John Hartford died on June 5, 2001, leaving behind over 30 years dedicated to writing and playing music. It would be difficult to locate a musician more respected and liked by his peers than Hartford, so recordings like A Tribute to John Hartford naturally follow. This tribute, recorded on September 24, 2000, isn't a by-the-number affair. Some artists play Hartford songs, others do not. Hartford himself makes an appearance, playing and singing several songs. The set kicks off with "Gentle on My Mind," an obvious choice that may seem a little tired; the song, however, receives such a fresh and lovely treatment by Kathy Mattea and Tim O'Brien that it's an inspired choice. Riders in the Sky offer a fun Western swing version of "Billy the Kid," while John Cowan, singing soulfully as always, delivers a six-minute version of "Dark as a Dungeon." Gillian Welch and David Rawlings lay down their signature, old-time groove on "In Tall Buildings," a Hartford classic shot through with his romantic sensibility, while Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn present a nifty version of "On the Road." The last five songs are left to the master himself, including tributes to his own heroes, Bill Monroe, Benny Martin, and Earl Scruggs. Pieces like "In the Heart of the Cross Eyed Child" and "Watching the River Go By" are more like spoken, traditional raps than songs, filled with Hartford's trademark humor. He offers a few moving, if typically bizarre, words on the reason for the little get-together and a short version of "Give Me the Flowers While I'm Living," and the show is over. It is a fitting end to a fitting tribute to the late, great John Hartford.
AllMusic Review by Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.