leads back to Alexandria.
— Geoffrey Himes