There is no shortage of live Tom Paxton available on CD, and a cursory perusal of the track listings reveals that the set list varies only slightly from show to show and year to year, as new topical compositions replace worn-out dated ones. That the staples of his catalog remain in his show is no big surprise, as many of Paxton's fans have been supporting the folksinger since his heyday in the '60s and would expect to hear at least some of the songs that established him. What might surprise those who haven't kept up with Paxton, however, is just how consistent -- in both rendition and quality -- his contemporary interpretations sound with the decades-old originals. Paxton is every bit the storyteller that he was in his early years, and he remains an engaging entertainer and an endearing vocalist and guitarist, comfortable with who he is and what he's done and not pretending to be anything more. Live at McCabe's Guitar Shop was recorded in Santa Monica's popular folk haunt in 1991, Paxton accompanied only by his own acoustic guitar. His audience is clearly enthralled from the start, a faithful revisit to "Ramblin' Boy," a Paxton perennial that dates to his 1964 Elektra Records debut. And they're still with him when he closes out with "The Last Thing on My Mind," from that same record. But despite the faithful reprises of his core catalog, Paxton is not about nostalgia, and if tracks like "One Million Lawyers," "Yuppies in the Sky," and "The Ballad of Gary Hart" might leave those who weren't old enough to read a newspaper in 1991 scratching their heads, they sure rang true with the pre-Clinton-era McCabe's crowd that night. Paxton's self-deprecating humor -- make that his humor in general -- not only fills between-song spaces nicely but still feels cozy years later, as do his touchstone compositions such as "Bottle of Wine" (a country-pop hit when covered by the Fireballs) and "Did You Hear John Hurt?," which the singer introduces with a brief blues history lesson. A class act, then and always.
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AllMusic Review by Jeff Tamarkin