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Recapturing Tim Hardin's 'Dream'

March 18, 1994|ROBERT HILBURN | TIMES POP MUSIC CRITIC

You can argue about a lot of things when it comes to Tim Hardin--starting with whether he was chiefly a jazz artist, as he maintained, or a folk artist, which is how the pop world generally viewed him.

But few people who have heard the poignant, often lonely, tone of the late performer's body of work would dispute the suggestion that he was one of the most affecting singer-songwriters of the modern pop era.

In his best moments, Hardin combined the confessional anguish of Hank Williams and the artful intimacy of Leonard Cohen--and most of those moments are found in Polydor Records' new two-disc retrospective.

Titled "Hang On to a Dream: The Verve Recordings," the package contains all 47 of the Hardin recordings released on Verve Records in the mid-'60s, including "If I Were a Carpenter" and "Reason to Believe."

In addition, the CD set offers 17 previously unreleased tracks, both Hardin originals and versions of such blues tunes as Jimmie Cox's "Nobody Knows You (When You're Down and Out)."

The latter is an especially moving number because the rise and fall outlined in the lyrics serves as an eerie reflection of Hardin's own troubled story, which ended in 1980 when he died at age 39 of a drug overdose in Los Angeles.

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"If Tim Hardin's life had one recurrent theme, it was excess," Colin Escott writes in the album liner notes, chronicling the elements that caused the Oregon native to waste most of his talent.

"He took everything to the limits--then stretched them. He ate in binges, drank to excess, smoked constantly, doped himself up excessively, loved suffocatingly."

Because Hardin's Verve recordings never sold enough to make the pop charts, it's reasonable to call the music in "Hang On to a Dream" a lost American treasure.

Even for someone familiar with the songs through hit versions by artists ranging from the Four Tops to Rod Stewart, Hardin brings such a personalized longing to the lyrics that he makes you feel you are truly hearing them for the first time.

The disappointment is that the set doesn't include Hardin's post-Verve work on Columbia Records, where, in 1969, he had his only American chart hit with "Simple Song of Freedom." Ironically, the song was written by Bobby Darin, who had scored a Top 10 hit three years earlier with Hardin's "If I Were a Carpenter."

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