Paxton seems to effortlessly embody the spirit of early musics including ragtime, ’20s jazz and Dust Bowl–era blues, delivering them through a dizzying display of virtuosity on guitar, piano, banjo, and lately, fiddle. And his delivery in dress, manner, speech, and humor of the period is so spot-on that it seems impossible that it is all contained within one so young.
When Paxton sits down to a piano, the spirit of Fats Waller, Art Tatum, and Willie “The Lion” Smith springs forth in a cascade of notes raining from the soundboard. When he picks up the guitar, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake are suddenly freed from the crackling Paramount shellac grooves that have imprisoned them for over 80 years. And when Paxton takes up the five-string banjo, the corn liquor-fueled manic urgency of Uncle Dave Macon careens around the room in a dizzying frenzy of old time delight.
After having discovered the origins of American vernacular music at such an early age, Paxton seems hell-bent on encompassing the entirety of the tradition on multiple instruments with the slightly rough-around-the-edges impatience of youth. While his vocal approach is decidedly laid back and understated, his musicianship is marked by urgency and enthusiasm.
Paxton appears to have absorbed more of the history and essence of prewar music than most performers three or four times his age, and there’s little doubt that we can expect exciting things in the future from this emerging young artist.