[7 February 2013]
Anne Hills grew up as a teen in the ‘60s and ‘70s with the music of Tom Paxton as a strong influence. During the ‘80s, she recorded with folk legends Paxton and Bob Gibson under the rubric Best of Friends. Almost two decades later, she and Paxton put out an album as a duo. To help commemorate the forever young Paxton’s 75th birthday, Hills has just released a 12 song tribute to the man and his music.
Hills doesn’t walk the familiar path by recording the Grammy Award winner for Lifetime Achievement’s best known songs. There’s no “Last Thing on My Mind”, “Bottle of Wine”, “Ramblin’ Boy” or “Marvelous Toy” here. Instead, there’s a song about a junkie prostitute (“Cindy’s Cryin’”), a coal minor with black lung disease (“Dogs at Midnight”), economic woes (“Hard Times are Here Again”), and other dark topics. In other words, these tunes are about as far from folk pop fodder as one can imagine.
Hills sings and plays acoustic guitar with clarity and grace. Paxton joins in on the celebration and duets on four of the tracks, but his existence is best acknowledged on the songs themselves. The simple presentation of the material allows the listener to just hear Paxton’s creations. This is a mixed blessing. The songs are sturdy, but without a passionate staging, they lack the power that goes beyond the words and music. The album more resembles a recital than a concert, and folk music is meant to be heard as a shared affair.