Tom Paxton | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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The leading musicians of the 60s folk revival carved up the audience by personality type. Bob Dylan took the cryptic would-be poets, Pete Seeger the idealists, Phil Ochs rallied the cynics, and Paul Simon crooned to the junior-year-abroaders. That left Chicago native Tom Paxton with a smaller but arguably more interesting demographic--the even-tempered skeptics, who struggled to balance personal concerns with awareness of the wider world. Taking a lesson from the Weavers--and informed by his stint in the army--Paxton's early work includes a handful of essential contributions to the American folk songbook ("Rambling Boy," "The Willing Conscript," "What Did You Learn in School Today?"), and his talent at planting jagged ironies in gentle songs resonates today throughout the catalogs of Lucinda Williams, John Prine, and Nanci Griffith. Even-tempered skeptics may not get famous, but they endure: Since the 60s Paxton's worn a variety of hats, regularly writing and performing children's tunes, romantic meditations, and, most effectively, humorous topical songs on the news of the day. Some of the last sound dated now (How 'bout that Lee Iacocca? Take that, Spiro Agnew!), but as a lyricist Paxton's still capable of both tender tales of youth and piercing tales of corruption and brutality. Besides, old newsmakers have a habit of making comebacks. With any luck Paxton will dust off his 1996 tunelet "Let's Go to Michael Jackson's House" ("The party never stops / Be sure to bring your jammies / Well, really, just the tops"). With Anne Hills, Greg Greenway, and Susan Werner. Wednesday, December 31, 9 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-279-2020 for tickets; 773-728-6000 for information.

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