If folk singer Tom Paxton suffers from nostalgia, it isn't for the early '60s, the era when his topical songs first drew popular attention alongside those of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs. Paxton instead looks longingly back to the '30s and '40s, when the Weavers and Woody Guthrie refined the folk genre into a profound means of communication, humor and pathos.
During the first of his two performances at McCabe's on Saturday, Paxton, 60, often thanked those early influences, looking himself very much the veteran troubadour in his cap and black jeans. Gently picking an acoustic guitar, he earnestly sang lyrics on politics, war, domestic pleasures and growing older, all with little preachiness.
The Oklahoma-born singer began his 90-minute set with some quick-witted tunes on the contemporary slapstick of Washington and miscellaneous tabloid fodder, from the White House to John Wayne Bobbitt. As he told the crowd, "You can't make this stuff up."
Those easy crowd-pleasers soon gave way to more heartfelt works on kids who are pregnant, kids who feel the need to arm themselves and other modern nightmares. His "On the Road From Srebrenica" chillingly recalled just one atrocity from the Bosnian civil war. Paxton was accompanied on banjo, mandolin and slide guitar by Fred Sokolow, who bathed the singer's words in sounds that were fittingly gentle and warm.