In 1984, well-established Chicago folksingers Bob Gibson and Tom Paxton united with newcomer Anne Hills to form a trio called Best of Friends. For the next year and a half, they performed together, then went their separate ways. But they never recorded as a group. Two decades later, Appleseed Recordings unearthed this 1985 concert performance from Holsteins folk club in Chicago, taped for broadcast by WFMT's The Midnight Special radio show by its host, Rich Warren. Paxton explains that, while all three are essentially solo acts, occasionally they wonder what their songs will sound like with harmony, and this is a chance to find out. The informal nature of the group, and the uneven stature of its members (Gibson, though a folk veteran, never achieved great renown, Hills was at the start of her career) means that it is mostly the prolific Paxton who gets to hear those harmonies on his compositions; he wrote or co-wrote ten of the 14 songs in the show. Gibson contributes the Civil War song "Let the Band Play Dixie" and "Pilgrim Song," a reflection on sobriety, and Hills' "While You Sleep" is a moving romantic ballad. But for the most part, this is a Tom Paxton show with harmonies, and his familiar songs benefit from the arrangements. "The Death of Stephen Biko" is even more forceful than usual, "Ramblin' Boy" even more lyrical, "Bottle of Wine" even more celebratory. Of course, Paxton's audiences (including this one) often sing along, too, but it's good to hear some well-miked professionals chiming in for a change. Best of Friends certainly live up to their name in this performance, and at the same time, though the material has been rehearsed, it comes off as three individuals performing together rather than as a group that has been melded into a single unit. Still, this is a historical artifact that fills in a gap in the discographies of all three performers.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann