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Review: The John Hartford String Band, Memories Of John

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The John Hartford String Band
Memories Of John
[Compass (2009)]

John Hartford (1937-2001) had it made. Not only was one of his earliest songs, “Gentle On My Mind,” turned into a 4-Grammy-winning, multi-million selling hit by Glen Campbell, but the tune was covered so many times that it made it to the Guinness Book Of World Records. With 6-figure royalties coming in annually, the New York-born, and St. Louis-raised multi-instrumentalist, gruff-voiced vocalist, and songwriter could devote himself to piloting a steamboat down the Mississippi River and re-defining the bluegrass and string band traditions with his sharp-as-a-hawk lyricism and joie de vivre persona. It took nearly a decade before the members of his band, Bob Carlin (banjo), Matt Combs (fiddle), Mike Compton (mandolin), Mark Schatz (bass), and guitarist/producer Chris Sharp, picked up where they left off with his passing (from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma) in 2001. But, their tribute to their former bandleader, “Memories Of John,” shows how much the spirit of Hartford’s music continues to resonate. Mostly comprised of previously unrecorded tracks that were part of Hartford’s concert repertoire, the CD ranges from odes to the Mississippi River –“M.I.S.P,” sung by Tim O’Brien and “Delta Queen Waltz,” sung by the Nashville Bluegrass Band’s Alan O’Bryant—to tender love tunes like “Lorena,” also sung by O’Brien. Two previously unheard Hartford compositions are included—“Madison Tennessee,” about a touring musician, and the Celtic-tinged “Homer The Roamer.” During original spoken word homage, “For John,” Schatz lays the upright down to accompany the clog dancing of his wife (Eileen Carson Schatz) with poetic oration. Guest banjo players Alison Brown, George Buckner, and Bela Fleck help resurrect Hartford’s spirit. But, with his on-tape vocals on a pair of tunes, Hartford steals the show. With his mid-60s demo recording enhanced by the full band, Hartford’s shows off his verbal playfulness with “You Don’t Notice Me Noticing You,” while revealing a more tender, intimate side with the sweet restrains of solo acoustic guitar, whistling, and wordless scatting during the closing tune, “Fade Out.”



John Hartford. (Photo by Craig Harris.)


[Ed: This CD appears to be most readily available at the band’s website.]

—Craig Harris (Chicopee, MA)

© 2010 DriftwoodMagazine.com, All rights reserved.


One comment on “Review: The John Hartford String Band, Memories Of John

  1. Curious I never saw him in this light always saw him as a folk singer. I clearly see this now. Another style rooted in the Louisville genre. Curious too how this coincides with a mention in yesterday’s release that I commented on. Curious that my dad never cared for his music despite liking folk music and old time sounds. Then he never cared for Blue grass. He was born in The Appalachian region of Eastern Kentucky, which always seemed incongruous to me, the more so since Hartford’s style seemed almost native to my ear.

    Steve Patton

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