This record has a pretty sterling critical reputation and one has to think that has to do with the overall quality of Hardin’s songs and the fact that this is a debut (so it likely took a few people off guard). Because there is a pretty problem with this album and most of the reviews I’ve read don’t seem to care.
So yes, Hardin is a pretty good songwriter. And a few of his most famous songs are here (at least the ones I think are his most famous). I’m not sure if I like his originals here more than I like the versions I know – more on that in a minute – but they are here. And there’s no denying that Hardin has emerged fully formed. I know nothing about him, so I don’t know how long he was toiling before this came out, but it is an impressive set of songs for a debut. (There are a few duds. But this is the ’60s, there are plenty of bad songs on LPs.)
But the thing is, the record is made up of distinct two sets of recordings, neither of which Hardin wanted released. Sometimes artists are wrong about that but, in this case, Hardin is at least half write. Because the album is half demos – the arrangements work for me – and half orchestrated folk pop, as was the trend of the time. I don’t know what Hardin wanted – my guess is the folk pop songs without the strings and maybe re-recording of the demos – but I’m pretty sure this record would have been better if Hardin had made these decisions and not his label. (Or whoever is guilty.) It’s a bit of a schizophrenic listen and it’s hard to view it as entirely successful as a result.
The other thing I want to mention is that in know way is this the equal of what Bob Dylan was doing at the time – in terms of lyrics, obviously, but even in terms of sound – and the reviews on the internet that suggest this album belongs with Dylan’s best of the period are just flat out insane. Do people think this because Hardin has a nicer-sounding voice? Or what? It’s a bizarre take that I’ve seen more than once and I wonder how much ’50s and ’60s folk music (and music in general) these people listen to. Anyway…
It’s a good set of a songs for a debut marred by the bizarre choice to fail to finish some songs and dress up others. Ah well.