TOM PAXTON

"Looking for the Moon"

Appleseed

During his 41 years as a professional musician, Tom Paxton has written hundreds of songs -- love songs, political songs, children's songs, philosophical songs. A few of them are disposable, penned to mark a political crisis or a friend's wedding and quickly forgotten; the vast majority are fine examples of folk craftsmanship and enjoyable without being enduring. But a handful of them are keepers, songs such as "Last Thing on My Mind," "Ramblin' Boy" and "Bottle of Wine," which have entered the standard folk repertoire and have never left.

"Looking for the Moon," Paxton's first solo studio album for adults since 1994, contains examples of each. There are perfunctory songs about cowboys, angels and rivers, and well-crafted numbers about Paxton's Oklahoma upbringing, rural hardship and growing old. One D.C. singer-songwriter, Susan Graham White, helped Paxton write the wistful reflection on passing time, "The Same River Twice," while another, Debi Smith, helped him write the wedding anniversary song, "Marry Me Again."

The new album contains two keepers. "The Bravest," Paxton's evocative ode to the New York firefighters of Sept. 11, 2001, was already being sung by other folk singers even before it was recorded. "Homebound Train" should soon become as popular, as its reluctant melody and indirect narrative capture a young child's slowly dawning realization that a parent has died.

The songs are not particularly well served by Jim Rooney's production. Rooney, who has done such sterling work with Nanci Griffith (a harmonizer here) and John Prine, allows the arrangements to grow flaccidly genial when they need more tension and rhythm. But at least two of the songs are destined to last a long time.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at the Barns of Wolf Trap * To hear a free Sound Bite from Tom Paxton, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8108. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)