JOHN HARTFORD ‘Backroads, Rivers & Memories’ – CD


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Starting his professional life as a St. Louis banjo player obsessed with Flatt & Scruggs’ history-making bluegrass, John Hartford seemed at the outset to have set out on a conventional country music path, complete with a white cowboy hat, pickin’ and singin’ on the radio, and pressing up singles of his bluegrass group, inching slowly and inevitably towards Nashville. Along the way, he picked up some new influences, including Bob Dylan and Roger Miller. And he recorded every step, every song of his musical sojourn.

Hartford, who earned a Grammy for his contribution to the groundbreaking film soundtrack for O Brother, Where Art Thou in 2000, joined the subsequent Down From the Mountain Tour, which the film’s music inspired. Illness soon forced him to retire, however, and he was just 63 years old when he succumbed to Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma in June 2001.

Back Roads, Rivers & Memories collects 27 recordings, 19 of which have never been released, the other 8 being his ultra-rare early singles with the Ozark Mountain Trio. Licensed directly from the John Hartford estate, the set features three live radio cuts from 1964, and 16 beautifully rendered 1965-1969 songwriter demos, including 5 Hartford newly-uncovered originals never heard before.

Complied and notated by musician and Hartford scholar Skip Heller, and graced with photos from the Hartford family archive, this collection is destined to be one of this year’s most talked-about country/bluegrass releases.