John Hartford

Nobody Knows What You Do

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John Hartford was once something of a renegade within traditional music circles. This fact may be less obvious today because there is so little to offend on Good Old Boys and Live From Mountain Stage. But way back in the '70s, traditional musicians just didn't sing about drugs ("Granny Wontcha Smoke Some Marijuana") or women's breasts ("The Golden Globe Award"). Most still don't. The highly eccentric Nobody Knows What You Do was recorded around the same time as the equally unusual and better-known Mark Twain. Like Mark Twain, Hartford's approach on Nobody Knows What You Do is just about as far out as Hartford ever ventured. A couple of songs work beautifully. "In Tall Buildings" and "Joseph's Dream" are shot through with romanticism and a touch of the sentimental, making them the most intriguing pieces on this album. "The False Hearted Tenor Waltz" finds Hartford adding contorted vocals to an otherwise lovely melody, while "Somewhere My Love -- We'll Meet Again Sweet Heart" offers a hillbilly version of the Doctor Zhivago theme. Really. The album's arrangements, however, veer closer to the country-rock of the New Riders of the Purple Sage than the one-man show of Mark Twain. The three instrumentals, including "John McLaughlin," a tribute to the jazz guitarist, sound a little like outtakes of Bob Dylan's "Nashville Skyline Rag." Nobody Knows What You Do shouldn't be the first choice for a new Hartford devotee. It may not even appeal to fans of his more recent work. But for those who can't get enough of those heady days of the early- to mid-'70s when an artist could still go into the studio and make an album like this, Nobody Knows What You Do will speak to the inner hippie-hillbilly.

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