John Hartford

Live from Mountain Stage

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John Hartford traveled a long road from hippie counterculture figure in the early '70s to standard bearer of tradition in the '90s. Recorded between '94 and '96, Live From Mountain Stage represents the finishing touches of his transition into a guardian of traditional music. Indeed, this is only the second Mountain Stage release that concentrates on one artist (the first featured Bill Monroe). With fairly simple arrangements, Hartford offers affecting versions of trademark songs like "I Wish We Had Our Time Again" and "Lorena" to an appreciative audience. There are spry renditions of "Bring Your Clothes Back Home and Try Me One More Time" and "Gum Tree Canoe," and a upbeat take on "Gentle on My Mind." It may surprise casual fans, only familiar with the last song, how many good songs Hartford wrote. While he had a penchant for odd points of view, he also had a touching, melancholy streak that gave warmth to his songs. he's in good voice and seems to flourish in a live setting. Sure, it might have been nice to have Hartford lay down a good old rude classic like "Boogie" or "Holding," but his Aereo-Plain days were long behind him. Instead, the listener is left with a handful of lovely gems, chosen across the span of his career, that attest to his ability to craft great songs. Live From Mountain Stage, then, succeeds on several levels. It's a good live show and a retrospective, suitable for long-time fans and those with a budding interest in the master.

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