Music

Tom Paxton: Comedians and Angels

Sentimental folkie sings love songs to his wife, his children, his friends, and folk songs themselves.


Tom Paxton

Comedians and Angels

Label: Appleseed
US Release Date: 2008-02-19
UK Release Date: 2008-01-21
Amazon
iTunes

Folk singer Tom Paxton has always come across as a sentimentalist, even when singing protest songs, and that's his overriding persona on the love-song collection Comedians & Angels. Over the decades he's also written his fair share of love songs, so an album entirely made up of love songs, old and new, is not much of a stretch. Still, on Comedians & Angels he attempts to keep the definition of love inclusive, more open than closed. Though there are no protest songs per se, he begins the album with a love song, "How Beautiful Upon the Mountain", where love is expressed through a good old-fashioned peace march. Older than that is his source material for the chorus, a Bible verse. It's the one song on the album that implicitly suggests that the entirety of Paxton's work over the years has, in some basic sense, been love songs.

"How Beautiful Upon the Mountain" also contains a trace of dewy-eyed nostalgia for the political activism of the past, with its reference to the civil-rights movement: "'Cross the bridge at Selma you came marching side by side / in your eyes, a new world on the way". It isn't clear what has happened to that promise of a new world, though the last verse suggests it's still a promise, that the generations to come have continued the same march for change. Still, a romantic sense of the past lingers, as it does in the tribute to friends that gives the album its title, and in other small corners of the album.

In many of the album’s songs, the "new world" is one of domestic bliss, of love solidified and changed through the passing of time. "Bad Old Days" and "Reason to Be" each start with an observation of a lover asleep, used as inspiration. In the first it leads to pondering of the way life got better over time, and how those years have blurred together because of it. Devotion over time is the core, too, of "Reason to Be", a proclamation of love as a reason to exist. The past is part of the fabric here. On "The First Song Is for You", he declares that every song he has written has started with her. On "Bad Old Days" he wonders, “Was it 16 years ago / Or was it yesterday / That you came and chased my bad old days away?”

But a present-tense scene of domestic life is just as prevalent. “Dance in the Kitchen” is a playful snapshot; “Jennifer and Kate” a Hallmark Card to Paxton’s daughters. The CD booklet includes photos of his daughters, his wife, his grandchildren. “You Are Love” takes that same story of domestic tranquility and puts a spiritual spin on it. “What a Friend You Are” -- with its preschool lyric “If I had a golden star / I’d pin it on you”, a reminder of the children’s albums Paxton has released -- is a song of devotion that maybe could have a similar spiritual bent, though just as easily could be another song for his wife, or a song for his musician friends, who are also present in the booklet’s photo album.

For all of the odes to the blissfulness of everyday life, Comedians & Angels also contains a longing for escape, for adventure, though always within a certain framework of safety. In “Out on the Ocean”, Paxton imagines sailing away by himself for a while, though with the knowledge that he has a secure home of love to return to. As another song puts it, “Home to me is anywhere you are”. “And if It’s Not True”, which has a European flair to it, is all about imagining your way into other places and times. Again, it’s easy to do from a place of comfort: “And if it’s not true / What harm can it do? / I know what I know / I go where I go”. To an extent, this imagining is tied in with the past as well. It connects with the title track, where he remembers his friends and the times they shared together. Ultimately, the album looks to the past as often as it dreams, and the two are really one and the same. Musically, its heart also lies with the folk singers of the past, with the friends he started out with in Greenwich Village in the ‘60s, and those he has played and sung with since. Constrained by songwriting structures and habits picked up decades ago, it’s a love letter to those fellow folk-singers as much as to his family.

6

From drunken masters to rumbles in the Bronx, Jackie Chan's career is chock full of goofs and kicks. These ten films capture what makes Chan so magnetic.

Jackie Chan got his first film role way back in 1976, when a rival producer hired him for his obvious action prowess. Now, nearly 40 years later, he is more than a household name. He's a brand, a signature star with an equally recognizable onscreen persona. For many, he was their introduction into the world of Hong Kong cinema. For others, he's the goofy guy speaking broken English to Chris Tucker in the Rush Hour films.

From his grasp of physical comedy to his fearlessness in the face of certain death (until recently, Chan performed all of his own stunts) he's a one of a kind talent whose taken his abilities in directions both reasonable (charity work, political reform) and ridiculous (have your heard about his singing career?).

Now, Chan is back, bringing the latest installment in the long running Police Story franchise to Western shores (subtitled Lockdown, it's been around since 2013), and with it, a reminder of his multifaceted abilities. He's not just an actor. He's also a stunt coordinator and choreographer, a writer, a director, and most importantly, a ceaseless supporter of his country's cinema. With nearly four decades under his (black) belt, it's time to consider Chan's creative cannon. Below you will find our choices for the ten best pictures Jackie Chan's career, everything from the crazy to the classic. While he stuck to formula most of the time, no one made redundancy seem like original spectacle better than he.

Let's start with an oldie but goodie:

10. Operation Condor (Armour of God 2)

Two years after the final pre-Crystal Skull installment of the Indiana Jones films arrived in theaters, Chan was jumping on the adventurer/explorer bandwagon with this wonderful piece of movie mimicry. At the time, it was one of the most expensive Hong Kong movies ever made ($115 million, which translates to about $15 million American). Taking the character of Asian Hawk and turning him into more of a comedic figure would be the way in which Chan expanded his global reach, realizing that humor could help bring people to his otherwise over the top and carefully choreographed fight films -- and it's obviously worked.

9. Wheels on Meals

They are like the Three Stooges of Hong Kong action comedies, a combination so successful that it's amazing they never caught on around the world. Chan, along with director/writer/fight coordinator/actor Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, all met at the Peking Opera, where they studied martial arts and acrobatics. They then began making movies, including this hilarious romp involving a food truck, a mysterious woman, and lots of physical shtick. While some prefer their other collaborations (Project A, Lucky Stars), this is their most unabashedly silly and fun. Hung remains one of the most underrated directors in all of the genre.

8. Mr. Nice Guy
Sammo Hung is behind the lens again, this time dealing with Chan's genial chef and a missing mob tape. Basically, an investigative journalist films something she shouldn't, the footage gets mixed up with some of our heroes, and a collection of clever cat and mouse chases ensue. Perhaps one of the best sequences in all of Chan's career occurs in a mall, when a bunch of bad guys come calling to interrupt a cooking demonstration. Most fans have never seen the original film. When New Line picked it up for distribution, it made several editorial and creative cuts. A Japanese release contains the only unaltered version of the effort.

7. Who Am I?

Amnesia. An easy comedic concept, right? Well, leave it to our lead and collaborator Benny Chan (no relation) to take this idea and go crazy with it. The title refers to Chan's post-trauma illness, as well as the name given to him by natives who come across his confused persona. Soon, everyone is referring to our hero by the oddball moniker while major league action set pieces fly by. While Chan is clearly capable of dealing with the demands of physical comedy and slapstick, this is one of the rare occasions when the laughs come from character, not just chaos.

6. Rumble in the Bronx

For many, this was the movie that broke Chan into the US mainstream. Sure, before then, he was a favorite of film fans with access to a video store stocking his foreign titles, but this is the effort that got the attention of Joe and Jane Six Pack. Naturally, as they did with almost all his films, New Line reconfigured it for a domestic audience, and found itself with a huge hit on its hands. Chan purists prefer the original cut, including the cast voices sans dubbing. It was thanks to Rumble that Chan would go on to have a lengthy run in Tinseltown, including those annoying Rush Hour films.

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