As part of the Monday night IBMA Artist Showcase, the John Hartford Stringband took the stage to present songs from their new album “Memories of John,” on Compass Records. The band consists of Bob Carlin (Banjo), Chris Sharp (Guitar), Mike Compton (Mandolin), Matt Combs (Fiddle) and Mark Schatz (Bass).
So how do you feature the “wink-and-a-smile” music of John Hartford without John? How do you replicate the laid back, “just-in-the-groove” banjo or the fiddle that talked almost as much as it sang? How do you capture the gleem in his eyes that somehow made it into his music?
Well the answer is you don’t. What you do, and what the John Hartford Stringband was able to do to good effect, was capture the spirit of what made his music so special. There was no attempt to replicate John’s vocal style or even his playing style. Instead, the ensemble brought out the freewheeling feel of the music and shared the humor that was such a part of his music.
As far as musicianship, you’d be hard pressed to find better musicians in any band. More importantly, it looks – and sounds – like they are having a good time and enjoying the music themselves. It was a real treat to hear several songs that John had intended to record before his passing, such as “Madison, Tennessee” and “She’s Gone and Bob’s Gone With Her.”
Next year will be the tenth anniversary of John Hartford’s passing (onto a heavenly steamboat, I would guess). The John Hartford Stringband is a good way to remember the spirit of John and his music. Makes you smile.