David Childers – RUN SKELETON RUN

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David Childers
RUN SKELETON RUN
Ramseur Records

Remarkable Collection of Folk Tinged Americana Tales and Stories .

Within days of each other two ‘musicians in America got in touch to say that their friend David Childers had a new album coming out and they both thought I (the website) could like it and be interested in reviewing it. Intrigued that they would go out of their way to contact me; I still did nothing about it; but a week later an envelope from a trusted PR Company arrived with a handwritten letter saying much the same thing; and enclosed RUN SKELETON RUN.
I’ve now listened to it several times; first in snatches but when heard from start to finish ‘I get it.’
At face value David Childers is a Folk Singer with a warm voice in the style of someone like Burl Ives or Tom Paxton; but so are a million others. So what makes him so different three people have gone out of their way to promote him to me?
The album opens with the sound of an old radio broadcast that leads into the title track RUN SKELETON RUN; a punchy Country Rocker with a fiery fiddle and tsch-tsch drum back-beat that takes you on a fast car chase between bank robber ‘Skeleton’ and the poh-lise.
I didn’t have to hear another song to see why my friends rate Childers so highly. The story is exceptional and had me gripping the edge of my seat hoping ‘he would make it.’
Collar and Bell is a wonderful alliance between what I know as Bluegrass and what I was brought up to think of as traditional Folk music. While both genres can be as boring as wood; Childers has a twinkle in his eye and a smile in his voice on this lovely toe-tapper.
Belmont Ford is a fascinating song; based on a poem by Mary Struble Deery about a train disaster during the Great Flood of 1916 in Chicago. The way Childers holds your attention from start to finish shows not just what a great songwriter he is; but the way he interprates his own words, taking a sad tale from regional history and making it accessible. Not many can do that.
Although I’d not heard of him before this is David Childers’ sixth album in 20 years and you can tell that from the quality of his writing on the well crafted Promise to the Wind and mid paced rocker Hermit; both entirely different in style but fit together perfectly well.
The easy option for title of RMHQ ‘Favourite song’ would be Goodbye to Growing Old; another beautiful Folk-Bluegrass hybrid on a subject very close to my heart; but I’m going for Radio Moscow. An odd subject for a Folk Song you may think; but much like my own teenage self David Childers sounds like he spent a lot of time listening to crackly radio stations in his bedroom dreaming about a world far beyond those four walls in a claustrophobic small town or village.
Discovering the likes of David Childers and sharing their talents is the reason I first started writing reviews many years ago, and keeps me going today.
Trust me, if you like a good old fashioned Folk Singer whether that’s Woody Guthrie, Townes Van Zandt or Billy Bragg I think you will love David Childers just as much.

http://www.davidchilders.com/#home

Released May 5th 2017

Carrie Elkin THE PENNY COLLECTOR

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Carrie Elkin
THE PENNY COLLECTOR
Self-Release

Sensational Songs from the Poetic Edge of the Folk Spectrum.

Oh dear; this album by one of my favourite singer-songwriters very nearly got overlooked; such is the organisation on my desk at RMHQ.
Thankfully I found it just in time to scream its delights from the rooftops prior to its release.
I think I’ve seen Carrie play live 4 or 5 times now; either alongside her husband Danny Schmidt or more usually with Sam Baker and each time I hear her I think “She is too good for this, I want to see and hear her sing on her own!”
Then; as if by magic here is her fourth (or sixth if you count her firs 2 self-releases) album and; well…..keep reading.
Opening track New Mexico is absolutely spellbinding from start to finish; with Carrie’s crystal clear voice as she pours her heart out, dealing with the death of her father. Don’t worry. This isn’t maudlin; it’s a beautiful loving tribute for and about a very interesting man; and one I now wished I’d met.
This is followed by Always on the Run; possibly but less obviously about her father again, but words that touched me quite deeply as I lost my eldest brother only a couple of weeks prior to first hearing this touching song.
As usual I’d listened to THE PENNY COLLECTOR 3 or 4 times before reeding the accompanying Press Release; only to find that these songs were written and collated in a year where Carrie not only lost her father but gave birth to her first child; a daughter, which makes a lot of sense as songs like Tilt-A -Whirl and Niagara do sound like a wordsmith looking back at and reassessing their life in the most articulate manner.
With that theory in mind the snappy My Brother Said becomes ever more ‘interesting’ if it’s to be taken literally. I won’t give anything way; apart from the aggressively played electric guitar and the timbre in her voice resurrected some memories from my own life and I guess many out there will give a rye smile when they hear it too.
Again it was only when I read the notes that I realised the almost otherworldly rendition of American Tune wasn’t Carrie’s own words but those of Paul Simon! If you are going to cover a song; at least change it around…..and Carrie alongside producer Neilson Hubbard have turned this one upside down and inside out to create a minor masterpiece.
This is a compelling set of songs and must be heard as a complete work; but two songs in particular affected me quite profoundly, both very very different reasons and from both ends of the spectrum in Carrie’s ‘story’.
And Then The Birds Came is another song about her father; and with my own brother’s death still raw it caught me quite by surprise. While specifically about Richard Elkin (1942-2015) the sentiment is general enough to be about any loved one who has left our lives; which is the hallmark of a great songwriter.
The other Live Wire is about a rebellious daughter who was ‘Daddy’s little girl’ but ‘ran away to the Carnival’ before returning. I neither know nor care if this is a true story; because it’s such a cool and absorbing tale that I visualise an accompanying video I’m going to direct. It’s in mono/sepia with shots of Carrie singing and strumming her guitar interspersing with the character drifter in and out of shot via dream sequences……just a thought, well; it’s my thoughts actually.
If you’ve not heard of Carrie Elkin before; think Nanci Griffith or Emmylou Harris with an extra spark and sparkle and you will be somewhere in the vicinity.
Coincidentally (as if!) Carrie will be touring the UK alongside her husband Danny Schmidt in May and June; hopefully Danny will have a sore throat the night they come to Newcastle so I can hear Carrie Elkin sing these and others in all her singular glory (only kidding Dan).

http://carrieelkin.com/

Released UK April 7th 2017

Malcolm Holcombe PRETTY LITTLE TROUBLES

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Malcolm Holcombe
PRETTY LITTLE TROUBLES
Gipsy Eyes Music.

Raw and Defiantly Authentic Country-Blues.

I can’t remember how long ago it was when I first ‘discovered’ Malcolm Holcombe; but I do remember it was a Jumping Hot Club upstairs in the Central Bar, Gateshead when the room was littered with a handful of regulars who hung on every single word and note that came from the stage.
I was so smitten with the singer-songwriter I actually borrowed £5 from the promoter to go towards me buying the album Malcolm had for sale.
To be kind to the man from Carolina he has a voice and dress sense that only a Mother…..or me could love; just ask Mrs. Magpie!
I digress; let’s get onto PRETTY LITTLE TROUBLES Malcolm’s 15th album.
Some rather funky bass-lines and timpani unusually open the first track Crippled Point O’View; but it doesn’t take long for that trademark rasp and some wheezing harmonica from Jelly Roll Johnson to filter from the office speakers and Malcolm offers a rye and rueful view on these ‘tired and troubled times.’ Not exactly a protest song as such; it’s well worth listening to and, unless you are a flag waving patriot you will sadly find yourself nodding in agreement to many of of his all too keen observations on the state of the world.
When you listen to songs like Rocky Ground and Damn Weeds it’s difficult to pigeon hole Malcolm Holcombe, as he’s certainly a Folk Singer, but this is Classic Hill Music which pre-dates Bluegrass and damn sure this guy has the Blues.
The title track Pretty Little Troubles is as sweet as Malcolm Holcombe gets; but peel away the layers and you will yet another sharp and darkly witty observation on the times we find ourselves in.
As a ‘Troubadour’ Malcolm isn’t afraid to delve into the past to give you a history lesson that needs to be considered by the likes of us but repeated to future generations; Good Ole Days is a prime case in point, but you can delve deep into his back catalogue for other razor sharp examples. Here he uses the phrase ‘Good Ole Days’ and a jaunty finger picked guitar lick to draw you in to a story of a coal miner who worked with no labour laws and had seven children, of which many died of diseases associated with poverty! I listened again to this song the day President Trump promised to revive coal mining in the USA as part of his ‘Make America Great’ strategy…….perhaps someone should hack his iPhone and make this song Putin’s ringtone.
While I’m on that subject the final song on the album We Struggle is the type of restrained fury that we normally associate with Bob Dylan’s first 3 or 4 albums; but is needed in 2017 more than ever. Listen to it on headphones and it will break your heart in two.
Malcolm’s songs are always intriguing, especially the ones based on his own experiences, such is the case with Bury, England. A tale of touring hundreds of miles from home and turning up in a small town in the North of England, but it could be Nowheresville Anywhere. The intimate detail in the lyrics will bring rye smiles from British fans, and musicians all over the world.
The Eyes of Josephine finds Malcolm rediscovering his Celtic Roots, on a romantic ballad that is a timelessly beautiful Folk ballad at its heart.
As a ‘fan boy’ I’ve particularly liked Malcolm’s recent releases as he’s found some producers who are sensitive to his own particular needs…..especially his voice; which has always been brittle and worn. For long parts of his concerts you find yourself leaning forward to hear him as he can sing in barely a gruff whisper.
Without too much studio witchcraft Darrell Scott brings out a wonderful warmth and depth to that larynx on Rocky Ground and the raw to the bone Yours No More but especially on my favourite song here; and one more than worthy of inclusion on any future Best Of album……The Sky Stood Still. For once I’m lost for words as to how to describe it…..hey; buy the album and tell me I’m wrong.
Please, if you’ve got this far at the very least find Malcolm Holcombe on one of those streaming sites and I’m 99% sure you will find yourself buying something of his; and this is a damn good place to start!

Released May 26th UK & Europe
Released April 7th USA & Canada

https://www.malcolmholcombe.com/

Keston Cobblers Club – ALMOST HOME

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Keston Cobblers Club
ALMOST HOME
Tricolour Records/Absolute

Harmonious and Folklicious Music That Stirs The Soul and Your Feet.

I’m walking a tightrope with this review; as I’m going against all my principals by listening to a ‘stream’ of the album and writing about it ‘live’…..not over several sessions spread over a couple of weeks.
The title track Almost Home gets proceeding off to a lovely start, as what sounds like three part harmonies shadow Matt Lowe’s warm and expressive voice. In the background an intricately plucked guitar and a tightly wrapped Folk orchestra provide a fog of acoustic auditory sensations.
The title of Track #2 Concord intrigued me straight away; as it is the name of the original town in Washington where I live. Thankfully this intricate Nu-Folk song isn’t about Pound Shops and drunken shenanigans in and around Wetherspoons on a Thursday afternoon; instead it’s a bittersweet, (with the emphasis more on sweet) love song sung around some clever banjo and piano before it all ends with a sweeping orchestral closure. Different, yet fascinating at the same time.
While occasionally nodding back to their forbears in the 1970’s The Keston Cobblers somehow still manage to plough their own musical furrow with songs like Demons and the inspired lo-fi of Walls.
While not normally my first choice of music to listen to; and I remind you this is a ‘first take’ review a couple of songs really stand out; Bicycles uses the siblings (Matt and sister Julia) voices like an extra instrument on a clever and nimble song that transcends the Folk genre. While On Your Own takes a massive leap to the left with some Soca guitar, funky bass-lines and a bit of a Electronica back-beat supporting two luscious voices singing and harmonising like Angels. The song ain’t half bad either.
Then there is All I Need, which closes the band’s third  full length album. Julia Lowe’s sensual voice lights up a tight Folk-Rock love song and made me go weak at the knees; and was the first song I played a second time…….only to find it was even better than the first!
After listening only once to ALMOST HOME I can hear why the Keston Cobblers Club are as popular as they are with the ‘young people’; being a lot more easy on the ear than their peers, the recently departed Bellowhead and Mumford and Sons.
In Julia and Matt Lowe they have two excellent vocalists and the band behind them; with their eclectic instruments are truly exceptional musicians; plus the production is exceptional somehow merging and melting so many disparate parts to create such a singular distinctive sound.

http://kestoncobblers.club/

Released March 31st 2017

EXCLUSIVE Simon Murphy – Empty Room (SINGLE)

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Simon Murphy
Empty Room (SINGLE)

It doesn’t seem 5 minutes ago when we first received Northern Irish singer-songwriter Simon Murphy’s debut album Let It Be; but it was actually 2015.
In the intervening years a lot has happened, including the birth of his (and his wife’s!) first son…plus he has been honing his talents in that Nashville Town, US of A.
The first song to come from those sessions is this beautiful song, Empty Room co-written by Simon and Sean Trainor and he has allowed us the EXCLUSIVE first play anywhere in the WORLD!!!

 

 

 

 

 

Eamon Friel – TAKEAWAY EP

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Eamon Friel
TAKEAWAY EP
Thran Records

Heart-warming Quaint and Quirky Songs From Irish Singer-Songwriter.

Eamon Friel is one of those names that crop up every couple of years at Festivals and on the club circuit; yet I’ve never seen him play before, which I actually find odd. He’s released quite a few albums over the years and I love the fact that he is still employed by BBC Northern Ireland writing and performing ‘topical songs with a political flavour’……now there’s a skilled job!
His latest EP of four self-penned songs, opens with Takeaway, which is a bit of a delight actually; as Friel recalls the time he moved to London as an ‘innocent 18 year old Irish boy’ and took work in a Chinese restaurant…..as you do. The characters are all very well observed, especially the owner Mr. Woo, who sings while cooking and the unrequited love of young Eamon; Jasmine. It’s the type of song only an Irishman can write; making you laugh, smile and sigh all at the same time.
Track #2 Across is more up my street; a charming modern folk song; featuring some intricate guitar and accordion accompanying the story of a young man skimming stones onto a lake and dreaming of what lies beyond that mysterious horizon. Funnily enough it’s another song that will make you smile and sigh; but for entirely different reasons.
The short disc comes to a close far too quickly with a song from another of Eamon Friel’s earlier albums Here Is The River; and All The Lost Things really highlights Friel’s imaginative songwriting and storytelling. After seeing a tattered leather jacket tangled in a tree the writer then sets off on a journey recounting ‘All The Lost Things’ he has seen and owned including a ‘lost sheep’…..is that the singer or someone else; we don’t find out, but it’s a wonderful tale.
Which all brings us to my favourite song here. Well; if you’d described it to my two weeks ago I would have sneered at you for not knowing my musical taste at all…..yet……the traditionally comical, folk song James Joseph Alphonsus never fails to make me smile and usually sing along (sometimes out loud!) whenever I play it. The song about a boy with an old fashioned name couldn’t be any more Irish if it was played on shamrocks and Guinness glasses! Everything about it should have made me press FF but no; this old fashioned love song about a Mammy and her son is actually quite beautiful in every which way; making it our song of the week at RMHQ.
As a ‘sampler’ of his work; this EP works exceptionally well showcasing an exceptional songwriter who can glide in and out of ‘moods’ with the greatest of ease; which is quite some talent.

RELEASED 10th March 2017

Bone Moon – The Writer (EP)

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Bone Moon
The Writer (EP)
Self-Release

Beauteous, Brittle and Atmospheric Americana Inspired Lo-Fi From Finland.

A few years ago Son #1 who lives in Finland was taken on a date to see a Finnish Folk-Rock band called Ochre Room, and halfway through the gig he thought ‘My Dad will love these!’ and much to the young lady’s horror (Finnish people are notoriously shy) he introduced himself to the singer at the end of the gig and explained that his Dad was a writer for Maverick magazine in the UK…..they were impressed and gave him a copy of their CD.
A year later I actually interviewed the band for said magazine and stardom surely beckoned….alas not. and like so many other young bands they appeared to have just fizzled out.
Then; totally out of the blue I revived an e-mail yesterday from the singer Lauri Myllymäki who has now formed a new group called Bone Moon, and attached a link to their debut EP.
WOW!
To some degree starting where Ochre Room left off, opening song The Writer is stunning in its complexity; as one voice, a guitar, a banjo and something called a jouhikko combine to create a haunting slice of Arcadian Americana that you would normally associate with the likes of Fleet Foxes or Cowboy Junkies, not three young people from rural Finland.
Track #2 Bone Moon; is full of shimmering cymbals, plucked banjo and cello (?) as well as some almost Classical guitar alongside Myllymäki’s ethereal voice on a song that is as deep and dark as it is mysterious and will stay in your memory bank long after the record has stopped.
Lady Noon; is the type of cryptic love song that music fans have tried to unravel for decades; but I chose to just let it wash over me like a velvet fog; and yet again Lauri’s voice just melts into your heart.
This far too short EP closes with False Fires, the closest thing here to ‘commercial Folk music’; the sort that I would listen to by Nick Drake or John Martyn with the lights off as I wondered if I would ever find love…..you know the type of song; and Bone Moon capture that feeling better than anyone I’ve listened to in many a year.
What more can I say? I was probably pre-destined to like anything which featured Lauri Myllymäki singing; but these four songs have far exceeded my expectations and I can’t wait to actually see and hear these songs played live either in the UK or Finland.

Released March 10th 2017.

Benjamin Folke Thomas COPENHAGEN

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Benjamin Folke Thomas
COPENHAGEN
Louvaio

Intelligent and Articulate Alt. Country With a Folk Soul.

Sometimes RMHQ receive albums only days or hours before the release date; but on occasion they arrive months in advance; giving us the opportunity to give the music the time it deserves. That has been the case with COPENHAGEN by Swedish singer-songwriter Benjamin Folke Thomas.
Opening song Good Enough For Me; is splendidly wonderful! The delicate pop-melody masks a bittersweet love song; chock-full of marvelous imagery in the lyrics. If the opening line “I wish I could come down from this pedestal/Don’t know how I managed to climb an object so tall” doesn’t grab you by the heartstrings, I don’t know what will.
Benjamin is almost poetic in the way he uses and chooses words and expressions; most probably from his youth when he immersed himself in the works of Dylan, Cohen and…..Cobain!
Of course being Swedish means that there is an all pervading darkness throughout the album; but songs like Safe & Secure and Hold On break through any perceived ‘fog’ like the suns warm rays and are destined to make you sing, think and smile which is quite an achievement.
The title track Copenhagen 30/06 really does put the Alternative into Country and Folk; coming across as an intoxicating mix of Michael Nesmith, Warren Zevon and even Bap Kennedy the way he masks a sad story beneath a snappy delivery; and the images the song conjures up would make a great monochrome video.
A staccato like delivery over an electronic drumbeat coupled with a tingling pedal-steel; shouldn’t be something I would normally like, but perhaps it’s the mood I’m in, yet I really love Bad News.
Regular readers will know I do like a good love song; and while Struck Gold and Gimmee a Smile won’t ever feature on those TV advertised 40 Greatest Love Song CDs; they both touched me deeply and have been filed away for when I need a good gloomy sad love song.
On an album that treats the listener like a grown up; my very favourite song is a bit of an oddity; but only odd in the subject matter and the droll; almost Leonard Cohen way Benjamin Folke Thomas delivers it.
Finn is a song very much ‘of our time’ with the songwriter subtly very subtly comparing a 49 year old Palestinian Doctor, refugee whom he worked with in a ‘cash in hand’ job 120 years ago with his own Grandfather, Finn, who was a Communist in WWII fighting the Nazis eventually becoming a ‘refugee’ in Sweden. In the last verse Thomas sings of the sister who played him ‘Punk Rock’ and now lives in India with a child that has ‘olive skin and laughing eyes.’
You will interperate the song any way you want; but for me it really punches holes into the the sorry state of our world these days.
Benjamin Folke Thomas isn’t your ordinary singer-songwriter, his songs need to be listened to and at times are quite challenging; but the effort you put in is well worth it and repaid many, many times over as the songs crawl into your heart and soul.

RELEASED March 3rd 2017

https://www.benfolkethomas.com/

Norrie McCulloch – Bare Along the Branches

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Norrie McCulloch
Bare Along the Branches
BLACK DUST RECORDS

Classy Contemporary Folk Songs That Transcend Boundaries and Borders.

I loved; and still love Norrie McCulloch’s last album These Mountain Blues released less than a year ago so was very surprised when this ‘follow up’ album arrived in late January.
So, it was with a modicum of trepidation that I slid the shiny disc into the office hi-fi and sat back cradling a piping hot cup of tea.
It took less than two minutes of opening track Shutter for a smile to break out and I breathed a sigh of relief. Norrie’s voice sounds even warmer and more ’rounded’ than on the previous album; and the ‘sound’ that surrounds a delightfully brittle bittersweet love song obviously comes from a band of musicians who know each others strengths intimately and gel like a well oiled machine.
Historically I steer away from the F Word; but this is Folk Music Jim; just not as we know it.
McCulloch’s voice is definitely Scottish; but to the uninitiated…. quintessentially ‘Celtic;’ and songs like Safe Keeping and Around The Bend are from the Folk idiom; but just like his heroes Guy Clark and Bobby Dylan the way McCulloch interprates his own lyrics is way beyond the ‘finger in the ear’ ballads and shanties that still get played in Folk Clubs around the world.
McCulloch is obviously well travelled; and he has picked up ideas for stories and songs along the way; making Frozen River and Little Boat just as relevant in Australia, Appalachia and Airdrie…..which is quite some feat, in my humble opinion.
Dig deep here and you will find the Lo-Fi dark delights of Beggars Woods and Turn To Dust; written shortly after the death of his Mother and are both as Southern Gothic as they are Scottish Presbyterian in essence.
Then, just when I thought I had a handle on Norrie’s ‘new direction’ he throws a couple of left-field curve balls with the ‘Folk Rockers’ Never Leave You Behind (featuring some sublime pedal-steel from Mr Ian Sloan) and Lonely Boy.
Like all of the best singer-songwriter albums through the ages, Bare Along The Ashes is best listened to alone, preferably with the lights down low and a refreshing brew to hand; which brings me to my two stand out tracks…….the stark and brooding piano led This Time is absolutely spellbinding but the one I keep going back to; and the one ‘shuffle’ on my I-pod keeps playing is Safe Keeping. A very simple melody masking a very complex and timeless song that could be about my own life in a ‘small town’ and looking for a road out.
This is Norrie McCulloch’s third album in as many years; and for such a prolific songwriter there’s not a weak song here and the self-confidence in his storytelling and way with words is quite astonishing really.
If you like quality songwriters like Guy Clark, Richard Thompson and the like I’m pretty sure you will love this album by this proud son of Scotland too.

http://www.norriemcculloch.com/

Released February 24th 2017

Tom Paxton EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW

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Tom Paxton Interview
by Cara Gibney

“You’ve got me all wound up here. Let’s talk about puppies and kitty cats or something.” Tom Paxton was talking politics and it was becoming fiery.

For 50 years Paxton has been a key feature of the folk music scene; ever since Greenwich Village in the early 60s. He has released an astonishing 62 albums with songs that cover love, life, protest and many songs for children. The immense list of renowned artists who have recorded his songs includes Harry Belafonte, Bob Dylan, Sandy Denny and Marianne Faithfull among many others. For all this he has been awarded numerous honours, including the 2005 BBC Folk Award for a Lifetime Achievement for Song Writing. He has supported striking miners, performed at civil rights rallies and voter registration drives, and with great aplomb he has sustained his role as the ‘musical fly in the ointment’ of the establishment.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that the American folk singer who wrote the impassioned “Buy a Gun for Your Son” in 1965 to discourage giving children toy guns to play with, has issues with present-day U.S. gun law. Or that the songwriter with a Pete Seeger endorsement on his website bio, thinks that the U.S. President “only cares about Donald Trump, the glory of Donald Trump…… and we’re in for a really rough ride.” Indeed, by the time we got to talk about the Dakota Access Pipeline, and how tragically relevant his 1970 classic “Whose Garden was This” still remains, he had started to talk of resistance. “… It’s only starting now” he told me. “But we’ll be hearing more about it.”

But this political fire wasn’t always in Paxton’s belly. Not even when he was at university. “I didn’t have any political conscience at all” he recalled. “I was studying drama. I was kind of apolitical actually.” It was when he joined the army around 1960 that everything changed, and not for the reasons you may be thinking. “I was mainly in training while I was there” he explained. “But the army took me up to the New York area and I would get into Greenwich Village where I began to make friends, and began to sing here and there … And then when I got out of the army I just stayed in New York and the rest ,as they say, is misery,” he laughed.

It was there that he started to hear Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger; he started to hear “their songs about social justice and it made sense to me … the Civil Rights Movement was just getting underway and once again it just seemed simple to me that segregation is just not right. My political consciousness began to develop once I got to New York.”

However, the music began years before that, with a Tonette (a plastic flute) that he played in school. Then at the age of 12 or so he picked up the trumpet, which he played until the age of 18. Simultaneously he discovered the ukulele at summer camp – “And I thought well how long has this been going on … Get me one of those.” Unfortunately it ended badly. “I had the ukulele until somebody sat on it and reduced it to sprinters.” Thankfully it didn’t end there. An aunt managed to “fish a guitar out of the back of her closet and said you might try this.” It worked, badly, but it worked. “It had God awful action on it. You needed pliers to put the strings down, but it was a start.” He moved onto a Gibson guitar later on, “and it’s been that way ever since.”

For many years Paxton has worked with multi-instrumentalist Fred Sokolow, who would accompany him on stage. Sokolow is equally at home with various styles of music, be it bluegrass or blues, but he may be better known as the author of instructional books/ DVDs for various instruments including guitar, lap steel, banjo, and Dobro. Sokolow has a son, Zac, a multi-instrumentalist who plays guitar, banjo, fiddle, and mandolin with a band called The Americans who were interviewed on Rocking Magpie last summer.

Zac, too, has played with Tom Paxton. “How do you know Zac?” Paxton laughed when I mentioned him in the conversation. “Zac has substituted for his dad when his dad couldn’t play for me” he went on to explain. “He played instead and it was just wonderful. I love him and his old man. His stepmom is a great bass player. She plays upright bass full. Zac is a very fine musician and of course his dad is amazing.”

For Zac the feeling is reciprocal. “Tom has been has always been incredibly gracious with me, and first brought me on stage to play with him at a time when I was pretty young and hadn’t really played in front of an audience much at all. Despite a lot of my energy being spent on trying not to completely mess everything up, I remember feeling fully engaged in his songs and storytelling along with everyone else in the room.”

“Tom often tells a story about how someone in Ireland was trying to convince him that his song “The Last Thing on My Mind” was an old Irish folk song and that he hadn’t written it at all. I was in Ireland a little while ago at a pub in Tipperary where there was a session going on, and I heard someone sing that song in between some old traditional songs and fiddle tunes. Having the ability to write a song that doesn’t feel out of place in that context is something very unusual.”

“A couple years ago I played a few shows with Tom that he closed by singing a powerful version of “The Parting Glass”, as a dedication to the Clancy Brothers who were friends of his. That’s an old song that’s commonly sung at sessions in Ireland, but I had never heard it before he sang it. I started playing it with The Americans, and we eventually made a recording of it with T Bone Burnett.”

Paxton was in Glasgow for Celtic Connections when we talked over the phone. At that stage he only had a few more nights left playing to packed houses in his UK Tour with folk/old-time/swing musicians Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer. Interestingly they toured together before, back in 2003. “Kathy recorded all of them on Mini Disc” he recalled. “And when she listened to them she said it sounded so good she produced a CD out of it, which got a Grammy nomination.”

The UK tour was a launching pad for Paxton’s new album Boat In The Water, indeed three or four songs from the new record were included in their set. “It’s not a very political album” he explained when I asked if he was addressing any issues that had wound him up so much earlier in the conversation. However, the track that he released as a single at the end of last year – “Christmas in Shelter” carries that Paxton trademark nod to the haves and have nots, the acknowledgement of the unfair. A song to the homeless at the most poignant time of year sung with simple piano, a lived-in voice, and harmonies that break any sense of being alone.

“But it’s a whole different tune
When a soup kitchen spoon
Is dishing your dinner tonight”

“I really empathize with the homeless” he explained as I asked if homelessness was an issue that stood out to him, amidst all the other issues out there. He goes to a shelter on Thanksgiving Day every year to help with the dinner. “It’s only one day a year” he told me, “I wish I could do more.”

“I think we’ll see more people sleeping rough” he continued. “There is a kind of religious philosophy that has equated wealth with piety. The pious will make more money. It’s just incomprehensible to me and I’m certain that Jesus would say ‘are you kidding? Are you kidding? These are my people!’ I feel that Christianity is being mocked by the people with their ‘you don’t deserve anything because you’re poor. Obviously god doesn’t love you. If God loved you, you would be prosperous like we are.’ I start spluttering at some point …”

“I’m very fond of this album” it’s very dear to my heart. The one before had some [political] stuff on it, but the new one is for the love of the music.” Then he paused. “I guess I’ll be writing a little more politically now with this asshole in the White House.”

It looks like he’s going to be busy. When I asked how he felt about events over the past 12 months he told me – “It’s not the last year that worries me, it’s the next four … It’s really hard to overstate how bad I think this man Trump is. I mean I thought Nixon was bad but he was nothing, nothing, compared to this man … [Trump] has no shame and every word out of the man’s mouth is a lie. It’s just the way it is.”

But it was the Dakota Access Pipeline that brought him to the end of his rope. At that point we thought it best to change the subject altogether, on to something more positive. “You’ve got me all wound up here” he groaned. “Let’s talk about puppies and kitty cats or something.”

Cara Gibney

Zac and Fred Sokolow