After more than 20 years of musical friendship sharing stages, studios and even co-membership in the same band, Under American Skies is the first full-length recorded collaboration between Tom Paxton and Anne Hills, two of the best songwriters and folk singers in the world. Their new CD on Appleseed Recordings was created with the dual intention of reviving some of the finest topical but timeless songs of the last four decades and capturing two great artists reveling in each other’s voices, words and music.
Under American Skies was inspired by a conversation between Anne Hills and Appleseed Recordings president Jim Musselman at an outdoor folk festival a few years ago. Both were lamenting the fading status of meaningful songs written in the Sixties and Seventies – while fine new songs are continually being created, some of the earlier classics were receding from performance and memory.
Who better to enlist in a musical reclamation of ever relevant and moving original folk songs from the genre’s heyday than Tom Paxton, who had authored so many of them and already had a history of working with Anne? Of the 14 songs on Under American Skies, four were written by Paxton alone, two by Hills, and most of the others drawn from the “folk movement” songbooks, including Richard Farina’s “Birmingham Sunday,” about the 1963 racially motivated church bombing that killed four little girls; Malvina Reynolds’ gently metaphorical “God Bless the Grass”; the anthemic “Carry It On” by Gil Turner, and more recent compositions by Tom Russell (“Manzanar,” about the Japanese-American internment camps during World War II) and the late Kate Wolf (her previously unrecorded “Links in the Chain”). The title song, a brand new Paxton/Hills composition, decries the American judicial system and the plight of its victims.
ReviewsBased on the selection of songs on Under American Skies, "meaningful" to these singer-songwriters primarily means political, in the broad sense. I'm glad they see it that way, as I, too, often find recent singer-songwriter material overly self-indulgent. One can't say that about Paxton's "There Goes the Mountain," "Under American Skies" by Hills & Paxton, Paxton's 1967 song "Clarissa Jones," Richard Farina's 1964 "Birmingham Sunday" about the infamous 1963 bombing that killed four young black girls in their church, the great songwriter Malvina Reynolds' 1964 "God Bless the Grass," and most of the others on this disc. Many readers will probably remember Gil Turner's "Carry It On" (1964) and "Well, Well, Well" by Bob Gibson & Bob Camp just from their titles. The songs are nicely arranged, with Jon Carroll and Scott Petito on piano, Al Pettaway on guitar, Mark Schatz on bass, Monica Roach on cello, Jarry Marotta on percussion, and a moving opening verse of "Birmingham Sunday" sung by children at the Carole Robertson Center for Learning, in Chicago, reminiscent of "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)" by John & Yoko and the Plastic Ono Band with The Harlem Community Choir. - Soundstage!