New York singer/songwriter Jack Hardy's recording career from the mid-'70s to the mid-‘80s is summarized on this 13-track, 68-minute compilation appropriately titled Retrospective. Hardy is very much in the tradition of original, folk-based songwriters singing their own songs in functional if untrained voices, often backed by rhythm sections, that dates to the mid-‘60s work of Bob Dylan. At times, he employs familiar folk-rock arrangements that recall Dylan's (while onetime Dylan drummer Howie Wyeth provides accompaniment), notably "Houston Street," a song that has some of the phantasmagorical imagery of a Dylan song such as "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." Just as often, however, Hardy turns to lively Celtic dance styles (examples here are "May Day," "Blackberry Pie," and "The Drinking Song") to pace his story-songs, often peopled by the royalty and peasants of the Middle Ages. The longtime host of a songwriting workshop in New York and a leader of the Fast Folk movement that publishes a magazine and runs a club in Greenwich Village, Hardy is concerned with craftsmanship in his songs, which are often told in seeming parables and are full of aphorisms. He is something of a modern-day minstrel, singing lyrics with multi-layered meanings in his precisely phrased wheezy tenor voice. Thus, his music has both a surface appeal in its folk-rock and traditional-sounding arrangements, and also reveals lyrical depths upon repeated listenings. This album is a good collection of the highlights of Hardy's early years.
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