Various Artists: The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver

Written by April 2nd, 2013 at 10:38 am

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Various Artists
The Music Is You: A Tribute To John Denver
(ATO)
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

John Denver was never hip. He had coke bottle glasses, a soccer mom haircut and a wholesome, “aww shucks!” demeanor that contrasted sharply with the R-rated excesses of ‘70s rock & roll. The guy could write, though, blessed with the ability to turn some decidedly uncool things — yodeling, the phrase “West Virginia, mountain mama,” the easy listening genre in general — into an arsenal of timeless folk tunes. Performed here by a group of modern-day musicians who are hip, the Denver catalog sounds fresh, tuneful… and yes, maybe even a little bit cool.

You know the drill. This is a tribute album, meaning different artists take stabs at different songs, with some bands playing it straight (Train’s plain-jane cover of “Sunshine on my Shoulders”) and others taking liberties with the source material (J Mascis’ and Sharon Van Etten’s grungy, guitar-fueled version of “Prisoners”). Most of the bands shoot for a happy medium, whether it’s Old Crow Medicine Show speeding up an otherwise faithful take on “Back Home Again” or Evan Dando lowering “Looking For Space” into a key that suits his mellow, drug-damaged baritone. No one manages to top My Morning Jacket’s gorgeous cover of “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” though, which opens the album on a high note and steals the whole show within the first three minutes.

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