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RCA Country Legends: John Hartford

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Album Review

The clean-cut John Hartford, who dons the cover of RCA Country Legends, offers quite a contrast to the scruffy photo of the singer on Aereo-Plain just a few years later. One might be lulled into believing that this young man attended Republican rallies and offered no threat to the establishment. But the selections, chosen from several RCA albums recorded between 1966 and 1968, belie the image. While far from the counterculture figure of his Aereo-Plain days, songs like "Untangle Your Mind" and "The Girl With the Long Brown Hair" show him on his way. Hartford's idiosyncratic humor shows up on "Big Blue Balloon" and "Whose That," while his ability to write catchy melodies surfaces on "Corn Cob Blues" and, of course, "Gentle on My Mind." Certain traits, like Hartford's low-guttural delivery of lyrics, make cameos here, but clearly RCA and producer Chet Atkins kept certain eccentricities in check. There are also odd touches, like the trumpets on "I'm Still Here," but overall the production and arrangements are better than one might expect from a major studio with an oddity like Hartford. RCA Country Legends provides a good snapshot of this long-out-of-print material. Thankfully, Rich Kienzle and Dave Samuelson's liner notes remind everyone of Hartford's central role in the birth of newgrass. Sure, he eventually became part of the establishment, but in the late '60s and early '70s he threatened it. RCA Country Legends offers an excellent portrait of Hartford's early work and will be eagerly snatched up by fans. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi


Born: 30 December 1937 in New York, NY

Genre: Country

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

John Hartford remains best known for the country-pop standard "Gentle on My Mind," a major hit for Glen Campbell and subsequently covered by vocalists ranging from Frank Sinatra to Aretha Franklin. The song remains among the most often recorded in the history of popular music, its copyright netting Hartford well over a hundred thousand dollars annually for many years. But there was more to Hartford than that curious mix of highly literary folk music and MOR romantic nostalgia, told from the perspective...
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RCA Country Legends: John Hartford, John Hartford
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