Thursday, March 8, 2007

Music: John Denver's New "Essential" Collection

The term “Essential” in the title of this collection could be misleading. In my mind it refers not only to the essential must-have songs by this great artist, but that this great artist was essential to an era of music that is woefully long gone and is badly needed back again. The essential refers to songwriters of a simpler time that were really happy on stage with just a guitar or a piano. They didn’t need over-produced over-orchestrated material, self-congratulatory lyrics or huge fame to sustain them as long as they had a story to tell and a tune in their hearts.

My personal six essential writer/performers of that era would be James Taylor, Carly Simon, Willie Nelson, Justin Haywood, Bob Dylan and of course Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr. These singer-songwriters were the essential core of music of the 60s and 70s. It’s impossible for me to imagine any of them not existing and still have a reasonable American musical history.

Henry John Deutschendorf, Jr?

Presented in this new collection is Deutschendorf’s (better known as John Denver) greatest works. When I was initially introduced to his material, I was hesitant at first; after all I grew up in an era of Steppenwolf, Three Dog Night, Marvin Gaye and his Motown Sound, Aerosmith, Pink Floyd and Genesis.

John’s personal life was anything but peaceful and it shaped and molded his music, not as a mirror, but as a contrast. His songs were presented as gifts and he was unmatched at quiet emotions:
Joy-“Rocky Mountain High” and “Matthew”.
The sadness of love-“Leavin’ on a Jet Plane”, “How Can I Leave You Again?”, “I’m sorry” and “Goodbye Again”.
Contemplation-“Friends with You.”
Peace of mind-“Sunshine on My Shoulders” and “Fly Away”.

To sit and listen to this music with headphones in order to shut out the rest of the world is an almost Zen experience, because after a while you forget that you’re being sung to. Suddenly without realizing it, your mind is filled with peacefulness and images of self worth and happiness. That’s not an easy task for some people but is Denver’s unmatched trademark.

“Calypso” carries you off to the sea. You don’t just see the ocean in your mind you feel it rise and fall beneath your feet on a rolling deck, you hear the gull’s shrieks, you smell the salt air, and you experience the adventure of sailing with explorer Jacques Cousteau. He can also make you feel the air currents rise under the majestic wings of an eagle soaring over a mountain forest.

Efforts were even made to turn some of his anthem recordings into official state songs such as “Rocky Mountain High” (Colorado), “Take Me Home, Country Roads” (West Virginia) and Wild Montana Skies.

Many categories of music have tried to claim him as their own such as:
Country-The foot stompin’ “Thank God I’m A Country Boy” (#1 on both country and pop charts), “The Cowboy and the Lady”.
Folk-“Leavin’ on a Jet Plane”.
Pop-“Annie’s Song”.
John is all of the above, but neither at the same time and rightfully so.

The only complaint (and we all knew I’d have one) to attempt to balance this rather glowing review would be the omission of “The Eagle and the Hawk”… alas.

While writing this review I was going to mark each of the following 36 songs with an asterisk to denote which were my favorites. I got part way through the list and realized they all were…

Disc: 1
1. Leaving On A Jet Plane-Hit number one as recorded by Peter, Paul, and Mary
2. Rhymes And Reasons
3. Take Me Home, Country Roads
4. Poems, Prayers And Promises
5. I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado
6. Friends With You
7. Rocky Mountain High
8. Goodbye Again
9. I'd Rather Be A Cowboy*
10. Farewell Andromeda (Welcome To My Morning)
11. Sunshine On My Shoulders
12. Back Home Again
13. Matthew
14. Thank God I'm A Country Boy
15. Annie's Song
16. Sweet Surrender
17. Looking For Space
18. I'm Sorry

Disc: 2
1. Calypso
2. Fly Away
3. Baby, You Look Good To Me Tonight
4. Like A Sad Song
5. How Can I Leave You Again
6. It Amazes Me
7. I Want To Live
8. My Sweet Lady
9. Autograph
10. Some Days Are Diamonds (Some Days Are Stone)
11. The Cowboy And The Lady
12. Seasons Of The Heart
13. Shanghai Breezes
14. Perhaps Love
15. Wild Montana Skies featuring Emmylou Harris
16. Love Again
17. Dreamland Express
18. Is It Love? (Live Album Version)

WARNING: Reproduction of this article is forbidden without the author's permission
© 2007 by Jet in Columbus

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