“Dear John,” an album of duets with songs written by late folk/country singer-songwriter Hartford, will be released Friday.
Hartford achieved mainstream success in the late 1960s, appearing on "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour" and "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour."
In 1968, Campbell’s recording of Hartford’s song, “Gentle on My Mind,” became a major hit. Other stars who recorded the song include Elvis Presley, Aretha Franklin, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tammy Wynette.
Hartford’s myriad other credits include playing banjo and guitar for the Byrds’ groundbreaking 1968 progressive-country album, “Sweethearts of the Rodeo,” and fiddle for the multiplatinum “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” movie soundtrack.
Upon his death in 2001 at 63, Emmylou Harris dubbed Hartford “a great musician and storyteller with a great sense of humor ... and, of course, he was a great dancer.”
Ellis and Hartman are performing Hartford’s songs during an eight-show tour, which includes a Wednesday concert at Hartley/Vey Studio Theatre in Baton Rouge.
The Capital City has been a frequent stop for the Austin-based Ellis. Wednesday’s show will the second local appearance by the Brooklyn-based Hartman.
A solo artist and member of the Americana band Della Mae, Hartman grew up in Colorado, playing music with her siblings and attending music festivals with her parents. She spoke to The Advocate in advance of the “Dear John” concert.
Is the “Dear John” album and tour a special project for you?
It’s special for a couple of reasons. One of them being that Robert and I love playing together. It was an easy album to put together because the musical energy was there between us. These are also songs we both care about a lot. John Hartford and his songs were a big part of the tapestry of our musical upbringings.
What do you admire about Hartford’s songwriting?
His songs keep surprising me. One minute he writes a heartbreaker love song. The next minute he writes a weird political statement. They sound like groovy old-time tunes, but they make a really poignant statement. And they’re still relevant today, even though it’s decades from when he wrote them.
You never saw Hartford perform in person, but you’ve heard his in-concert recordings and seen him on film. What is it about his performances that appeals to you?
He never did anything quite the same any time he performed it. You get to hear a lot of his character in those performances.
You mentioned how much you enjoy working with Robert Ellis. What can you say about his music and performing?
One of the things I most admire about Robert is his unwillingness to waver from what he wants to create. He’s dedicated, and he has a strong musical voice. He doesn’t compromise. There are not enough people I can say that about.
You have your solo career and a parallel career with Della Mae. Robert has his solo career. Why is the “Dear John” project compelling enough to pull both of you away from your usual musical pursuits?
If there’s something musical that feels really good, it will most likely inevitably enter the world somehow. This one took a little time, but it felt like a really good thing that I wanted to share. Robert felt the same.
DEAR JOHN: ROBERT ELLIS AND COURTNEY HARTMAN PERFORM THE SONGS OF JOHN HARTFORD
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: Hartley/Vey Studio Theatre, 100 Lafayette St., Baton Rouge