Nemperor / Razor And Tie Records, 1998

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


It's one thing to look at the 1997 debut of the band Paxton (led by the singer of the same name) and call them the next generation of folk rock. It's another thing to call them the John Mellencamp of the alternative and downtrodden lifestyles. Either one, at times, would be correct - and while there are many moments on this disc that work surprisingly well, it also shows that this was a band very much growing into their own skin. (Besides the EP Ginger's Dish, which we'll get to soon, listeners will have an opportunity to see if this has happened some time in 2001, when Paxton's third album comes out.)

I want to guard some of the comments I make regarding the themes of some of these songs, for the sole reason that I don't know much of Paxton's history (besides what I read on the official site), and I don't want to make incorrect assumptions. So forgive me if I seem like I'm side-stepping occasionally, but I don't want to say something that isn't true.

That disclaimer made, let's get to the material where I could trip the easiest on the facts. It takes guts to make a song like "John & Joe," which could be called the true alternative version (or is that "alternative" alternative?) to "Jack & Diane" set possibly in the age of AIDS. There is definitely the air of blind infatuation turning into love, though one could question if both sides share in this the same way, and unlike "Jack & Diane," there's most definitely loss of life (the manner of which is left ambiguous).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If "John & Joe" laid its sexuality out in the open, "Which Way Do You Go?" serves as the musical revolving door that sees the positive and negative from both sides of the glass. Unfortunately for Paxton, his bandmates and a cast of special guests, the real magic of this disc doesn't come on the first third of the album (where these two songs are found).

The fuse on the bomb is lit on "Forgotten Sons," a damning tirade against the father who left Paxton and his mother (who died when Paxton was a teenager) for the emotional scars he left on the lives he was involved in. But unlike the "Montel Williams" world where people are brought together after so much turmoil, Paxton slams the door on any chance of reconciliation: "Now that you want me / You're a little too late." Likewise, he opens the wounds he's had and allows them to fester for the audience to learn from: "So thank you for giving me reasons to cry / And the seasons I spent dreaming of suicide". Ka-pow.

Once you have touched on this emotional landmine, the rest of Paxton seems to unfold naturally. Tracks like "I Want You Now," "Huh" and "Slammed" give the band the freedom to go forth, though there are still signs of personal baggage strewn through some of the music. If Paxton was a form of therapy for the singer, then he truly went through a difficult life to get to this point.

And maybe this is the kind of album that will make the listener feel uncomfortable. Hopefully it wouldn't be due to the references of homosexuality, though I (an open-minded individual who has had many friends on both sides of the sexual spectrum) could understand how some people might not feel at home with this. But some people might squirm at the way Paxton shows off his gaping emotional wounds. Maybe it's because some people are fighting with the same demons; maybe it's because some people see themselves as the pain-causers. Whatever the case, this disc is still very much worth the effort.

Paxton might not become a superstar with songs like these, and Paxton is the first look of a band in progress... but we still should be thankful there is a disc like this out on the market to remind us that music isn't all about bubblegum pop and pretty faces. There are stories of pain and triumph over adversity - and with a little seasoning, Paxton could well be one of the premier storytellers in this vein.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2001 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Nemperor / Razor And Tie Records, and is used for informational purposes only.