Aereo Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings by John Hartford

Real Gone Music has reissued a lot of albums by well-known artists, plus a number of obscurities. They have now reached back in time to resurrect two albums by the sometimes forgotten John Hartford. In doing so, they have opened the door to the music of two brilliant releases that fused country and folk traditions in a unique and creative manner during the early 1970s. Hopefully they will give John Hartford’s legacy a little respect.

The reissue Aereo-Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings brings to life the two albums he recorded for the label, complete with eight previously unreleased bonus tracks.

Hartford (1937-2001) released seven fairly traditional country folk albums for RCA Records, 1967-70. I say fairly because some of his songs ranged from amusing to oddball. His biggest claim to fame was as the composer of the Grammy Award-winning song “Gentle on My Mind.” This led him to become a regular on such television shows as The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and The Johnny Cash Show. His newfound fame allowed him to sign a contract with Warner Brothers.

He quickly gathered together a group of notable bluegrass musicians including Vasser Clements of Bill Monroe’s Blue Sky Boys, guitarist Norman Blake of June Carter’s band, dobro player Tut Taylor, and bassist Randy Scruggs. He selected folkie David Bromberg to produce the album.

Aereo-Plain was an unusual conglomeration of traditional bluegrass and hippie folk music. Songs such as “Steamboat Whistle Blues,” “Presbyterian Guitar,” “Steam Powered Aereo Plane,” “Tear Down The Grand Ole Opry,” and “Turn Your Radio On” were a tough commercial sell as they were outside of any accepted musical form.

In many ways the music of Aereo-Plain fits better into the musical landscape of today rather than the early 1970s. They tread the line between folk and country but never stay true to either. It required an open mind to accept his excursions and that was not the case at the time.

Morning Bugle was the follow-up album and Hartford stripped his sound to the basics. Guitarist Norman Blake and jazz bassist Dave Holland were the only musicians to support his banjo playing. Most of the tracks were recorded live with the musicians standing in a small circle.

Despite the live nature of the music, it had more structure that its predecessor. The sound was more distinct and it had some jazz leanings to it. “Howard Hughes Blues,” “Old Joe Clark,” “Morning Bugle,” and “Got No Place to Go” are each simple but distinct in their own way.

John Hartford’s Warner Brothers material pushed the envelope of American music in the early 1970s. Aereo-Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings is not for the faint of heart, but if you are in the mood for something creative and a little different, then these long lost John Hartford albums should be for you.

Article first published as Music Review: John Hartford – Aereo-Plain/Morning Bugle: The Complete Warner Bros. Recordings on Blogcritics.

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