Australia's Raven Records has accomplished the impossible: they have distilled the finest moments from John Hartford's first seven RCA recordings down into 28 songs and issued them with pristine sound on a single CD. What seems impossible is that there aren't any tracks on these albums that are remotely substandard. The fact that these seven albums were done in a four-year period is astonishing. Using only two producers during that time, Felton Jarvis and Rick Jarrard, Hartford built a white heat body of work that was as eclectic as it was innovative and high quality. Hartford was the Mark Twain of songwriting, and not only because he was from Missouri. His sense of irony, travel, history, humor -- and commitment to excellence -- was nearly without peer. Only Mickey Newbury and Kris Kristofferson -- who arrived in Music City about the same time Hartford did -- were his peers. Most know Hartford as the author of Glen Campbell's smash "Gentle On My Mind," but that song is only the beginning of the story. "Untangle Your Mind," "Windows," "Go Fall Asleep Now," "Like Unto A Mockingbird," and so many others, bring an enormous perspective to the songwriting being done at the time: historical concerns, a Zen detachment from the subject matter which offers a compassionate view of every situation, profound empathy with his protagonists without artifice or sentiment, and the way to construct a line where metaphor and metronomic device become interchangeable. Hartford also used his encyclopedic musical knowledge in his songs, wrapping his lyrics in old folk songs, bluegrass, hillbilly, Celtic influences, vanguard tonal architectures, and good old country and blues hooks. What's even more amazing is that, like the best work of Bob Dylan and John Stewart Hartford's work is timeless, it shows no age either in its innovative production techniques, or its compositional or lyrical content. This is essential for any fan of singer/songwriters, or for the history of country music as it began flirting with other forms. This is the real Americana music.
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