Anne Hills was a 15-year-old student at Michigan’s Interlochen Arts Academy in the 1970s when she first heard Tom Paxton on her roommate’s stereo. Fast forward a few years and she found herself collaborating with Tom and the late Bob Gibson as the Best of Friends trio (1984-85). (That short-lived group is preserved on the 2004 Appleseed CD, "Best of Friends"). A few decades later, Anne and Tom recorded their first full-scale collaboration, "Under American Skies" (Appleseed, 2001). And now the circle is complete with the release of "The Things I Notice Now," Anne’s new 12-song CD of all-Paxton compositions celebrating Tom’s 75th birthday (Halloween, 1937).
Paxton, who has received Lifetime Achievement awards from the Recording Academy (the Grammy people), BBC Radio, and the American Society of Composers, Artists and Publishers [ASCAP] among many honors, was one of the very first folksingers in the Greenwich Village scene of the early ’60s to write his own topical and personal material. “That a writer could change the world for the listener and change their political view from a personal place” was a revelation and inspiration to Hills. Her subsequent careers as an award-winning musician, poet, actress, writer, artist, and social worker have all reflected that theme of empathy and change through art.
Rather than recycle some of Paxton’s best-known and most-covered songs (“The Last Thing on My Mind,” “Ramblin’ Boy,” “Bottle of Wine,” “The Marvelous Toy,” “What Did You Learn in School Today?”), Hills solicited suggestions from Paxton, who also contributed the newly written valediction “Redemption Road” (co-written with Geoff Bartley), and added favorites of her own to create "The Things I Notice Now:" “I chose songs that feature his lesser-known, poetically beautiful writing and reflect his ability to capture deep conflict and sorrow with the same clarity as his comedic and political songs,” she explains.
"The Things I Notice Now" takes a long look at real life: lovers and families separated by economics or exhausted emotions (the title song, “Hold On to Me, Babe,” “Every Time”); splintering communities (“Early Snow,” “Hard Times are Here Again”); the passage of time (“Time to Spare”); lethal jobs (“Dogs at Midnight,” “Cindy’s Cryin’”); and the poor as pawns of politics (“When Princes Meet”). Anne’s lovely soprano voice (joined by Tom on three songs) brings each situation to vivid life with an effective lack of diva-like gymnastics. Says Paxton, “I revel in the power of that voice of hers.”
Intimate, understated backing is provided by Hills’ longtime friends and collaborators Scott Petito (production, keyboards, guitars, bass); her former classmates at Interlochen Chris Brubeck (trombone) and Peter Erskine (drums, percussion), both established jazz musicians; frequent performing and recording partner Cindy Mangsen (accordion, concertina), and Anne herself on guitar.
Born in India and raised in Michigan, the Pennsylvania-based Hills was a fixture in the Chicago folk scene starting in the late ’70s, establishing her own reputation as a songwriter and performer and co-founding the Hogeye Music folklore center. Aside from recording more than a half-dozen albums under her own name, Hills is an inveterate collaborator in music and the arts. Her work has been recognized by the Kerrville Music Foundation (Outstanding Female Vocalist of the Year), a Parent’s Choice Award, a Washington Area Music Award, the World Folk Music Association’s Kate Wolf Memorial Award, and several Pennsylvania Council on the Arts Stream awards, among others. Her non-musical projects as poet, actress, writer, and social worker have earned her a second place in the Atlanta Review’s International Poetry Contest, a Polizzi Award for Dedication and Service in the Field of Social Work, and a Master’s Degree in Social Work with honors.