Memories of John | The John Hartford Stringband (Red Clay)

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 Matt Combs and Mike Compton provide tight vocal harmonizing.

John Hartford may have passed away in 2001 but his spirit lives on.  Some of that spirit is captured in Memories of John, a tribute album by the John Hartford Stringband with a number of special guests, including John himself on two previously unreleased recordings. The album has a wonderfully relaxed feel, including spoken introductions/kickoffs to some of the tunes as if the musicians were at a picking session which just happened to be captured on a recording.
The Stringband (Bob Carlin on banjo and vocals, Matt Combs on fiddle and vocals, Mike Compton on mandolin and vocals, Chris Sharp on guitar and vocals, and Mark Schatz on bass, vocals and speech) are in fine form throughout, and really shine on lively renditions of the Ed Haley fiddle tunes “Three Forks of Sandy” and  “Half Past Four,” as well as Hartford’s own Celtic-influenced ”Homer the Roamer” (reportedly, this is the first recording ever of that tune). Combs and Compton provide tight vocal harmonizing on two more Hartford tunes, “Madison, Tennessee” (also recorded here for the first time) and “Bring Your Clothes Back Home.”
Memories of John also features an all-star lineup of guest artists, starting with Alan O’Bryant who supplies a heartfelt yet restrained vocal on the Hartford original “Delta Queen Waltz.” Guest pickers Alison Brown (“M.I.S.I.P”), George Buckner (“Lorena”) and Bela Fleck (“The Girl I Left Behind Me”) add three-finger banjo (billed specifically as “3 finger ‘John Hartford Style’ banjo”) to several cuts. In fact, the only clinkers in the bunch to my mind are Tim O’Brien’s unsupported and oddly lifeless vocals on “M.I.S.I.P.” and “Lorena.” Maybe he was just having a bad day when they cut the album.
“For John” is a poem written by Mark Schatz when traveling to see John for the last time, here recited by Schatz to the accompaniment of his own percussive feet. Finally, Hartford’s voice and banjo are heard on his own “You Don’t Notice Me Ignoring You” and “Fade Out,” taken from a demo reel from the middle 1960s. A program booklet includes detailed notes on each song and enhances the album’s value for Hartford fans. You can listen to some clips and buy the album on the band’s website. B | Sarah Boslaugh
RIYL: You Ate the Apple; Me Oh My, How the Time Does Fly


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