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John Hartford

Hamilton Ironworks – 2001 (Rounder)

Reviewed by John Lupton

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CDs by John Hartford

Among the saddest events in the American music scene of 2001 was the passing in early June of John Hartford, whose contributions to the old time and bluegrass music he loved so much went well beyond his talents as an entertainer. He was a fiddler, a singer, a banjo picker, a teacher, a historian and a walking encyclopedia of what made American music American.

Ironically, although he entered the consciousness of millions by way of his TV appearances as Glen Campbell's banjo playing sidekick more than 30 years ago, his final studio recording, "Hamilton Ironworks," highlights the fact that he was primarily a fiddler, and a damn good one. The 23 classic fiddle tunes presented here (which are collectively known by probably three times as many different names) serve as a backdrop to Hartford's running commentary on the tunes and the fiddlers he learned them from, and like them, he glories in his idiosyncrasies - there's simply no single "right" way to play any given tune.

The album is produced by Hartford's longtime friend, collaborator and band member Bob Carlin, and while the acceptance of fiddle and banjo music has long been at the mercy of producers with little or no concept of the music's dynamics, Carlin demonstrates exceptionally that in the hands of someone who understands what the music's about, it equals anything Nashville or L.A. has to offer.