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Nobody Knows What You Do

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Album Review

John Hartford was once something of a renegade within traditional music circles. This fact may be less obvious today because there is so little to offend on Good Old Boys and Live From Mountain Stage. But way back in the '70s, traditional musicians just didn't sing about drugs ("Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana") or women's breasts ("The Golden Globe Award"). Most still don't. The highly eccentric Nobody Knows What You Do was recorded around the same time as the equally unusual and better-known Mark Twain. Like Mark Twain, Hartford's approach on Nobody Knows What You Do is just about as far out as Hartford ever ventured. A couple of songs work beautifully. "In Tall Buildings" and "Joseph's Dream" are shot through with romanticism and a touch of the sentimental, making them the most intriguing pieces on this album. "The False Hearted Tenor Waltz" finds Hartford adding contorted vocals to an otherwise lovely melody, while "Somewhere My Love — We'll Meet Again Sweet Heart" offers a hillbilly version of the Doctor Zhivago theme. Really. The album's arrangements, however, veer closer to the country-rock of the New Riders of the Purple Sage than the one-man show of Mark Twain. The three instrumentals, including "John McLaughlin," a tribute to the jazz guitarist, sound a little like outtakes of Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline Rag." Nobody Knows What You Do shouldn't be the first choice for a new Hartford devotee. It may not even appeal to fans of his more recent work. But for those who can't get enough of those heady days of the early- to mid-'70s when an artist could still go into the studio and make an album like this, Nobody Knows What You Do will speak to the inner hippie-hillbilly. ~ 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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