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A Gem from Woodstock, not to be missed

Tom Pacheco: Woodstock Winter
Mercury 314 532 793-2

by Chris and Gail Bell

From the newsgroup, April 1997.

This is a super album; the creme de la creme of songwriting and production, and certainly a "must buy" for all Pacheco and Band fans. The album features all members of The Band, and is crowned with a first class production, courtesy of their Jim Weider.

Not much is known about Pacheco, but one can hear his many influences including Bob Dylan. He was making albums back in the 70’s (one of which features Richard Bell of The Band), and for a time also resided in Woodstock. According to the sleeve notes, he then spent time in Nashville and Dublin, and in early 1996 returned to the legendary hills of Woodstock to work with The Band, the fruits of which can be heard on this, his latest album aptly titled Woodstock Winter.

It’s a wonderful collection of songs, brimming over with the enthusiasm of all the musicians involved, and the listener is immediately enveloped in the warmth of those Woodstock sessions, that apparently took place in just five days at The Band's own studios. One or two tracks don’t grab you right away, but most of the album is very immediate, and the rest will quickly grow on you. There’s some great storytelling on Woodstock Winter, and wonderfully constructed songs and arrangements. All the songs were written by Pacheco, except for his version of "Christmas On Times Square". There is everything here.. songs about life & love, Robert Johnson, Billy The Kid, Jerry Garcia, Oklahoma City bombing, and even one about the fabled 1947 Roswell UFO crash.

The thirteen songs feature Tom Pacheco’s lead vocals and acoustic guitar. No one track includes all The Band members, (although this is almost achieved on "The Hills of Woodstock"), but everyone is featured throughout the album. There is a great core band, mainly comprising Jim Weider, Randy Ciarlante and Richard Bell of The Band.. with Rick Danko, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson appearing on various tracks. There are also additional guest appearances that include John Sebastian, The Band’s own Aaron Hurwitz and Cal Hayden of the group Four Men & A Dog.

The album opens with a great song, "The Hills of Woodstock".. and this is certainly one of the outstanding tracks. The lyrics are wonderfully clever.. even "Dylan and The Band" get a mention, and if you’ve never been to Woodstock then this song will take you right there. You will not only feel Woodstock, but smell and taste it too. And as the song closes (with some lovely saxophone, courtesy of Garth Hudson), one is left with very strong feelings and images of the place. Yeah, you really are in Woodstock.. so you’d better not miss that last bus home!

All the songs take you right into the heart of each story, and the people & places they are about. This is some of the best songwriting we’ve heard since Robbie Robertson ... or Colin Linden, another of our favourite songwriters. All the Pacheco songs on this album are great, (and several would certainly bode well on a "The Band" album). But our favourites, and probably the standout tracks, are.. "The Hills of Woodstock", "Hey, Hey Robert Johnson"..(this is really great!), "Four Angels", "Nobody Ever Killed Billy The Kid", "The Sacred" and "Jerry’s Gone" (the latter, a fitting epitaph to the late Jerry Garcia, being very humorous in parts, and we especially like the lines that go:-
"They named a brand of ice cream after him, that was enough-
I once saw twenty tough Hell’s Angels licking up that stuff" !!)

There is also a wonderful version of "Christmas on Times Square", that Pacheco manages to make the most picturesque we’ve heard.

Other songs on the album are:- "A Woman’s Tear", "She’s A Smart Woman", "Real Americans?" (this is the one about Oklahoma City), "Come", "The Snowstorm", "This Moment" … and they are all real good.

The album is finished off beautifully with the immaculate production talents of Jim Weider. And there’s also lots of great guitar by Jim, and of course, everyone’s performance on the album is splendid. Incidentally, referring again to Jim Weider.. this is getting away from the review a bit, but anyway, to the critics (or maybe cretins?!):- So what the heck if he does sound like Robbie Robertson at times! Why just pick on that, and what about the George Harrison & Eric Clapton sounding bits? And also, when did Robbie ever play slide? Well, guess it just goes to show what a damn good, versatile musician Jim Weider is, and the truth is, he can play the ass off anybody. But better than anything, he sure sounds like himself a whole lot too.. which is OK with us (and most Band fans). So quit an argument that you lost long ago anyway, huh!

It would be hard to pick the best track on Woodstock Winter, but if pushed, we’d probably choose the lovely "Four Angels". This is unsurpassable, and an absolute masterpiece of storytelling and musical arrangement. It’s beautifully constructed, and whilst Jim Weider & Tom Pacheco take credit for album arrangements, we’re pretty sure that The Band’s Garth Hudson also played a big part in arranging this song. And credit must go to the other musicians too of course, but Garth is all over the track, in true Garth Hudson tradition. And with Synthesizers, & saxophone, he creates an ambience, the likes of which we haven’t heard since The Band’s Northern Lights-Southern Cross.. it’s real beautiful.

The song has an added appeal for us personally (being somewhat UFO nuts since our own sighting of a "Gulf Breeze" type craft back in the 80’s). The Jury is still out on the legendary Roswell case, and 50 years later it remains hotly debated. As for us, we’re pretty open minded (er, sitting on the fence, we call it!). Though despite continuing official denials, there does seem to be a good deal of evidence that certainly something happened. Anyway, whatever the truth about Roswell.. in the context of this song, certainly the story is well told here. And what a great video you could make of "Four Angels" (the mind boggles). In fact, all of the songs on Woodstock Winter would make great videos, so wonder if maybe they’ve done any, or plan to?

The album closes in quiet, reflective mood, with the lovely "This Moment".. an appropriate message now that we’re hurtling towards a new Century, and a lovely way to finish the album. So in all, a great album and Highly recommended! And it’s thanks to Tom for a bunch of wonderful songs, and to himself and The Band for putting it altogether. But of course, don’t just sit there reading all this stuff.. go get the CD and find out for yourself!!

Chris 'n' Gail

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