Reason To Believe: Tim Hardin

Hannah Peel and Pinkunoizu pay tribute...
Tim Hardin artwork

It's an easy thing to say, but Tim Hardin truly is the songwriter's songwriter.

Coming of age in the folk boom, the American artist absorbed the great voices of the era - Seeger, Dylan, Baez - but, deep down, he always stood alone.

Commercial success largely eluded him, but Tim Hardin crafted some of the most recognisable songs of his generation, with 'If I Were A Carpenter' and 'Reason To Believe' both seducing large audiences.

An artist of great depth, Tim Hardin's work retains its inspirational quality. Sadly succumbing to a heroin addiction in 1980, recent years have seen the songwriter elevated to the pantheon he deserves - as one of the truly idiosyncratic voices of what would become the counter culture.

Full Time Hobby are clearly fans, and recently asked a number of artists to take part in a new tribute album. 'Reason To Believe' contains some spectacular contributions, with the likes of Mark Lanegan, Smoke Fairies, Okkervil River, The Phoenix Foundation, Diagrams, Hannah Peel, Pinkunoizu and more taking part.

A soothing, meditative document in its own right, 'Reason To Believe' will also have you charging down to your local record shop to pick up some of those classic originals...

ClashMusic asked Hannah Peel and Pinkunoizu to talk about their recordings.

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"Make music, write songs", that is where your mark will be left behind on this world when you turn to dust. What came from you and the thoughts and struggles inside… A mystery to some, how it can be so eloquently or even disastrously or even more so surprisingly, conveyed.

Tim Hardin certainly left his mark. He was the 60’s folk-rock musician, but like many from that time he was hooked on heroin and died of an overdose at 39.

Through the junkie persona, Hardin was distinguished for his tragic yet incredibly sensitive songwriting and with a voice to match. Albums, Tim Hardin 1 (1966) and 2 (1967) are notably his greatest with a string of songs that rank high as all-time classics, If I Were A Carpenter, Reason to Believe, Misty Roses, Black Sheep Boy and Red Balloon. All of which and more have been covered by artists such as Johnny Cash, Scott Walker, Joan Baez, Nico, Small Faces, The Byrds and Rod Stewart to name a few.

However, the most fascinating album I have discovered out of the nine – depending on how you count them – Is the painfully beautiful and unsettling 1969 concept album Suite for Susan Moore and Damion: We Are One, One, All in One.

Made when concept records were still thin on the ground, this agonizing and heartfelt eulogy to his wife and young son was a visionary work for a singer-songwriter who was still tagged under folk.

Plagued not only by drug addiction, stage fright and general paranoia, there were increasingly regular periods when Hardin simply dried up and couldn't write. This saw him install recording equipment in every room of his house in Woodstock, NY, so that when inspiration struck, he could call for an engineer to capture the moment, any hour, day or night. It became an even more agonisingly difficult album to make when it all got too much for his muse and wife, Susan Moore. She left with Damion in the middle of it all.

This compelling yet experimentally heartbreaking result was both a passionate autobiography, revealing an artist performing out of sheer despair and longing.

Drugs may have dominated Hardin’s life and career, but to sum up is to quote Charlie Parker from the sleeve notes of ‘Reason To Believe – The Songs Of Tim Hardin’ – ‘To those who think it was the heroin that made me great, just think what I could have had without the limitation…’

Words by Hannah Peel

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Dealing with Tim Hardin, the most common mention seems to be his heroin addiction, overdose and early death. On a biographical note this is of course a weighty part of the reception of his oeuvre. This new tribute album ‘Reason To Believe’ is an ideal way of getting to concentrate more on his actual song writing and the musical quality of Tim Hardin.

My entrance to his work came from listening to Scott Walker. Walker’s cover version of ‘Black Sheep Boy’ stood out as a brilliant song when I first listened to it. But it also had a quite different character to it than most of what I had heard from him at the time. Somehow it didn’t seem completely natural in the hands of Walker. When I heard the original it made sense. Tim Hardin has a very unique sense of ‘soul’. Knowing that this song in fact deals with Hardin’s heroin addiction, listening with biographical ears on ‘Black Sheep Boy, you get a picture of the whole story of agony that is cobbled to the music of Tim Hardin.

I think the very profound quality that embraces the songs of Tim Hardin is mostly to be found in his voice, more than in the song writing. His way of performing vocally holds a special combination of elements: warmth, strong technique, authenticity, twang, drive and soul. This type of soul is seldom to find in most folk music in western tradition. People like Van Morrison was highly inspired, and Hardin’s style have clearly marked a lot of artists during the last many years, but it’s difficult to find a voice like his.

That’s also why I rather like listening to the more raw stuff from the early recordings – ‘This Is Tim Hardin’. Here you can really feel the whole musical nature of Tim Hardin, revealing him as pretty damn good guitarist as well as a stunning vocalist. In a way the grand orchestrations of, for instance, his Verve recordings, conceal this a bit in my opinion. On the same time they add another dimension of longing, which is very beautiful. I fell like the tristesse of Tim Hardin musically is also to be found in the arrangements – it’s like he is trapped in the high strung production of his songs on the orchestrated pieces, which leaves me with a feeling of someone who does not belong. This is on one and the same time sad and beautiful.

What we tried to do with our version of ‘I Can’t Slow Down’ (from ‘This Is Tim Hardin’), was to take one of these stripped down songs and place it inside of another type of arrangement of a more devilish character. Listening in general to the cover versions on the new ‘Reason To Believe’ tribute album, it’s fun though to hear how his song writing in the end stands out as quite amazing. I think there are a lot of brilliant pieces of music on this release. They shed a new light on what his songs are capable of. Just like we’ve seen before with for instance tribute compilations like the one done on Daniel Johnston.

Words by Pinkunoizu

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'Reason To Believe' is out now.

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