Photo by David Schenk
Music Matters Albums
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John Hartford Link:
A Tribute To John HartfordLive From Mountain Stage
2001, Blue Plate Music
- The late John Hartford was a pioneer who brought traditional string music into several other genres, so its probably fitting that this tribute album seems a little scattered. A Tribute to John Hartford is basically a concert highlight album from one of Hartfords last live performances in 1995. The album opens with Tim OBrien and Kathy Mattea covering Hartfords biggest hit, Gentle On My Mind. (And although that might seem like an easy, overplayed choice, the stripped down and acoustic arrangement and harmonies between OBrien and Mattea make it alone worth buying the disc.)
Other Hartford covers include Riders In the Sky with a swing version of Billy the Kid, Bela Fleck and old Newgrass Revival bandmate Pat Flynn on the instrumental On the Road, and Gillian Welch and David Rawlings with their dark old-tymie take on In Tall Buildings (Welch remarks that the song probably made more than one person quit their job).
Then there are the odd choices: OBrien with his own More Love, ex-Newgrass Revival vocalist John Cowan on a powerful rendition of Merle Travis Dark As a Dungeon, and Hartfords old pal Norman Blake doing Blakes Savannah Rag, All fine tunes, but they seem out of place. Jamie Hartford (Hartfords son) makes an appearance with his band, but Who Cut Your Heart Out is a loud blues number, which seems out of place.
Still, theres a good reason to buy this album, and thats for Hartford himself, who appears on the last five tracks. You get a sense that Hartford knew this was one of his last shows, but his spirits are up, along with his sense of humor. At one point he remembers a woman from a show years ago who said I wish youd play something I know, so I can tell if youre any good or not. He then adds, So heres something we hope you havent heard.
A Tribute to John Hartford would probably have made a better double album, which could have accommodated more Hartford-penned tunes. Still, as an epilogue to a master instrumentalist, writer, and one who was more than admired by his peers, its a must-have album.Michael Gaither