Reason To Believe – The Songs of Tim Hardin
Out now on Full Time Hobby
Slide into the Dark Side.
Tim who? Hardin. Nope, never heard of him. S’alright, you’re not the only one but you’ve likely heard of the artists who were inspired by him, who include Echo & The Bunnymen, Paul Weller and Robert Plant to name just three. It’s likelier still that, on hearing this album, you’ll want to become more familiar with Hardin almost immediately. Hardin died in 1980 at the age of 39 but his legacy lingers on and Full Time Hobby hope to help turn the lingering into a loitering. Hardin’s life story is ripe for Hollywood; from Ray Charles telling Hardin that he was a better singer than Charles, via his heroin addiction, to his friendship with fellow junkie Lenny Bruce, it’s got movie material written all over it and this album should be the soundtrack.
The record goes way beyond simply paying homage to Hardin. From the off, The Phoenix Foundation take Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep into Beach Boys harmony territory yet, with lyrics like “you’re telling me lies in your sleep”, there is more than flower in this power (just don’t call it “horsepower”, the name of The Phoenix Foundation’s debut). Backed by simple tick-tocking piano, there’s a glacial feel right up until the sprightly yelping that lifts the track out of the cold waters.
Demigod Mark Lanegan sounds unusually croak free (has he given up the fags?) on Red Balloon. His baritone voice, with acoustic guitar for company, sounds more tuneful than ever and heightens the contrast with the dark subject matter, the red balloon concealing within it “a blue surprise inside”. No answers on a postcard please.
With the timbre of Gruff Rhys, singer Sam Genders (formerly of Tunng) and Diagrams lull one in as the blips and bloops of electronica combine with acoustic guitar on Part of the Wind, the result being one big soft and dreamy marshmallow pillow.
It’s Hard to Believe in Love For Long lifts the weary head from the doughy pillow thanks to the much welcome female vocals of Hannah Peel. Simon Tong and Gawain Erland Cooper complete The Magnetic North tribe and the trio turn in a gem of a cover. Gentle guitar tiptoes in and out of the winky-wonky folktronica while the sound of the washing machine finishes its rhythmical cycle.
Production is solid smooth on the 13 tracks and there are flurries and light touches sprinkled generously throughout to excite the hearing buds. These songs have the bonus of not being overly attached to one particular artist so in a sense they have a life of their own. A good song stands the test of time but a great song sounds as if it could have been written yesterday rather than 50 years ago and so it is with these reworkings. One can sense the time and consideration that has been put into each song to do justice to the songwriting majesty of Hardin. Sarabeth Tucek manages just that in less than two minutes on If I Knew. With stripped back atmospherics and a handful of piano notes, it’s as we’re in the room just about and sit down to take it all in but, before there’s a chance, it glides away and is gone without a trace. Thankfully, Okkervill River enter the room to fill the void, allowing you to drift once more to a beat that is barely there and a bassline that is faintly reminiscent of that from Falling by Julee Cruise. Hardin would not have been out of place in Twin Peaks if the extensive liner notes are anything to go by.
Smoke Fairies take If I were a Carpenter deep down, down to murky town with an infectious descending organ tone and some fuzzed out minimal guitar that works a treat. Suck it and see. If fairies smoke, then this is how their smoke rings sound; resonant and shimmering.
Gavin Clark, of Clayhill and a favourite vocalist of UNKLE, brings his unmistakable tones to Shiloh Town before Hannah Peel reappears with Lenny’s Tune, an unflinching tale of a friend’s demise. The heartache is tangible, the sadness infinite – “why, after every last shot, was there always another?” Peel is renowned for her graceful music box compositions and this cover is no exception with its simple twinkling percussion. Mournful violins and faint whooshes from a distant gadget all add up to an intense-yet-spellbinding work of art.
With lyrics like this, it’s easy to stop people in their tracks but Peel, just like Hardin, turns destruction into beauty, blurring the line so there is no distinction. No thinking, just feeling, as the hairs go “ping” on the back of your neck.
Full Time Hobby and the crew gathered here have released a tribute album that they can be very proud of and, no doubt thanks to their work and commitment, there will be renewed interest in the songs and life of Tim Hardin. Believe you me, believe me you.