Tom Pacheco,
Bare Bones II:
The Lost American Songwriter

(RGF, 1999)

Tom Pacheco has been round for a very long time -- he started back when the Beatles were in their prime -- and yet you may not have heard of him. The albums you are most likely to have seen around are his two RCA records from the mid-'70s. After this Pacheco seemed to have been Swallowed Up In The Great American Heartland, the seemingly prophetic title of one of the albums. Although he recorded some more records while living in Ireland, they obviously didn't get widely or wildly distributed.

Now living in the United States again, Pacheco recorded the double CD The Lost American Songwriter in the vicinity of Woodstock. This album is the companion album to Bare Bones and Barbed Wire, another double CD that Pacheco cut a couple of years ago for the same label. And again he uses the same strict approach, allowing one take only for each track.

The instrumentation on this album is very basic: a few acoustic guitars and a harmonica on a few tracks. The only musician on this record, apart from Pacheco, is the former lead guitarist of The Band, Jim Weider.

Thirty songs saw the light of the day after the three days in the studio and the overall effect is very down-to-earth one. There are no overdubs, no gimmicks -- this is music cut back to the core. The music is mainly the setting for the tales that Pacheco wants to tell, and Pacheco is one of the few great storytellers left in this business.

Pacheco's voice sounds the way I imagine an ancient oak tree would sound if it could sing. But, as I said, it's the wonderful stories that Pacheco spins so effortlessly that make this such an essential release of Americana. The topics are no big surprise, though -- horses, trailers and lost loves -- but what makes this stand out from other releases is Pacheco's ability as an apt observer of blue collar, small-town America, and the way he brings those stories to life.

Take, for instance, "Country Bliss," where he destroys the myth that country life is where the ultimate peace and happiness lies: "Then the sense of isolation / Hits you like a flood / The only thing you've got / To talk about are tulip buds / You lie about how much / You love the sweet tranquility / But if you could climb the walls / That's where you'd probably be."

Now for many this may sound like early Dylan without the metaphors or just like some boring leftover from the '60s, but Tom Pacheco is nothing of the sort. He's a real troubadour, in the best sense of the word. He's got something to say, even if this sometimes means that he has to look beyond the American dream, to look at the sore spots on the large American body. Not all is well in the States, especially not when Tom Pacheco still is one of the best kept secrets in the singer-songwriter scene. It's high time for a change.

[ by Michael Gasser ]



Buy The Lost American Songwriter from Amazon.com.