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Archive for July 11th, 2014

Gentle On His Mind: Raven Collects John Hartford’s First Five Albums

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John Hartford - Life Love and MusicIt’s knowin’ that your door is always open/And the path is free to walk/That makes me tend to leave my sleeping bag/Rolled up and stashed behind your couch…

John Hartford’s “Gentle on My Mind” picked up two 1968 Grammy Awards – one for Hartford himself as Best Folk Performance, and one for Glen Campbell as Best Country and Western Solo Vocal Performance – Male. The song, a charting single for Campbell, Patti Page, Aretha Franklin and Dean Martin, announced Hartford as a songwriter to watch. RCA Victor had actually signed him back in 1966, however, with the album John Hartford Looks at Life. He remained at the label for six albums (and a seventh that remained on the shelf for decades). Now, his first five LPs have been brought together on two CDs from the Raven label as Life, Love and Music: 5 Essential Albums 1966-1969.

John Cowan Harford (1937-2001) – he later changed it to “Hartford” reportedly at the behest of RCA’s Chet Atkins – was born in New York City but spent his youth in Missouri, where he became fascinated with the lore surrounding the great Mississippi River. By high school, he had mastered guitar, fiddle, mandolin and banjo, and inspired by Flatt and Scruggs, formed a bluegrass band. In 1965, having earned a college degree from Washington University at St. Louis, he moved to Nashville to pursue his calling in music. Hartford worked as a deejay and earned a publishing deal as well as a recording one with RCA’s Nashville division under Atkins’ direction. John Hartford Looks at Life wasn’t your standard country fare. Its song titles made this clear: “Jack’s in the Sack,” “I Shoulda Wore My Birthday Suit,” “A Man Smoking a Cigar.” Hartford deftly balanced humor and poetry, literacy and lunacy, commercial-leaning country-pop and kooky novelties. In short, it announced a new talent. Hartford’s promise was fulfilled by his next release, Earthwords and Music, which introduced the world to “Gentle on My Mind.” The success of the song brought Hartford financial and artistic independence.

Post-“Gentle,” Hartford’s career took off. He wrote for, and appeared with, The Smothers Brothers on their controversial and often brilliant television variety show and Campbell on The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour. By the time of 1968’s The Love Album, the third LP contained in this set, Hartford had his winning formula down of combining offbeat, droll and witty ditties with more straightforward folk and country-flecked pop in the style of “Gentle.” 1968’s Housing Project proved to be his final album in Nashville with producer Felton Jarvis (of Elvis Presley fame). Hartford and Jarvis somewhat stripped back the more expansive production of The Love Album but retained Hartford’s singular worldview, impeccable musicianship and sonically pleasing blend of folk, bluegrass, country and pop – with even a dash of psychedelia. Hartford’s sixth album, titled simply John Hartford in the style of an artist reinventing himself, was produced not in Nashville but in Los Angeles, with Harry Nilsson’s producer Rick Jarrard. The 1969 album was his most outrageous yet, emphasizing the trippy qualities already inherent in his music with orchestration (even sitars!) and the hints of a rock sensibility.

There’s much more after the jump. including the complete track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

July 11, 2014 at 11:13