Intentionally or not, Tom Paxton brought together several types of albums with Live for the Record: first, of course, delivering a live album; then also a greatest-hits collection that included such favorites as "I Can't Help But Wonder Where I'm Bound," "The Last Thing on My Mind," and "Rambling Boy"; an album of new material including some especially perishable topical tunes; and finally a guest-star album featuring such compatriots as John Gorka and Lucy Kaplansky. Or, to put it another way, Paxton simply recorded a typical (if instrumentally augmented) 69-minute, 20+-song set, circa winter of 1995. The date one can derive from the topical songs, which concern such cutting-edge (sorry) issues as the plights of John Wayne Bobbitt, Tonya Harding, and Joey Buttafuoco. These worked better than Paxton's pained song about Bosnia ("On the Road to Srebenica") and the blunt politics of his update to "What Did You Learn In School Today?," in which the Republicans' health care position was explained as "when you get sick you just die," and Hillary Clinton's commodities exchange windfall was defended in feminist terms. Of course, one doesn't listen to Tom Paxton for political subtlety, but even a sympathetic listener could find such sentiments excessively partisan. As Paxton himself noted, however, these songs had a "short shelf life," and if they also had a hit-and-miss inconsistency, they were sometimes funny and always brief. Among Paxton's new songs, the most striking aspect was the fifty-something folksinger's focus on old age and death in such tunes as the comic, if blunt "Modern Maturity," "The Names of Trees," which concerned Alzheimer's disease, and "No Time to Say Goodbye," not the first song Paxton had written about the death of a friend. Paxton has always been a songwriter obsessed by the present, whether it's what he reads in the newspaper or what he experiences, and while the tributes to his wife and his grandchild were touching, the songs about decline gave Live for the Record a valedictory tone one could only hope was temporary.
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