A tribute album that elegantly introduces listeners to an obscure musician while succeeding as an artistic effort in its own right can be a hard combination to find. The Hired Hands: A Tribute to Bruce Langhorne, released on Scissor Tail Records, succeeds at just that. Langhorne regularly worked as a studio guitarist from the 1960s onward with such artists as Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and also was involved in creating a series of film soundtracks. One such soundtrack, to Peter Fonda’s 1971 Old West-set film The Hired Hand, was re-released by Scissor Tail in 2012; Langhorne’s hauntingly beautiful, home-recorded combination of instruments like banjo, fiddle and dulcimer felt like a recovered performance from before the era of recorded sound.
For the tribute, whose proceeds will largely go to Langhorne and his family as he receives hospice care following years of poor health, Scissor Tail’s brief to participating artists was to interpret a song from that soundtrack however they chose. It’s a murderers’ row of talent old and new—Lee Ranaldo, Susan Alcorn, Chris Corsano, Scott Tuma, Chuck Johnson, Steve Gunn and Tom Carter are just some of the participants, and there’s even an appropriate ringer via John Fahey’s “Red Cross, Disciple of Christ Today.” Byron Coley’s liner notes provide a portrait of Langhorne’s creative and musical life, and the overall result is a truly heartfelt salute.