Music
April 5, 2013 • 07:45:11 p.m.

Music review: Artists join 'The Music Is You: A Tribute To John Denver'

By ROB CARROLL - rcarroll@shawmedia.com

Rating: 2-1/2 Stars

This tribute to late folk singer John Denver does as much right as it does wrong. A portion of the proceeds from sales will be donated to charity, The Wilderness Society, in Denver's name, so this album isn't a complete waste. It also has a fine selection of voices singing Denver's songs, as well.

Here's a track-by-track breakdown of the album:

1. "Leaving on a Jet Plane," My Morning Jacket: Lead singer Jim James' calm voice was made to sing Denver's songs and makes a perfect choice for "Leaving on a Jet Plane." This album starts with its best.

2. "Take Me to Tomorrow," Dave Matthews: Matthews doesn't really sound like himself on this one, and it's kinda cool. He ditches his usual laid-back approach for something with a little more feeling. It's a wise move since the song is one of Denver's more lively numbers.

3. "All of My Memories," Kathleen Edwards: Edwards takes a measured approach to this one, much like Denver did on the original. But the song is still kind of a snoozer, even with the Canadian-born singer's fantastic voice.

4. "Prisoners," J. Mascis and Sharon Van Etten: Dinosaur Jr. frontman J. Mascis and singer Sharon Van Etten team up for a plugged-in version of this Denver song from 1972's "Rocky Mountain High." This cover may not use one of Denver's more well-known hits, but its searing electric guitar makes it one of the better tracks on this compilation.

5. "Sunshine On My Shoulders," Train: Even if Train was put on this album to give it more commercial appeal, you can't discount Pat Monahan's near spot-on impersonation of Denver's vocals.

6. "Back Home Again," Old Crow Medicine Show: Old Crow Medicine Show, whose music is deeply rooted in bluegrass, turn Denver's "Back Home Again" into a full-fledged country song. Denver's more folksy original is far superior.

7. "This Old Guitar," Lucinda Williams: It's not that she's a bad singer, but Williams' voice just may not have been cut out to sing Denver's song. She stammers through this one, making it sound more like a drunken ode to a guitar. Not exactly Denver's intention when he wrote this song about a guitar he received from his grandmother when he was 12.

8. "Some Days Are Diamonds," Amos Lee: On an album on which most of the covers stick true to the originals, it's nice to hear someone put their spin on one and have it pay off. Lee's bluesy take on "Some Days Are Diamonds" does just that.

9. "Rocky Mountain High," Allen Stone: Stone isn't exactly a household name. Most of his original material hints toward late-1960s/early-1970s R&B and soul. Probably best he didn't bring any of those influences to his cover of "Rocky Mountain High," even though the song still falls flat.

10. "Annie's Song," Brett Dennen and Milow: This album enters a black hole of lesser-known artists near its middle. This duo's version of "Annie's Song" is more focused than Denver's original, as it scraps the string arrangement for a more basic guitar. The song keeps its charm, too.

11. "Looking For Space," Evan Dando: Lemonheads frontman Dando makes "Looking For Space" sound like, well, a Lemonheads song. Maybe it was unavoidable with Dando's unique singing voice, but this cover just doesn't work.

12. "Take Me Home, Country Roads," Brandi Carlile, Emmylou Harris: Carlilie and Harris are far and away the best vocal duo on this album and give this Denver classic its due.

13. "The Eagle and the Hawk," Blind Pilot: Not one of Denver's best songs, and certainly not one of the better covers on this album.

14. "I Guess I'd Rather be in Colorado," Mary Chapin Carpenter: Yet another cover of a Denver song that is close to a cookie-cutter version of the original, which was average, at best, when it was first released. The female vocals don't really help that fact either.

15. "Darcy Farrow," Josh Ritter and Barnstar!: "Darcy Farrow" is an interesting choice to include on this album since it wasn't written by Denver and was first recorded by Canadian folk act Ian & Sylvia in 1965. But it was still a staple for Denver performances. Ritter does well maintaining the song's folk vibe.

16. "Wooden Indian," Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros: Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros turn a 90-second Denver foot-stomper into a five-minute bombastic journey. This album-closer has as much heart, if not more, than the original.

Rob Carroll writes about music for the Northwest Herald and Planit Life. He can be reached at rcarroll@shawmedia.com. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.


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