Tom Paxton: Redemption Road

In some ways, the line from his first album in 1962 to this one is straight and short, especially when one considers that Paxton has released more than 50 discs over the years.

Tom Paxton

Redemption Road

Label: Pax
US Release Date: 2015-03-10
UK Release Date: 2015-03-09
"I changed by not changing at all."

-- Pearl Jam, "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town

According to the late, great Dave Van Ronk, Tom Paxton initiated the change from folk musicians performing traditional material to writing their own songs. While historians commonly credit Bob Dylan for this, Paxton was on the scene first and achieved widespread local popularity for his self-written tunes. Van Ronk should know. He was there at the center of the Greenwich Village revival of the 1960s and good friends with both artists. Dylan, of course, went on and continually transformed. He went electric, country, gospel, etc. and now has a wonderful new album of American pop standards sung first by Frank Sinatra, Shadows in the Night. Paxton hasn’t. He’s still performing original acoustic folk music much like he always did.

The good news is that Paxton still pens really good songs and performs them well. Paxton’s compositional skills are well known. After all, he wrote several contemporary classics, such as "The Last Thing on My Mind", "Ramblin’ Boy", and "Whose Garden Was This". On these 13 new songs, Paxton continues to mine the same basic melodies and themes. Redemption Road contains silly songs, romantic tales, protest anthems, and such that are reminiscent of his earlier albums. In some ways, the line from his first album in 1962 to this one is straight and short, especially when one considers that he has released more than 50 discs over the years.

Paxton waxes nostalgic on several tracks. He praises Van Ronk on "The Mayor of Macdougal Street", whom Paxton calls a giant among pygmies. He croons sweetly without being sugary about old romances and life choices on "Time to Spare" and "Ireland". Paxton, who was made several albums of kids music, gets less than serious on "Skeeters’ll Gitcha" (with John Prine) and "Susie Most of All". He’s also righteous about injustice and proclaims that "If the Poor Don’t Matter" then none of us do in the eyes of the lord. We have a duty to those with less, and we ignore the imperative to help others at our own risk.

However, these brief descriptions do not convey Paxton’s intelligence and humanity. He deals with love and loss, sex and death, in clever ways that cut through the bull without preaching or using fancy language. He presumes his audience is smart enough to understand the world around us and what’s important. We appreciate a story well told, a lesson that inspires us to be better, an appreciation of our particular memories and our shared ones. Paxton knows nothing lasts forever and is still struck by the beauty of the world and its peoples. He's realistic enough to understand the fragility and temporal nature of it all.

The title track, performed with Janis Ian, directly confronts the possibility of redemption: the big question of what is the meaning of life. He wrote the lyrics to a preexisting instrumental by Geoff Bartley from 2008. And in all his wisdom, Paxton humbly acknowledges he doesn’t know either. All he comprehends is that time passes. The melody suggests the quiet dignity of death. Life may be a mystery, but that’s no reason to presume it hasn’t been worth the pleasure and the pain.

Paxton received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award back in 2009. The recording business has changed, and he no longer has label backing or obligations. The record was the direct result of a successful Kickstarter campaign. This really isn’t much different than his first album on the private Gaslight label back in 1962. Paxton hasn’t changed. He’s still an extraordinary writer, singer, and performer of self-penned songs in the acoustic folk tradition.






The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".


Lars and the Magic Mountain's "Invincible" Is a Shoegazey, Dreamy Delight (premiere)

Dutch space pop/psychedelic band Lars and the Magic Mountain share the dreamy and gorgeous "Invincible".


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" Wryly Looks at Lost Love (premiere + interview)

Singer-songwriter Alexander Wren's "The Earth Is Flat" is a less a flat-earther's anthem and more a wry examination of heartache.


Big Little Lions' "Distant Air" Is a Powerful Folk-Anthem (premiere)

Folk-pop's Big Little Lions create a powerful anthem with "Distant Air", a song full of sophisticated pop hooks, smart dynamics, and killer choruses.


The Flat Five Invite You to "Look at the Birdy" (premiere)

Chicago's the Flat Five deliver an exciting new single that exemplifies what some have called "twisted sunshine vocal pop".


Brian Bromberg Pays Tribute to Hendrix With "Jimi" (premiere + interview)

Bass giant Brian Bromberg revisits his 2012 tribute to Jimi Hendrix 50 years after his passing, and reflects on the impact Hendrix's music has had on generations.

Jedd Beaudoin

Shirley Collins' ​'Heart's Ease'​ Affirms Her Musical Prowess

Shirley Collins' Heart's Ease makes it apparent these songs do not belong to her as they are ownerless. Collins is the conveyor of their power while ensuring the music maintains cultural importance.


Ignorance, Fear, and Democracy in America

Anti-intellectualism in America is, sadly, older than the nation itself. A new collection of Richard Hofstadter's work from Library of America traces the history of ideas and cultural currents in American society and politics.

By the Book

Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto (excerpt)

Just as big tech leads world in data for profit, the US government can produce data for the public good, sans the bureaucracy. This excerpt of Julia Lane's Democratizing Our Data: A Manifesto will whet your appetite for disruptive change in data management, which is critical for democracy's survival.

Julia Lane

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.