John Hartford,
Hamilton Ironworks
(Rounder, 2001)

"This is an album of memories." Those words, spoken by John Hartford, are the first sounds heard on this, his last studio album recorded before his death, and they provide the perfect start to this final offering of great string music.

The album includes of 22 fiddle tunes learned over the years and played by Hartford and the Hartford Stringband, consisting of Bob Carlin, Mike Compton, Larry Perkins and Chris Sharp, names that will be familiar to all fans of old-time music. As the music plays, Hartford also gives spoken vignettes concerning the tunes' composers or those associated with them. For example, on "Woodchopper's Breakdown," he talks about the one-armed fiddler (!) from whom he heard the song, and this is only one of many. Hartford's liner notes are wonderful, and the booklet also contains some grand old photos from the start of his long career.

You'll listen to this CD with a mixture of joy and sadness: joy that he was able to make such wonderful music at the end, and sadness that you're never going to be able to go up to Hartford at a festival and ask him to whisper in your ear the meaning of the title of the tune, "Politic," as he tells you to do here. The album is the synthesis of John Hartford. It contains his musical talent, his great good humor, his compassion and all his love for the music that he chose to make his own. The music is wonderful, lilting and driving and moving and tender, and every note and word shows why the death of John Hartford leaves a gap that will not be easily filled.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 6 April 2002

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