Since Tim Hardin died in 1980, not quite a week past his 39th birthday, his spectre has haunted the fringes of alternative rock ‘n’ roll. Hardin wasn’t exactly a marginal figure in his lifetime:¬ His “If I Was A Carpenter” was covered by Rod Stewart, The Four Tops, Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond and Robert Plant, among dozens of others, and the title track of this tribute album has been sung by a chorus including Cher, Bobby Darin, Glen Campbell and Marianne Faithful. But Hardin was never nearly as famous as his most famous songs, and has become one of those figures around whose works an evangelical cult has developed — in his case, quite rightly.
Some of the artists on Reason To Believe have previous form as Hardinistas. Okkervil River appropriated “Black Sheep Boy” as the title of their 2005 album; here they render “It’ll Never Happen” as a meandering torch ballad. Mark Lanegan covered “Shiloh Town” on his 1999 covers album I’ll Take Care Of You; here he contributes a gruff, rugged take on “Red Balloon.” “Shiloh Town,” meanwhile is picked up by Gavin Clark, who invests it with gothic portent not a million miles removed from Lanegan’s version.
A few contributors are drawn to the epic possibilities of Hardin’s terse balladry. Phoenix Foundation’s “Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep,” Pinkunoizu’s “I Can’t Slow Down,” Smoke Fairies’ Jefferson Airplane-ish attempt on “If I Were A Carpenter” are all accomplished essays in dazed psychedelia. The most daunting challenge of all — the title track — is accepted by The Sand Band, who meet it with understated aplomb, delivering a lo-fi country reading, laden with wan, what’s-the-point world-weariness, of which its author would surely have approved.