Friday, April 22, 2011

John Denver - "The Wildlife Concert"

In celebration of Earth Day 2011 (today April 22, which also is Good Friday) I shall write about the last John Denver album that I own. Mr. Denver loved the Earth more than most and it is only fitting I honor him and the planet we all love on this Earth Day.

This album was one of the last releases of Denver's career as he sadly passed away two years after its recording and release. It was recorded before a studio audience on two rainy nights in February 1995 to raise money for the Wildlife Conservation Society. The concert captured on this two CD set was the beginning of a resurgence in popularity for Denver after the 1980s, he was also embarking on his 25th anniversary tour and he had penned a bestselling autobiography.

He is in strong (matured) voice and he had returned to the top of his talent. He spreads his big hits throughout the two disc set but he also focuses on lesser known songs and later career highlights such as, "Dreamland Express," "Eagles and Horses" and "Amazon." The beautiful piano ballad "For You" is also only available on this album. The rendition of "Rocky Mountain High" that opens the set is spectacular.

The liner notes are excellent (as is the case with all Legacy Releases) and if you are a big fan of John Denver this is a must.

So on this Earth Day I praise John Denver and the beautiful planet we call home. Conserve your electricity, pick up some trash, recycle, plant some plants, help each other. In the words of John Denver, "Celebrate Earth Day, Everyday. Celebrate Land and Sea, Celebrate You and Me. Celebrate Earth Day Everyday."

Saturday, April 16, 2011

John Denver - "An Evening with John Denver"

While John Denver was an acoustic guitar based folk pop singer, in his prime he gave one hell of a concert performance. "An Evening with John Denver" show that. This album was recorded during his 1974 concert tour at Seven consecutive sold out nights at the Universal Amphitheater. I believe this double CD album is a compilation from those seven nights though the album plays like one continuous concert.

Denver is at the height of his fame, popularity and skills at this point and the album really captures his presence and ability. He is charming, goofy, fun and sings terrifically. His rapport and his little story comments to the audience are wonderful and make the listener feel like they are in the audience and Denver is singing just for them.

He is backed by his trusty band from this period that worked on many of his best albums and there is also a 28 piece orchestra conducted by Lee Holdridge. He pulls out all his hits (save "Sunshine on my Shoulders") and some excellent album tracks. He also pulls out some of his sillier songs like "Toledo" and "Forest Lawn" which you can picture him singing with his Cheshire Cat grin. There is also the wonderful upbeat "Annie's Other Song" which is only available on this album.

For the CD there are six never before released performances added to the end that were recorded at Red Rocks Colorado. The songs which include "I'd Rather Be a Cowboy" and "Follow Me." But the last song ends the album with the awful and depressing "Amsterdam," which kind of leaves a bad feel to an otherwise joyous recording. Other than that the bonus tracks are a welcome addition.

As with all the Legacy label recordings there are excellent liner notes which not only provide a biography of Denver but also background on the concerts. Basically if you love John Denver this album should be in your collection.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

John Denver - "Rocky Mountain High"

John Denver's most recognized album and one of the songs he is most identified with. This is one of Denver's few albums with a large concept behind the music. The songs all focus on nature and feeling the high that nature provides.

Each song focuses on some kind of Rocky Mountain experience from the title track to the destruction of the area in "Paradise," local tale/legends in "Darcy Farrow," and leaving the beloved family and Rocky Mountains "Goodbye Again." This last song, though written as a letter to his wife Annie, could easily be addressed to the Rocky Mountains as Denver treats them as a living being, rightfully so, as real as any person. He is sad that he has to leave but he will return and he has to see the people who want to hear him sing.
The eighth track on the CD (the entire side two of the original record) is really five songs each one focusing on a season (Summer, Fall, etc). This Suite is one of Denver's most well constructed pieces of music and often got the critics to give him some credit if not every bit that he was due.
While not essential to a record collection this is a very strong effort from an excellent artist and that title song is a pure classic. Great music.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

John Denver - "John Denver's Greatest Hits"

This compilations is kind of an oddity because Denver only had three hits at the time of its release. Though this is one of the biggest selling records of John Denver's career. Released in 1973 after the massive success of the "Poems, Prayers and Promises" and "Rocky Mountain High," albums, this compilation gathers songs from 1969 up to 1973. His record company wanted him to release this album and Denver agreed on the condition that he could showcase and re-record some of his lesser known songs from his early albums. That became kind of common for compilations in the 1970s where an artist would re-record their earlier songs, Gordon Lightfoot did the same thing on "Gord's Gold."

"Rhymes & Reasons," "The Eagle and the Hawk," "Leaving on a Jet Plane" and "Starwood in Aspen" are all re-recorded most are not drastically different, faster pace or different guitar picking, "Eagle and the Hawk" adds an entire string section to the song though. Actually because of their inclusion on this compilation many of the unknown songs became hits as well.

When RCA/Legacy released this on CD in 2005 they added three fine songs "I Guess He'd Rather Be in Colorado," "Daydreams" and "Friends with You." I purchased this CD because the sticker on the cover stated there were new extensive liner notes for the 2005 release. I thought, great there is some kind of booklet with an essay about the album or John Denver or Both. In reality there aren't really any liner notes. There is the little paragraph written by Denver himself (that was on the original LP) and then each song has a listing of the musicians that played on it. That is about it. This is still a fine compilation and really showcases Denver's Folk/Country/Pop prowess. This is the kind of music that makes me feel warm inside and that is nice feeling.