“The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver” (CD Review)
It’s funny, the lasting impressions the music we hear as children makes on us. In my home, which was a very musical environment, to say the least, I came up with quite a range of music. What sticks out most in my memory is an assortment of blues and folk and country, and a fair amount of classic rock. I remember very well, my father, a self-taught musician and avid music enthusiast, spending a good deal of time in the little room adjoining the considerably larger living room, from which it was separated by a big set of white double doors. Though other members of the family utilized it at times, the room had been designated my father’s music room, and its contents consisted of a huge sound system, two acoustic guitars, and an old piano no one ever played. From that wonderful little room, music flooded the entire first floor of the house, songs by the likes of Eric Clapton, Simon & Garfunkel, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, and John Denver. Memorable songs, to be sure; the kind of songs that stay with one for a lifetime.
The recent release of “The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver” by ATO Records brought back thoughts of my childhood, when his songs were played regularly in our home. Admittedly, I wasn’t much of a fan of John Denver back then. Certain songs caught my attention, like Leaving on a Jet Plane and Take Me Home, Country Roads, but I was too absorbed by the punk and hardcore scene of that time to truly take the songs in and appreciate them to the degree they deserved to be appreciated. But this new release on ATO Records, “The Music Is You,” features some of the very best of today’s artists doing inspired versions of John Denver’s songs, the well-chosen selection of which, as tall an order as the entire endeavor undoubtedly was, do justice to the life and music of the late, great songsmith. To say the tribute versions of John Denver’s songs have moved me to rediscover his songs would be an understatement. The truth is, I have a whole new appreciation for John Denver and his contributions to the world, musical and otherwise.
On “The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver” there are sixteen tracks comprised of Denver’s substantial repertoire, each song reworked and recorded by some truly great artists. The album opens with My Morning Jacket performing a cover of Leaving on a Jet Plane, goes on to songs such as Take Me to Tomorrow by Dave Matthews, Sunshine on my Shoulders by Train, Rocky Mountain High by Allen Stone, and closes with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros doing their take on Wooden Indian. But the tracks that stand out the most for me are decidedly All of my Memories by Kathleen Edwards, Prisoners by J. Mascis & Sharon Van Etten, Back Home Again by Old Crow Medicine Show, This Old Guitar by Lucinda Williams, and Take Me Home, Country Roads by Brandi Carlile & Emmylou Harris.
Over the course of his musical career John Denver performed and recorded around three hundred songs, two hundred of which he actually composed himself. Considering that, this tribute is just a small taste of what the late artist did in his lifetime, from his musical beginnings in the ’70s to his unfortunate death in 1997. It is therefore definitely worth it to delve further into his catalog of songs, since this tribute barely scratches the surface. And it is equally worth it to look into the life John Denver led, as it is a truly fascinating one. As a singer/songwriter, poet, activist and humanitarian, he accomplished quite a lot, and earned the respect and admiration of countless individuals throughout the years.
This album is one for any music lover’s collection, even if one isn’t necessarily a John Denver fan. Check it out, you will be glad you did.