Tom Pacheco in the Press:
Folkwax review of 13 Stones
Modern Culture Through the Eyes of Tom Pacheco, (01/04/06)
13 Stones is the fourth episode of Bare Bones & Barbed Wire, a series of back-to-basics "voice, harp and acoustic guitar" recordings that Tom Pacheco first cut on "a hot night in August 1997" as his ten-year-long sojourn as a resident of the Emerald Isle drew to a close. Episodes I - Bare Bones & Barbed Wire and II - The Lost American Songwriter  were two-CD releases featuring songs, old and new, while on the self-released, single disc Episode III - Year Of The Big Wind  Tom presented all new songs. The recently released IV aka 13 Stones pursues the latter formula.
As you might surmise, this collection contains thirteen songs and it opens in Miami on a sun-drenched "South Beach." The focus is on a sad modern-day seduction, the one where, on thin, surgically tight, tanned bodies, the young (and not so young) hang the latest items of fashion - as Tom attests these fashion conscious converts come from countries near and far to "catwalk down the sand." Of course you need a considerable chunk of change to feed this affliction. As Tom savagely observes, wear last year's Gucci shoes and you'll stick out like a sore thumb in this company. Blinkered by self, the point these people miss is that "The world has drought and hunger/The planet itself is sick/But they don't want to be bored that/They're bored enough as it is." Overseeing "this Babylon of perfect looks" are the ghosts of "fashion" entrepreneurs Versace, Warhol, and Rubell.
Until the closing lines of the final verse of "For What?" Pacheco's narrator delivers observations on the negative aspects of current day society - marriages that no longer survive till "death do us part," rigged elections, trash television and the couch potato culture, the environmental degradation of the planet, the needless death of Americans in foreign wars, heartless politicians, industrial pollution, and more, brings the closing, positive statement of intent, "The world is still worth saving/Just needs rearranging/And I'll struggle to the day I die/I will not say for what/I'll say that's why." Tom Pacheco lost his beloved father, Tony (one of Tony's paintings adorned the front cover of Bare Bones II - The Lost American Songwriter ), at the outset of 2005, and halfway through the year endured another family crisis. For a time his brother Paul, one year younger than Tom, lay in a Boston hospital bed his life hanging by a thread. "Hang On Little Brother" was written in that Boston hospital and as the song evolves the insistent repetition of the song title becomes a mantra, a prayer, a vote for life to continue. Paul survived the crisis and is pictured with Tom on the inside of the front liner card.
The narrator in "Looking For A Lighthouse" seeks the guidance that will help put his life back in order and save him "From the cliff edge where I cling." Check out the rear tray picture - a painting actually, as there's a line toward the close of the song "There's a flag outside my window tangled in a tree/Cradled in the branches with it's last breathe of belief." Augmented by a fiddle accompaniment, the setting for "Memorial Day" is Arlington Cemetery during a parade. The narrator (a recent deceased soldier?) affirms that he would have willingly fought for his country during the American Revolution and in WWII, but clearly indicates that America's recent military adventures in Vietnam, Somalia, and Iraq have proved to be needless wastes of life. "I did not give my life for my country/My country took my life away." Pursuing further the increasingly more bleak result of America's latest military action, an embittered almost twenty-year-old, wheelchair-bound amputee relates his own personal "Nightmare" - one that, in real life, has been repeated over and over and over...daily, and for the last thirty months.
In the wake of the floods that recently engulfed the city, with "Ain't New Orleans Anymore" we have Tom's take on the storm and its aftermath. "Why Can't There Be Peace" is a self-explanatory title and is immediately followed by "Why Can't I Be Happy" - a savage attack on the media-driven consumerism of the late 20th/early 21st century and the genuine listlessness that owning far too many possessions appears to bring. "Jesusland" is book-ended by the opening lines and melody of "Amazing Grace" and is an indictment of the power of the religious right in 21st century America. "The Reckoning" homes in on the imminent arrival in the West of a bird flu epidemic. Set in a KFC restaurant, the lyric focuses on a character that, according to Tom, is physically reminiscent of a younger Alfred Hitchcock. This look-alike is sat gorging on cooked chicken, but by the close of the song Pacheco attests that the birds will soon wreak revenge. "After A Night Of Heavy Rain" is a prayer directed at America's politicians in the hope that they will come to their senses. Having, so far, largely featured unremitting doom and gloom, 13 Stones closes on a positive and "very much lighter" note with the sing-a-long "Sunny Road Up Ahead," a song that seems to me "a ready made" Peter, Paul and Mary in-concert classic.
Arthur Wood is a founding editor of FolkWax