Album – BEST OF FRIENDS
BEST OF FRIENDS
In 1984, two generations of master folksinger-songwriters – Tom Paxton and Bob Gibson – teamed up with relative newcomer Anne Hills, who would soon gain recognition as their peer, to perform for 18 months as Best of Friends. Although both men already had lengthy and successful solo careers in progress, “by the early ’80s, Bob and I wanted to work together more often,” Paxton explains in the CD’s liner notes, “and when our manager suggested adding a woman’s voice, we agreed and never thought of anyone but Anne.”
The trio toured throughout the US, UK, and Canada and performed several radio concerts, but there was never any thought given to formal recording, which made the Best of Friends a missing and much sought after link in the chain of recorded folk history – until now! A live February 1985 concert taped at Holsteins, then one of Chicago’s finest folk clubs, and broadcast on the city’s WFMT-FM station, recently resurfaced and is now presented by Appleseed as the only available recording of this three-fold supergroup. Best of Friends presents 14 songs (plus some humorous and insightful spoken introductions) from that historic 1985 broadcast produced, recorded and edited by WFMT’s Rich Warren, current host of the station’s 50-year-old, syndicated “The Midnight Special” folk program.
NEWS, REVIEWS & NOTES
In 1984, well-established Chicago folksingers Bob Gibson and Tom Paxton united with newcomer Anne Hills to form a trio called Best of Friends. For the next year and a half, they performed together, then went their separate ways.
Review by William Ruhlmann
In 1984, well-established Chicago folksingers Bob Gibson and Tom Paxton united with newcomer Anne Hills to form a trio called Best of Friends. For the next year and a half, they performed together, then went their separate ways. But they never recorded as a group. Two decades later, Appleseed Recordings unearthed this 1985 concert performance from Holsteins folk club in Chicago, taped for broadcast by WFMT’s The Midnight Special radio show by its host, Rich Warren. Paxton explains that, while all three are essentially solo acts, occasionally they wonder what their songs will sound like with harmony, and this is a chance to find out. The informal nature of the group, and the uneven stature of its members (Gibson, though a folk veteran, never achieved great renown, Hills was at the start of her career) means that it is mostly the prolific Paxton who gets to hear those harmonies on his compositions; he wrote or co-wrote ten of the 14 songs in the show. Gibson contributes the Civil War song “Let the Band Play Dixie” and “Pilgrim Song,” a reflection on sobriety, and Hills’ “While You Sleep” is a moving romantic ballad. But for the most part, this is a Tom Paxton show with harmonies, and his familiar songs benefit from the arrangements. “The Death of Stephen Biko” is even more forceful than usual, “Ramblin’ Boy” even more lyrical, “Bottle of Wine” even more celebratory. Of course, Paxton’s audiences (including this one) often sing along, too, but it’s good to hear some well-miked professionals chiming in for a change. Best of Friends certainly live up to their name in this performance, and at the same time, though the material has been rehearsed, it comes off as three individuals performing together rather than as a group that has been melded into a single unit. Still, this is a historical artifact that fills in a gap in the discographies of all three performers.