Veteran singer-songwriter Tom Pacheco wears his world on his sleeve. In a career spanning more than 35 years and 2,500 original songs, Pacheco has addressed social and political issues, depicted a gallery of real and imagined characters from the past, present and future, and created a living treasury of unforgettable images. On There Was a Time, Tom’s twelfth solo album and first American release since 1996’s Woodstock Winter, he adds still more memorable people, places and events to his songbook, but it’s a darker world that he describes.
“I have never liked nostalgia,” Tom writes in the new CD’s liner notes. “Always looked to what’s next, not what’s been. This year was different…” The death of his mother, the serious illness of his father, and the loss of three friends in the World Trade Center attack of September 11 plunged Pacheco into a period of uncertainty and reflection about the passage of time – many of the eleven songs on There Was a Time take stock of what’s vanished from Tom’s and our world and what needs to be recalled and reclaimed.
The Woodstock-based “quintessentially American songwriter” (Dirty Linen Magazine) whose greatest fame has come overseas in Norway, Japan and the United Kingdom, looks around with anger, irony and regret at corporate greed (“What About Us”), the betrayal or failure of the American Dream (“There Was a Time,” “Indian Prayer,” “What We Left Behind,” “Saint Christopher and the Cornfield”), and personal loss (“Provincetown,” with its unforgettable refrain, “I can’t bear the thought of rain falling on your grave”; the tender, resigned “If I Could Come Back”). But, as Tom writes in the liners, “there are glimmerings of hope and spiritual resurrection” in these and other songs on the CD. Tom still honors the brave and inspirational chance-takers around us – “Butterfly” is a tribute to Julia “Butterfly” Hill, who took up residence in a giant Northern California redwood to save the tree and surrounding forest from a lumber company; “Heroes” thanks our professional guardians – police, firemen, soldiers – and their unpaid everyday counterparts, those “waitresses and students, senior citizens and paper pushers” called to greatness by emergency situations, such as the passengers on 9/11’s Flight 93 who battled the terrorists on their airplane, “defeating the face of pure evil to crash the plane into a field” to save the White House. And There Was a Time ends with the exhortation and challenge, “You Will Never Be Afraid Again.”
Pacheco’s stoic, understated baritone voice of experience is embedded in a warm musical backdrop provided by noted producer/bassist Scott Petito, guitarist Jim Weider and keyboardist Richard Bell (both of the latter-day Band), renowned fiddler Jay Ungar, backing vocalists Leslie Ritter and Beth Reineke, Norwegian country music star and longtime Pacheco collaborator Steinar Albrigtsen (guitar), and very special guest Pete Seeger, who plays banjo on two tracks, among others. There Was a Time is a folk album in the best sense of the phrase – it transcends time even while describing the topical, it paints mental pictures that will not fade, and it has something to say to all of us.
ReviewsOne of Pacheco's many astute observations on this album is that too often a person's success is measured by their level of "celebrity," rather than the manner in which they live their lives. Tom Pacheco may not be a "star" in the MTV sense, but he shines like a supernova across the eleven songs on this complex, substantial and yes, "timely" piece of work. This isn't an album with immediate, superficial "appeal," though it definitely "grows" on the listener and reveals more of itself with each play, nor will it sit comfortably on most radio programmers play lists. - Steve Hunt