John Hartford “Aereo-Plain”

Aereo-Plain

John Hartford started off like many songwriters, writing song after song trying to hit a big one. And when he did, with Gentle On My Mind (one of the most recorded songs ever), he hung out on those royalties, and all of his subsequent albums were exactly what you would expect from a bluegrass entertainer who did just exactly what he wanted to do. Of course, I must admit that the first time my buddy showed me his tattered LP with some goggled longhair singing hillbilly tunes I wasn’t too interested (probably opting at that time for Trout Mask Replica or the like), but of all the albums I once ignored, this was my biggest mistake.

Hartford is the Frank Zappa of bluegrass. Not quite as prolific in terms of releases, but both musicians were so firmly entrenched in their respective musics, and at the same time, so able to comment on it from an outside, and humorously different point of view. With Aereo-Plain, the first album any wannabe John (or even bluegrass) fan should nab, Hartford grabbed some of the best pickers in town (Norman Blake, Tut Taylor, Vassar Clements, and Randy Scruggs on electric bass guitar) and just let ’em go. In the studio, the only requirements were that at least one picker had to know the song, and the rest could follow. It was a free-form recording and they didn’t listen to playback until it was all over.

There was magic there at that studio, and for a closer look we have the wonderful, newish companion CD, Steam Powered Aereo-Takes which gathers many great outtakes from the sessions. But seriously, start here with the biggie. John’ll rip that banjo and sing about Steamboats (of which he was a Mississippi River pilot), hippies, drug dealin’, songwriting, and the “Goodle Days” in general. In fact, this nearly conceptual album has a nostalgic theme almost in line The Kinks’ classic Village Green album.

Not to be missed, then get Morning Bugle.

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“Back In The Goodle Days”

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