Poems, Prayers & Promises

John Denver

RCA Records, 1971

http://johndenver.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 11/16/1997

When John Denver died in a plane crash last month, we lost one of America's last remaining folksingers and premier storytellers... and we were too fucking stupid to appreciate him his whole career.

The country music world treated him like a bastard son because they didn't consider him a true country artist. The rest of us wrote him off as a relic of the '70s -- while we were rediscovering stupid shit like bell-bottoms and disco, Denver's work remained locked up in the mothballs, known only to a select few who were smart enough to appreciate his work.

But if it took Denver's death for us to rediscover his work, so be it -- after listening to his 1971 work Poems, Prayers & Promises it makes me sad that I was also one of the people who didn't appreciate Denver until it was too late.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Maybe the country music industry was correct - Denver really isn't a country artist. From his days in The Mitchell Trio (trivia question: who did he replace in the group? E-mail me with the answer. C'mon, gang, this one's easier than it sounds.), his forte was in folk. The title track is a prime example of this, combining his rich voice with some fancier-than-you'd-think guitar work, Denver sings the wonders of life and how fragile it is.

His fascination with the love song is quite evident by the beautiful "My Sweet Lady," a song which had me close to tears the first time I ever heard it. People often say that his later work "Annie's Song" was his masterpiece of this genre. I respectfully disagree -- spend the 4:23 on this track and be convinced.

When I first bought this record, I thought it was kind of funny that Denver would resort to covering well-known tracks by The Beatles and James Taylor. But here's another sign of the mastery of one's work -- Denver takes "Let It Be" and "Fire And Rain" and turns them into his own works. I was amazed at how well "Let It Be" translated to acoustic guitar. (And yes, I know that there's a cover of Paul McCartney's "Junk" as well.)

Of course, folk music has always somewhat bordered on the preachy side, and Denver indulges twice on Poems, Prayers & Promises. "Gospel Changes" is a bit too religious for my folk tastes, but I do like the spoken-word diatribe against war, "The Box".

Poems, Prayers & Promises, in the end, is remembered for the hits. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is one song that earned Denver the label of country music artist, a label I think was incorrectly given to him. "Sunshine On My Shoulders" reveals itself again to be a very pretty song. And I should have an appreciation for "I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado," especially after watching The Wildlife Concert, but this song just fails to move my spirit.

John Denver is gone -- and we're now left to pick up the pieces and rediscover a musical legend that we ourselves shattered. Poems, Prayers & Promises is a great place to start -- even though you'll have to search a while to find this one.

Rating: A-

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© 1997 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of RCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.