The official John Denver website describes its subject as "one of the world's most captivating and celebrated men." Admittedly, he did sell more than sixty million albums and was a candidate to be the first civilian in space - where he hoped to write a song - but I'd never really thought of JD as belonging in the Nelson Mandela category. Perhaps this new double album, containing all his hits plus bonus previously unreleased covers, would challenge my opinion.
The first two tracks, "Leaving OnA Jet Plane" (1969) and "Take me Home, Country Roads" (1971) promised to be a treat. Perfect companions, as I remembered, to settle in with on a reflective Sunday afternoon. Within minutes, however, I'd bolted from my cosy den and was heading for the posh hi-fi in the sitting room. Denver's lightweight wailings, underpinned by little more than an acoustic guitar, were grating my good humour red raw. I was going to have to squeeze every bit of bass from this baby or The Antiques Road Show would be wasted on me.
Back again to "Leaving on a Jet Plane". There's certainly class in the chorus but it's surely undermined by the shallow sentiment of verse. We're presented with a man who's "played around" and "let you down" but is now promising to find a job that doesn't mean so much travelling and tie the knot. Hold on, though, he's off again, on that jet plane. Actions speak louder than words, girl. Best move out whilst he's gone.
"Sunshine on my Shoulders" (1971) is the first track that really worked for me. Musically it benefits from a full arrangement and lyrically it rings relatively true, even in this more cynical age. "Annie's Song" (1974) only just squeaks through against the same criteria, but, I fear, it may prove increasingly troublesome over time.
There are few revelations amongst the lesser-known tracks, although the basic songwriting remains consistently strong. As for the covers, Denver seems keen to stretch himself but, sadly, rather too far, not least on "The Port of Amsterdam". Sorry, but I just cannot see him sharing a pot of steamed mussels with Jacques Brel. All in all, it has to be said that none of this really enhanced my weekend and could only be recommended to the most die-hard Denver fan. --Antony Hatfield
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