Tom Pacheco in the Press:

Tom Pacheco , There was a time

Steven Hunt

There was a Time is latest chapter in the recording career of the grizzled troubadour whose first album was released way back in 1964. During all those years, Pacheco has "always looked to what's next, not what's been. This year was different..." In the twelve months leading to the writing and recording of this CD, the artist lost three friends in the World Trade Center attack, five close friends in untimely deaths, saw the passing of his mother and the physical incapacitation of his father.

Pacheco states in the liner notes, "Most of the songs in this collection reflect the year I have lived through. They are not meant to be depressing. On the contrary, there are glimmerings of hope and spiritual resurrection in all of them." Not, one suspects, the easiest of albums to make then, and (despite the reassurances quoted above) the initial impression is that this won't be easy to listen to, either. This is an album with a unifying theme running through it, but it isn't primarily one of sadness and loss. Mostly, it's about time.

Pacheco shrewdly bids for his audience's attention by opening the CD with a new recording of "Indian Prayer (The Land I Love)." It's one of his best known and most optimistic songs, which was covered by Richie Havens as long ago as 1974. It's an arresting performance, which showcases the singer's weathered, unaffected vocal style to great effect. Pete Seeger adds both his trademark, heart-skipping banjo, and a sense of validation through his very presence.

"If I Could Come Back" ushers in the album's mood of sadness and resignation while delivering on that promise of "glimmerings of hope." It's a sparse, atmospheric arrangement with bass, lap steel, pad and drums behind the voice. "Broken Piano" explores the theme of lost love through an intriguing account of an abandoned piano. The instrument was used by (an unnamed) songwriter to compose a hit love song in the sixties. When the object of his affections left, he left the grand piano "in the heart of the desert," where it stands as a home for rattlesnakes to this day. The song is a beautifully observed comment on this extraordinary emotional gesture, while the piano is described as "a shrine or a tombstone, depending on your point of view." Scott Petito's performance on fretless bass is particularly noteworthy in this arrangement.

"Butterfly," is another true tale of a passionate individual doing something extraordinary. In this song we're introduced to an environmental protester whose commitment to saving trees from the developers chainsaws led to her living for two years in the uppermost branches of a redwood. "What About Us," is about workers who suddenly find themselves unemployed when a large company goes bankrupt. The booklet notes that accompany each song were written by Irv Yarg who observes that this song illustrates that "there is a difference between loss and theft." The song is sung in the "voice" of one of the workers who notes "at 65 my family would be fine when I retired, 'til the day I got a voice mail telling me that I was fired." The final line is "out in the Cayman Islands, or in Switzerland somewhere, there's seven billion dollars for the boys in suits to share." Pacheco firmly nails his own colours to the mast with the worker's rueful comment "I should have voted for Ralph Nader."

"There Was a Time" is a somewhat melancholy catalogue of society's "ills" and a yearning for "the good old days" of yesteryear. For a man who states in his introductory notes "I have never liked nostalgia, it depresses me," Pacheco sails perilously close to that cold, harsh wind here. However, there's a definite impression that this was a "necessary" song for the artist to write, and there's an honesty in the process of diagnosing the sickness before even attempting to prescribe a cure.

"Provincetown" (track seven), and "Saint Christopher and the Cornfield" (track ten), are songs that deal with the passing of friends and loved ones. There are plenty of past joys among the sadness, and while these are clearly autobiographical songs, Pacheco uses his enormous songwriting skills to articulate the emotions of anyone who has experienced similar losses. Sadly, but realistically, that means pretty much all of us, doesn't it? "What We Left Behind," is, in many ways, the follow-up song to "There Was a Time." Here, rather than dwelling on the better time of the past, Pacheco looks for healing solutions in our use of time day to day. Making time for our families and taking time to get to know our neighbours rather than each family spending time watching TV are just two examples of the approach that he advocates. In short, he's making an addendum to the old, ecological maxim "think globally, act locally," by adding "and prioritise your time better." "Heroes," is a tribute to all those whose timely interventions in unexpected situations renders them timeless. The song briefly records individual acts of heroism by various people, (a fireman, a police woman, a trucker, a priest and others), before concluding with a verse about the passengers of flight 93, who overcame their terrorist hijackers and prevented the airplane reaching its intended target.

The CD closes with "You Will Never Be Afraid Again," The journey that Pacheco has charted to this point of the album may have been one of sadness, anger, fear, loss and longing, but somehow all of that merely serves to vindicate the optimism of this final song. When Tom Pacheco declares "you will realise you're not paralysed, from a well inside, a strength will rise," you know that you're listening to someone whose life and art are inseparable, and a singer who knows that the art of song writing is something more than putting together words that rhyme and setting them to a tune.

One 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.

This isn't the first time that I've been impressed by a "difficult" release from Appleseed Recordings, and this label company deserves a huge round of applause for releasing this CD. If their support of artists like Tom Pacheco results in their voices reaching a wider audience, then that too is about time.

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