The veteran singer/songwriter and folk-roots troubadour Tom Pacheco makes his annual Memorial Day performance at the Colony Café on Woodstock on Saturday, May 24 at 8 p.m. The show is almost-but-not-quite a CD release celebration. Pacheco’s new album – his umpteenth in a recording career that began at the dawn of the ’70s – is, in his own words, 90 percent finished: finished enough, it turns out, that he was willing to grant me a sneak peak of the 13-song opus to be called Boomtown.
Anyone already comfortable with Pacheco’s rich and weathered voice and his disarmingly deliberate and purposeful writing style will be at home with Boomtown right out of the gate. Shapely, simple melodies and well-wrought roots forms bear lyrics that are part keen journalism, part op/ed and part bittersweet nostalgia and cultural history. Pacheco’s verses are so unerringly straightforward, metrically regular and strictly rhymed that they might almost seem plodding at times, were he not such an engaging storyteller and such a lucid social critic with an unabashed leftist take.
There is absolutely nothing – zero – in Pacheco lyrics that could be described as smeared, impressionistic, digressive or language-for-language’s-sake. His hallmark is unfailing clarity of purpose, and this, ultimately is why his songs are so winning. They prevail with simplicity, directness and substance. You may agree or disagree with his tuneful and efficient opinions on Palestine, mobile devices (Pacheco is a proud neo-Luddite) and New York of the ’60s, but you will never be left wondering what those opinions are.
Boomtown trains its lens on the present and the past in about equal measure. Sometimes, it is the music the dwells in the past while the lyrics go topical, as in “Julian,” a train-groove Western outlaw myth about…Julian Assange.
For all his unadorned candor, Pacheco only occasionally writes about himself. The songs that seem to be most confessional often turn out to be dramatic monologues and character studies with political motives. But on Boomtown, there are several heartfelt exceptions: songs in which Pacheco allows himself to serve up some deep, wistful sentiment and mountaintop wisdom (the achingly bittersweet “One More Time,” for example).
But even at its most personal and wistful – the album-opening yearbook of a song called “MacDougal Summer 1966” – personal and cultural history is never simple nostalgia for Pacheco. This misty-eyed catalogue of New York of the ’60s ends as a pissed-off polemic, as the singer revisits his old neighborhood and bemoans the ubiquity of stock traders, iPads and consumerism.
Boomtown, like Pacheco’s career, is a bicontinental concern. Some of it was recorded in Oslo with producer Kai Lolands, and much in Woodstock with the legendary Karl Berger. It is a rich, detailed recording filled with smart arrangements, assured roots/rock playing and even a touch of modern, ambient sonics. But both producers know enough not to mess with the centrality and dominance of Pacheco’s voice, his take on the present and how he – and we – got here.
Tom Pacheco, Saturday, May 24, 8 p.m., $18, Colony Café, 22 Rock City Road, Woodstock; www.colonycafewoodstock.com.