If there’s justice, this tribute album, though excellent in its own right, will encourage people to seek out the work of Tim Hardin. As Barney Hoskins’ terrific sleeve notes explain, his was a tragic life (“the family’s unowned son” in the words of his ‘Black Sheep Boy’) that ended in an overdose aged 39 in 1980. But he left some brilliant songs, the best of which are showcased here.
Hardin has influenced many musicians (both Okkervil River – who appear here - and Paul Weller have covered ‘Black Sheep Boy’, while you can hear Hardin’s voice in people like Smog and, especially, Tindersticks). But he also had a distinct style – with an element of jazz in it – which makes doing covers of his songs treacherous territory. The people on the album have avoided straight versions and tried to make a difference while still capturing Hardin’s lonesome essence. From the Phoenix Foundation’s whispering psych pop on ‘Don’t make Promises You Can’t Keep’ to the folkatronica and snagging guitar of ‘Part of the Wind’ by Diagrams, some artists add elements to the essential Hardin sound, while Hannah Peel, who appears with the Magnetic North as well as on her own, sets the addict-tale ‘Lenny’s Tune’ to delicate electronic backing. The Sand Band give a cosmic country revamp to one of Hardin’s best known songs, 'Reason To Believe', while the Smoke Fairies brillaintly re-imagine ‘If I Were A Carpenter’ as a sultry New Orleans strut. Others just try and capture Hardin’s native emotions; Alela Diane croons beautifully on ‘How Can We Hold On To A Dream?’ but still conveys heartbreak while Sarabeth Tucek captures all the tragedy of ‘If I Knew’ in short and stark fashion, with just voice and piano.
The versions are respectful but not simple covers, so it’s a win/win: each shares the glory between Hardin and the performer of his songs. And we’re left with a record which works on its own terms but also has you hunting out Hardin’s originals; tribute indeed.