Three years after having put Tom Paxton
's first two Elektra albums, Ramblin' Boy
and Ain't That News!
, on one CD, Europe's Warner Strategic Marketing imprint assembles an even more ambitious packaging for his third and fourth studio releases, Outward Bound
(1966) and Morning Again
(1968), adding long out of print singles and an EP from the U.K., plus three previously unreleased tracks for a total of ten extra recordings on a two-CD set running 100 minutes. The bonus material greatly enhances the contents. Outward Bound
experiencing what is usually thought of as the sophomore slump: having used up material written over a number of years on a debut album, an artist is forced to write an album's worth of songs quickly for the second, resulting in a collection of less-impressive tunes. In Paxton
's case, since his signing to Elektra had come belatedly, when he was already several years into his career, he had a considerable backlog of good songs that appeared on his first two albums, so it wasn't until Outward Bound
that he had to start afresh. At the same time, he, like his peers, was evolving beyond the topical songs and rewrites of traditional folk tunes that he had come up with previously, and exploring other areas. Outward Bound
reflected his peripatetic career, with several songs about separation and travel, from the melancholy ("Leaving London") to the sarcastic ("Is This Any Way to Run an Airline?"). His politics hadn't changed, of course, but he was less interested in writing straightforward topical songs, instead taking a poke at modern art ("Talking Pop Art"). None of these songs, however, were on a par with his early classics. He waited a year and a half before issuing Morning Again
, and the songwriting quality improved even as he continued to evolve, with more surreal material ("Mr. Blue," "Now That I've Taken My Life") that displayed the influence of Bob Dylan
. Even when he wrote about Vietnam ("Talking Vietnam Pot Luck Blues"), it was to tell a fanciful story of sharing marijuana with the Vietcong. For the first time, many of the songs employed arrangements that added drums and other instruments, although the result was more eclectic and less forceful that typical folk-rock. The inclusion of an early electric version of "One Time and One Time Only" (for which Paxton
apologized in the liner notes to Outward Bound
) and later ones of "Jennifer's Rabbit" and "The Marvellous Toy" indicate that his record label wanted him to go more in this direction than he did himself. Decades later, the results sound tame, but the rare and unreleased material gives a fuller sense of Paxton
in a transitional phase of his career.