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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!

Raven’s 2-CD set brings together these five albums in full; 1970’s Iron Mountain Depot would be his final RCA Victor release, though a seventh album for the label entitled Radio John was unearthed in 2002 following Hartford’s death. (Those two albums would make a fine collection for Raven in the future, as they’re particularly difficult and costly to obtain today.) The multi-instrumentalist and troubadour remained in LA and headed to Warner Bros. Records for the next chapter of his career, previously anthologized on CD by Real Gone Music.

Life, Love and Music is a companion disc to Raven’s anthology Natural to Be Gone: 1967-1970 as it fleshes out the period covered on that compilation. It’s been remastered by Warren Barnett and includes new liner notes from Keith Glass. You can order this set of John Hartford’s early classics at the links below!

John Hartford, Life, Love and Music: 5 Essential Albums 19661969 (Raven CD RVCD-377, 2014) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

CD 1

  1. I Reckon
  2. Today
  3. A Man Smoking a Cigar
  4. Untangle Your Mind
  5. Like Unto a Mockingbird
  6. I Shoulda Wore My Birthday Suit
  7. The Tall Tall Grass
  8. Front Porch
  9. Eve of My Multiplication
  10. When the Sky Began to Fall
  11. Corn Cob Blues
  12. Minus the Woman
  13. Jack’s in the Sack
  14. (Good Old Electric) Washing Machine (Circa 1943)
  15. Love Song in 2/4 Time
  16. Daytime of Life
  17. Whose That
  18. There Are No Fools in Heaven (Anyman’s Inferno)
  19. Earthwords
  20. Gentle on My Mind
  21. Naked in Spite of Myself
  22. How Come You’re Being So Good to Me
  23. No End of Love
  24. Left Handed Woman
  25. Baking Soda
  26. Why Do You Do Me Like You Do?
  27. The Six O’Clock Train and a Girl with Green Eyes
  28. Springtime All Over Again
  29. Landscape Grown Cold
  30. The Eve of Parting
  31. I Would Not Be Here

CD 2

  1. Natural to Be Gone
  2. Empty Afternoon of Summer Longing
  3. A Simple Thing as Love
  4. Windows
  5. Prayer
  6. Love is Sweeter
  7. Housing Project
  8. I’m Still Here
  9. Crystallia Daydream
  10. The Girl with the Long Brown Hair
  11. I Didn’t Know the World Would Last This Long
  12. The Sailboat Song
  13. The Category Stomp
  14. Go Fall Asleep Now
  15. My Face
  16. Big Blue Balloon
  17. In Like Of
  18. Shiny Rails of Steel
  19. Dusty Miller Hornpipe and Fugue in a Major for Strings, Brass and 5-String Banjo
  20. I’ve Heard That Tearstained Monologue You Do There by the Door Before You Go
  21. The Collector
  22. A Short Sentimental Interlude
  23. Mr. Jackson’s Got Nothing to Do
  24. Open Road Ode
  25. Little Piece in D
  26. The Poor Old Prurient Interest Blues
  27. The Wart
  28. Railroad Street
  29. Another Short (But Not So Sentimental) Interlude
  30. Orphan of World War Two
  31. The Little Old Lonesome Little Circle Song
  32. I Didn’t Know the World Would Last This Long

CD 1, Tracks 1-13 from John Hartford Looks at Life, RCA Victor LSP-3687, 1966
CD 1, Tracks 14-25 from Earthwords and Music, RCA Victor LSP-3796, 1967
CD 1, Tracks 26-31 & CD 2, Tracks 1-6 from The Love Album, RCA Victor LSP-3884, 1967
CD 2, Tracks 7-18 from Housing Project, RCA Victor LSP-3998, 1968
CD 2, Tracks 19-32 from John Hartford, RCA Victor LSP-4156, 1969

Written by Joe Marchese

July 11, 2014 at 11:13

2 Responses

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  1. Well, so much for selling my HOUSING PROJECT/LOVE ALBUM twofer for big bucks! lol. I’m soooo in for this…


    July 11, 2014 at 13:25

  2. funny, “Gentle on My Mind” was a hit song no one in Nashville could “hear” so the Glaser Brothers published it and reaped the windfall when it was recorded by nearly anyone who stepped near a microphone after Campbell’s version clicked.


    July 15, 2014 at 11:03

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