Fifteen years after his death in a small plane crash and more than 40 years after his first hit, John Denver’s songs are getting a new lease on life. “The Music Is You,” is a new tribute that brings musicians from various genres and generations together to re-imagine Denver’s biggest hits.
The musicians include southern rockers My Morning Jacket, who cover “Leaving On A Jet Plane.” The 10-piece alternative band Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros reinterprets “Wooden Indian.” And multi-Grammy winning singer-songwriter Lucinda Williams delivers a soulful take on “This Old Guitar.” Williams says she was determined to make the song her own.
“You know, you don’t want to do a John Denver song and sound like John Denver. I mean, you want to show that ‘Wow, look how this song can be done,” she said.“You know, the more I got into it, I was really moved. I was actually moved to tears a little ... you can hear that in the song.”
Unlike some tribute discs, “The Music Is You” was not produced to bring attention to an underrated or forgotten artist. Denver was a superstar, selling millions of records, packing concert venues the world over and starring in hit movies. He was instantly recognizable, even when on humanitarian missions in the most remote places.
Denver would have been 70 years old this December. Producers of the tribute CD hope that the new versions of old favorites will please Denver’s loyal followers while winning his music new fans. Among the new versions on the release is Evan Dando of the Lemonheads singing "Looking for Space.”
Brandi Carlile, 32, grew up listening to Denver’s music and his writing inspired her own career as a singer-songwriter.
“I hope that people that love John Denver’s music will look at this album and its tribute as an honest to goodness inspired version of how we as singer-songwriters are influenced by John Denver’s music and by his lyrics and his life," she said. "I hope that they’ll see that none of us are trying to be John Denver, because that is a bar that no one will reach.”
Teaming up with Emmylou Harris, Brandi Carlile took on the daunting task of covering Denver’s iconic “Take Me Home, Country Roads” for “The Music Is You.” They’ve made it sound like their own song…that’s the mark of a good tribute.