REVIEW: “The John Hartford Fiddle Tune Project – Vol. 1” is Diversity of John Hartford


This is not a new John Hartford record. It’s a collection of unrecorded Hartford fiddle tunes found in his archive after his passing (1937-2001). Amassed from 68 journals, composed during his last 18 years & newly recorded by his proteges: many of today’s stellar acoustic musicians. The John Hartford Fiddle Tune Project – Vol. 1 (drops June 26 – Hartford/StuffWorks).

New Grass pioneer John was inspired by people, places & things he experienced while on tour. 17 songs from an enormous elaborate personal archive. Dashed off quickly, labored over, & undeveloped.

Produced by Matt Combs with Katie Hartford Hogue as executive producer it includes interpretations as full band arrangements, duets, waltzes, vocals, bluegrass, old-time melodies, folk, country & classical styles. The vast array of diversity of John Hartford.

Hartford was the songwriter of “Gentle on My Mind,” the 1968 classic Glen Campbell hit that earned 4 Grammy Awards (2 for John).

John stated it brought him his freedom. The song was inspired by seeing “Dr. Zhivago” & since became the 4th most played song on radio (Billboard).

I read John’s “Word Movies,” book which afforded me more of his descriptive lyrical style. His crazy creative “Boogie,” & “Bye, Bye,” penetrated my young ears. I couldn’t pass on his Dot LP “Annual Waltz,” with “All in My Love for You.”

From that, I enjoyed Hartford’s final hosting/final performance of “O Brother, Where Art Thou,” tour music that won a Grammy as “Down from the Mountain.”

I respected his becoming an authentic steamboat pilot.

The all-instrumental vintage “Tennessee Politics,” starts the LP with Matt Combs (fiddle), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Noam Pikelny (banjo), Chris Eldridge (guitar), & Dennis Crouch (bass). The LP’s many proficient musicians take turns on various melodic tunes. Artists who play this music will now have a wealth of pickings from a treasure trove of “old-sounding” Hartford classics “new” to many ears.

“Little Country Town,” “Long White Road,” “Over the Side of the Road,” are more intricate well-crafted interplay hoedowns. It’s hard to believe that NY born Hartford raised in Missouri had the instincts of Appalachia, Americana, folk, country & traditional music so deeply engrained in his fingers.

Hartford didn’t invent this music but whenever Alison Krauss, Vince Gill or many traditionalists sing & play I “hear” John Hartford. He personified this music. It’s as American as country, blues, & jazz. When Taj Mahal performs on his early LPs a patch of Hartford is in those notes.

There isn’t a tune on this exquisitely played LP that won’t bring a smile to a face, a tap to ten toes, a shake to a knee & joy to troubled souls. No writer’s block. Had John lived another 20 years he had a bottomless barrel of genuine tunes.

Hartford awake or asleep was a songbook filled with what we as Americans should be on our best days.

The 47-minute CD is available at & Amazon.

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