Art Menius, “Review of A Tribute to John Hartford” Bluegrass Unlimited (December 2001)

Art Menius, “Review of A Tribute to John HartfordBluegrass Unlimited (December 2001)

Various Artists
A Tribute to John Hartford: Live From Mountain Stage
Blue Plate Music BPM 405


“I know why everybody’s here; they think I’m going to croak,” John Hartford told an audience at Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium in late September 2000, a little more than eight months before his death. I know that because the occasion was Hartford’s ninth and final appearance on Mountain Stage. The all-star Hartford tribute episode of the West Virginia Public Radio series has quickly made its appearance on a CD, which proves well worth having.


Some artists logically cover John’s songs, all to fine effect. Gillian Welch & David Rawlings’ version of “Tall Buildings,” and “Gentle on my Mind” by Tim O’Brien and Kathy Mattea especially stand out. Others simply perform great songs well in his honor. Outstanding among these are John Cowan’s moving “Dark as a Dungeon” with Bela Fleck, Pat Flynn, Scott Vestal, and Randy Kohrs. Jamie Hartford’s striking “Who Cut Your Heart Out,” however, seems too loud and electric relative to the other dozen cuts. Others contributing to the tribute include Riders in the Sky and Areoplane veteran Norman Blake.


The ultimate highlights come from John Hartford himself, in good voice and spirits, with Bob Carlin, Chris Sharp, Mike Compton, and Larry Perkins, his band the last several years. Audibly moved, he dedicates his segment to his influences with “In The Heart of the Cross Eyed Child,” “Me and My Fiddle,” “The Boys From North Carolina,” and “Watching the River Go By.” Finally, Hartford bringing this loving and delightful album to a close with a typically irreverent solo rendition of “Give Me The Flowers While I’m Living.”