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Various Artists

The Music Is You: A Tribute To John Denver – 2013 (ATO)

Reviewed by Michael Verity

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As with many tribute albums, the songs included on this 16-song homage to the long-lost and sorely missed Mr. Denver are a mixed bag. There are interpretations sublimely beautiful followed by hack jobs patently annoying, with performances both surprising and weird in between.

In the duller-than-dirt category there's Dave Matthews, whose caterwauling vocal gymnastics on Take Me To Tomorrow do nothing to undermine his status as Most Overrated Singer On The Planet. Can't this dude sing anything straight? Likewise with Brett Dennen's sorry stab at Annie's Song, his cloying voice made worse by the cloying bells and ukulele arrangement, a recording that supports the idea he should have become a parole officer or truck driver (with no offense to truck drivers or parole officers, especially those who sing better than Brett Dennen).

The inspiring performances come from those whom we expect to deliver the goods. My Morning Jacket's sparse, echo-laden version Leaving On A Jet Plane is achingly beautiful, a reading that drives home how truly sad it is to leave the one you love. Lucinda Williams is equally adept in her presentation of This Old Guitar, read simply with plenty of room for the music to sink into your soul. (Take note, Dave Matthews.)

Other winners include Kathleen Edwards' translation of All Of My Memories, which starts as a ballad and ends as an anthem, and Edward Sharpe's rumbling, foot-stomping sing-a-long version of Wooden Indian. If you like Mary-Chapin Carpenter, you'll like I Guess I'd Rather Be In Colorado, presented in her typically soothing style.

Train dispense with the Top 40 playbook with a pleasantly brisk cover of Sunshine On My Shoulders benefits from being Top 40 embellishments while J Mascis and Sharon Van Etten's cover of Prisoner is just plain, well, weird. There are a couple tunes - Darcy Farrow and Rocky Mountain High - so truly spectacular in their original form that any cover version has to be equally strong. Josh Ritter does an admirable job with his hoedown inspired reading of the former; 25-year-old phenom Allen Stone's version of the latter, meanwhile, is truly wonderful.

Despite a disappointing version of Take Me Home, Country Roads, wherein Brandi Carlisle sounds bored and tired (despite the presence of Emmylou Harris), and the aforementioned pathetic showings of Mssrs. Matthews and Dennen, this record is quite enjoyable. With a portion of the proceeds from this album going to The Wilderness Society in Denver's name, it's worthwhile to buy the full package and do your own editing.