January 12, 2015 at 6:00 AM
From Paul de Barros: If you saw that cynical Coen Brothers film about the Greenwich Village folk music boom of the ’60s, “Inside Llewyn Davis,” you’ll recall the character Troy Nelson, who drops in briefly, in his Army uniform, to serenade the bohos. Just as the Davis character is based roughly on Dave Van Ronk, Nelson is meant to be Tom Paxton, who 50 years ago released one of the greatest folk songs of all time, “The Last Thing on My Mind.” The Punch Brothers sing that campfire evergreen tune on the “Llewyn Davis” sound track and it has been covered by everyone from Joan Baez to Dolly Parton.
Paxton will no doubt sing that and other songs he’s well-known for — “Ramblin’ Boy,” “Goin’ to the Zoo,” “Bottle of Wine” — when he appears at the Triple Door next week on a bill with Portland duo Kate Power and Steve Einhorn. Like the late folk singers Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, Paxton, 77, is cast from the mold of the earnest singer-songwriter with a lefty message, but he also has a lighthearted, aw-shucks manner, kin to artists like the Smothers Brothers or Tom Lehrer. On his website you can find sarcastic topical videos about the 2008 crash and Sarah Palin, but also a sweet pastoral one about fading rural life, “Early Snow.”
Like Van Ronk, Paxton never got really famous. But he has endured, a steadfastly old-school, politically righteous, fingerpicking folk singer with a big heart, who has continued to produce strong songs year after year. Yes, he can be corny. But check out the 1966 video of him on YouTube singing “The Last Thing on My Mind.” If you don’t get a few goose bumps from that, you might want to check your pulse.
Paxton appears at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, at the Triple Door, Seattle; $30-$38 (206-838-4333 or thetripledoor.net).