Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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John Hartford

  • John Hartford [RCA Victor, 1969] D+
  • Aereo-Plain [Rounder, 1971] B+
  • Mark Twang [Flying Fish, 1976] B

Consumer Guide Reviews:

John Hartford [RCA Victor, 1969]
Hartford is an engaging singer and an excellent songwriter, but the production and arrangements on this record are criminal (boo Rock Jarrard! Boo Al Capps!) and the material very thin--nothing near the calibre of, say, "California Earthquake." Songs about warts take you just so far. Unipak. D+

Aereo-Plain [Rounder, 1971]
Insensitive though I am to tales of them thar pickers, I must admit that Norman Blake's guitar, Tut Taylor's dobro, and Vassar Clements's fiddle complement Hartford with tact, wit, and sly razzmatazz. But I insist that it's Hartford's funny, quirkish songs, rather than his banjo, that save me from continued boorishness. And warn that the songs are so grass-meets-bluegrass that remembering them sometimes gives me whimsy megrims and nostalgia headaches. B+

Mark Twang [Flying Fish, 1976]
Hartford's come a long way from "Gentle on My Mind" and eccentric bids for stardom. These days he sings mostly about the mighty Mississip (too thick to navigate, too thin to plow) and records eccentric river music for a folk label. He's slightly the better for it, on the whole--but I wouldn't say his living sounds so secure that he should turn down a gig on the Proud Mary. A gig playing, or a gig navigating. B