Memories of John includes 14 tracks of tunes and songs. Some are well known to John Hartford fans; others are complete renderings of sketches that John Hartford left behind.
Memories Of John captures that fluid recognition that it is all string band music, whether the bluegrass of “Love Grown Cold” or the Ohio Valley fiddle music of the kickoff track, “Three Forks Of Sandy.” The material delights of this album come from three basic areas. The first consists of two demos that John recorded more than forty years ago. Mark and Eileen Schatz worked “You Don’t Notice Me Ignoring You” into a finished track, while the closing “Fade Out” appears just as Hartford left it.
The second and perhaps most intriguing set consists of previously unreleased Hartford compositions, most intended for a Hartford Stringband project that he did not live to record. All three were well worth the wait, especially the delightful “Madison Tennessee” and live favorite “Homer The Roamer.”
The remaining ten selections include a Schatz’ tribute poem “For John,” two Ed Haley tunes, the classic “Lorena” sung by Tim O’Brien, and renditions of six Hartford originals. Most of the latter feature John’s friends joining the Stringband. O’Brien sings and Alison Brown plays John’s banjo on a version of “M.I.S.I.P.” that stays close to the original. Alan O’Bryant brings his unmistakable voice to “Delta Queen Waltz,” the same song he sang at John’s funeral. Béla Fleck delivers a captivating personal interpretation of John’s banjo style on “The Girl I Left Behind Me.” And if that’s not enough, the album and several tracks start with John’s instructions to the band, all from previous rehearsal tapes.
The John Hartford String Band has succeeded in creating in just one package an excellent new John Hartford album, a wonderful tribute to John and his music, and a real world demonstration that bluegrass and oldtime don’t have to be an either/or proposition. (Red Clay Records, 916 19th Ave South; Nashville, TN 37212, www.redclayrecords.com.) AM
That spirit continues through the album. The John Hartford String Band play in homage to Hartford, but the performances are original and fun. The record moves at a pace that will be familiar to old Hartford fans, from hot old-time fiddling, to well-written ballads, humorous tunes and waltzes. All but a few of the songs are original Hartford material, even including a few unreleased demo cuts from the’ 60s of Hartford picking, singing and whistling.
In addition to cameos by the captain of the steamboat himself, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Tim O’Brien, and others appear on the record, singing and playing tribute to their mentor and friend. Hartford fans will appreciate the humorous, tender, and sometimes whimsical and unpolished singing style of the band on songs like “Lorena”, “Bring Your Clothes Back Home”, and “Love Grown Cold”.
The record has the intimate feel of his live performances and the improvisational style of instrumental albums like Wild Hog in the Red Brush. You can feel the level of friendship and respect that the players had for Hartford, which gives the recordings an intimate feel.
Although a tribute album, the recordings stand on their own and are a valuable addition to the genre and a good listen.
By Kirk McAlpin - back to top
“Memories of John” by The John Hartford Stringband
Had John Hartford done nothing but write “Gentle on My Mind” and bring the banjo to national attention on the The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour and The Johnny Cash show in the late 1960s and early 1970s, his service to bluegrass and old-time music would have been immense. But, given the financial freedom that comes with having penned a megahit song, he spent a long, fruitful career in acoustic music that dipped deep into the past while looking far into the future.
Of his extensive list of recordings, this, though a tribute album made by his close musical associates, can be considered his final album, as his presence permeates it both figuratively and literally. (Hartford also participated in another tribute album recorded live a few months before his 2001 death.)
Chris Sharp (guitar), Bob Carlin (banjo), Matt Combs (fiddle), Mike Compton (mandolin) and Mark Schatz (bass), who comprised Hartford’s band for his last five Rounder recordings and for live gigs during the last few years of his life, are the house band here, choosing a mix of Hartford favorites and a couple of songs—”Madison, Tennessee” and “She’s Gone (And Bob’s Gone with Her)”—that Hartford wrote but never recorded.
The results of a quick recording session, the Stringband tracks are perfect realizations of the Hartford sound, and guest vocals from Tim O’Brien (“M.I.S.I.P.” and “Lorena”) and Alan O’Bryant (“Delta Queen Waltz”) are moving without being mawkish. Bela Fleck, George Buckner and Alison Brown also guest on individual tracks with their interpretations of Hartford’s banjo style.
The biggest treats here are two short demos recorded by Hartford in the 1960s: the lighthearted “You Don’t Notice Me Ignoring You” and the album’s fitting closer, a gentle, sweet, wordless, whistling tune called “Fade Out.”
Memories of John, depending on your exposure to his music, can serve as either an introduction to Hartford’s tremendous body of work or a capstone for his career. Either way, it’s great listening.
by Aaron Keith Harris - back to top
Album Review: John Hartford Stringband "Memories Of John"
John Hartford was known worldwide as a master of the fiddle and banjo. Even though he passed in 2001, his music lives on through the five musicians who appeared on his last several albums on Rounder Records. And 10 years after his death, "Memories Of John" is a fitting tribute to one of the most talented musicians ever to grace a bluegrass festival stage.
The laid back melodic gem "Love Grown Cold" is a winner, but the album really sizzles with "Madison, Tennessee," but the best track on the album is "Half Past Four." This cut is bluegrass perfection that has a musical relevancy and urgency that is not often seen on tribute albums of this kind.
Special guests on the album include Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Tim O'Brien, Alan O'Bryant and Eileen Carson Schatz. But the biggest surprise is that John Hartford himself also appears on banjo, guitar and vocals.
The traditional "Delta Queen Waltz" offers a passionate vocal interpretation by Alan O'Bryant. However, the most unique track on the album is "For John," which is a riveting poem honoring John Hartford. Mark Schatz's vocal and syncopated feet provide a moving tribute. It's followed by "Homer The Roamer," which may be the most pleasurable cut on the entire album and is a fitting bookend to the unique poem in song "For John."
The bluesy fun of "Bring Your Clothes Back Home" is infectious, and "Lorena" shows why Tim O'Brien is a widely sought after vocalist. George Buckner also deserves special praise for his 3 finger skills on the track. Next, the lyrics of "You Don't Notice Me Ignoring You" could penetrate even the hardest of hearts. And, finally, the album ends on a high note with John Hartford himself on "Fade Out." It is a reflective and memorable performance.
The album also features the rowdy bar song "She's Gone (And Bob's Gone With Her)," the traditional country "The Girl I Left Behind Me" and "Royal Box Waltz." Of all the songs on the album, "The Girl I Left Behind Me" has the best chance to become a radio chart hit. With Chris Sharps' vocals, Bela Fleck's 3 finger and the Stringband's instrumentation, the track hits on all cylinders and offers a memorable melody.
John Hartford is now in the clouds, but his spirit can rest easy. His friends have honored his memory in the best possible way. They have created a remarkable album that breaks new ground while exploring the music of a legend. Indeed, a new generation of music buyers will now be wanting to seek out the music of John Hartford. "Memories Of John" will also allow John Hartford's fans to reflect on his rich musical heritage. Thank you, John. CountryChart.com
by BJ Jones - back to top
Country review: A masterful tribute by the John Hartford String Band
May 2, 2010 by The Raleigh News Observer
Musician John Hartford left a legacy of 30 albums and a shelf of Grammys when he died in 2001. His band offers a fitting tribute with its new album.
The late John Hartford was an American original, an artist who followed his muse from Mississippi riverboats and Hollywood to Nashville's Ryman Auditorium. Of uncompromising artistic integrity, Hartford used the financial rewards from his popular song, "Gentle on My Mind," to pursue the old-time and bluegrass music he heard as a young man growing up in Missouri.
When Hartford passed away in 2001, he left a legacy of about 30 albums and a shelf of Grammy Awards he had won in three different decades. He also left behind the John Hartford Stringband. Asheville native Chris Sharp (guitar and producer) and Lexington resident Bob Carlin (banjo), along with Matt Combs (fiddle), Mike Compton (mandolin) and Mark Schatz (bass) make up the brilliant quintet.
With "Memories of John" (Compass Records), the band pays tribute to the master with a 15-track collection of well-known and rare Hartford gems. The former include the Ed Haley fiddle tune, "Three Forks of Sandy," the Johnny Bond country standard, "Love Grown Cold," and the pre-Civil War ballad, "Lorena."
Alan O'Bryant ("Delta Queen Waltz") and Tim O'Brien ("Lorena") take guest turns on lead vocals, while Hartford makes a "guest appearance" with his guitar and gentle voice on the final track, a rare and previously unreleased piece from the 1960s. Fans who followed Hartford's career from the "Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" to MerleFest will enjoy these "Memories," while younger ones will become acquainted with a musical genius the likes of which is not likely to come this way again.
by Jack Bernhardt - back to top
Memories of John - The John Hartford String Band
MemoriesNearly a decade after his passing, Memories of John was recorded to commemorate the life and music John Hartford, The core of the project is the John Hartford Stringband - Chris Sharp/guitar, Bob Carlin/banjo, Matt Combs/fiddle, Mike Compton/ mandolin and Mark Schatz/bass - the same group of musicians who appeared on Hartford's last five Rounder Records projects and who were his touring band during the last years of his life.
"There's something wonderful about the God-given pleasure of putting new strings on an old banjo and picking on them a little when they're all loose and way down low and lonesome like an old sweet voice coming across a wet field after a spring rain,"
Special guests Tim O'Brien, Bela Fleck, Alison Brown, Alan O'Bryant, George Buckner and Eileen Carson Schatz join the band on renditions of hit original John Hartford songs, traditional fidd Ie tunes, country and bluegrass songs refashioned by Hartford as well as a few rarely heard Hartford originals written shortly before his death, But the most special guest on the CD is John Hartford himself who appears on several previously unreleased tracks. Memories of John is a loving tribute to one of the most influential musicians of his time and an essential recording for all John Hartford fans.
"John Hartford was one of the rarest of musical birds, He had one foot deeply rooted in the past and the other always at least a few steps into the future- and both were dancing."
John Hartford, river boat captain, fiddler, banjoist, guitar picker, was a significant influence on bluegrass music. John's trademark hat was always in place as was his traditional vest that he wore when performing. John had an identity that reached around the world. Here is a collection that reflect the essence that was John Hartford.
After several months of planning, recording, and production the John Hartford Stringband is now finished and is now shipping!
by Bob Cherry - back to top
The John Hartford Stringband – Memories Of John
03.25.10 @ 11:27 am by The Bluegrass Blog
Gone but not forgotten… That’s not just the name of a terrific song, but the sentiment that most bluegrass lovers express when discussing the giants of our music who have passed on.
One who squarely fits in this category is John Hartford, who left a powerful wake in his path during the 64 years he lived amongst us. His distinctive voice, unmistakable banjo sound, classic songs and unorthodox performance style left an indelible mark on those who saw him on stage, and his many recordings are a legacy any artist would be proud to claim.
As we approach the 10th anniversary of John’s passing in 2011, the members of his final band have recorded a tribute project (Memories Of John) that not only includes new versions of some classic Hartford songs, but also a pair of previously unreleased tracks from the 1960s, and new recordings of songs John had written for a project he never got to record.
Going as the John Hartford Stringband, the core players were all members of his touring group: Bob Carlin on banjo, Mike Compton on mandolin, Matt Combs on fiddle, Mark Schatz on bass and Chris Sharp on guitar. Guest performers on the CD include Alison Brown and Béla Fleck on banjo, plus Tim O’Brien and Alan O’Bryant on vocals.
This project was initially recorded for Red Clay Records in Japan, but has been licensed to Compass and is now shipping.
by John Lawless - back to top