The Rare & Unreleased John Hartford: Backroads, Rivers & Memories
If all John Hartford had done was to write “Gentle on My Mind”, his legend would be sealed as a songwriting giant. But his talent as a singer and instrumentalist catapulted him to fame not only as the banjo-playing sidekick on the “Glen Campbell Good Time Hour” TV show of the late sixties, but also as an in-demand studio sideman (the Byrds’ fabled “Sweetheart of the Rodeo”, James Taylor’s “Mud Slide Slim”, and countless others). In the midst of this, he formed the band that made “Aereo-Plain”, the 1971 record that defined newgrass before the progressive new style had a name. Or any other practitioners. That bold, singular approach was actually years in the making. Starting his professional life as a St Louis banjo player obsessed with Flatt & Scruggs’ history-making bluegrass, John Hartford seemed at the outset to have set out on a conventional country music path, complete with a white cowboy hat, pickin’ and singin’ on the radio, and pressing up singles of his bluegrass group, inching slowly and inevitably towards Nashville. Along the way, he picked up some new influences, including Bob Dylan and Roger Miller. And he recorded every step, every song of his musical sojourn.
“Backroads, Rivers & Memories” collects 27 recordings, 19 of which have never been released, the other 8 being his ultra-rare early singles with the Ozark Mountain Trio. Licensed directly from the John Hartford estate, the set features three live radio cuts from 1964, and 16 beautifully rendered 1965-1969 songwriter demos, including 5 Hartford newly-uncovered originals never heard before. Fan favorites include “This Eve of Parting” (from the recent indie hit film Lady Bird), the iconic “Gentle on My Mind”, and a brief recording of the first rehearsal of the bluegrass classic “Steam Powered Aereo-Plain.”
Complied and notated by musician and Hartford scholar Skip Heller, mastered by Kevin Chubirka at Haven, and graced with photos from the Hartford family archive, this collection is destined to be one of this year’s most talked-about country/bluegrass releases.
10. Self Made Man
11. Minus The Woman
12. Like unto a Mockingbird
13. Grownup Man
14. Gentle On My Mind
15. Steam Powered Aereo Plain (first rehearsal excerpt)