John Hartford

The Speed of the Old Long Bow: A Tribute to Ed Haley

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John Hartford was a fiddle fanatic in his last years, and he was particularly fascinated by the legacy and bow style of Kentucky fiddler Blind Ed Haley. Haley never recorded commercially, but his son Ralph used a disc-cutting machine to make scores of homemade recordings of his father playing, and these recordings were divided up between his children at Ralph Haley's death. A hundred or so of the discs were still playable when Hartford and Bob Carlin put together two double-disc sets of Haley's work for Rounder Records, and Hartford went a step further by recording his own versions of songs that Haley was known to have played but never recorded on the Hartford album Wild Hog in the Red Bush. Speed of the Old Long Bow is a sequel of sorts to that album, only this time Hartford revisits tunes for which there are Haley versions recorded. Accompanied by a wonderfully versatile string band consisting of Carlin on banjo, Mike Compton on mandolin, and Darrin Vincent on guitar (and occasional percussion), Hartford quite wisely doesn't try to replicate Haley's takes (Hartford admits in the liner notes that he doesn't play like Haley, but that he enjoys trying), but instead interprets them, and the result is pure loose-jointed fun. Everything here is like a patch in a quilt, and the trademark Hartford wit, joy and energy is everywhere apparent. Highlights include the set opener, "Hell Up Coal Holler," "Bonaparte's Retreat" (which is practically the fiddler's national anthem), and a pair of vocal excursions, "Cattlettsburg" and "Boatmen." Although Long Bow is very much a tribute to Ed Haley, it is also very much a John Hartford album, and Hartford's fans will surely treasure it.

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