John Denver

Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits

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Placing the word definitive on a best-of collection is usually a panicked label attempt to fill last-minute Christmas stockings, but in the case of RCA's Definitive All-Time Greatest Hits John Denver retrospective, it's a truly apt description. Coinciding with the 35th anniversary of Denver's first album release on RCA, the two-disc, 24-track overview of the country-pop singer's storied career is the most concise and nuanced yet. Digitally remastered from the original master tapes, road-trip classics like "Take Me Home, Country Roads," "Rocky Mountain High," and "Back Home Again" are as warm as the singer's lauded tenor. There are no gimmicky re-recorded cuts or disappointing live tracks -- "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" spent its time on the charts in its live incarnation -- and his spotty '80s material is only briefly covered ("Perhaps Love" and "Shanghai Breezes"). The only real omission is "Grandma's Feather Bed," but the 20-page booklet and song-by-song commentary by longtime friend Milt Okun more than suffice. The bonus disc, maddeningly sparse at just four tracks, makes up for its brevity by including a goose bump-inducing 1975 acoustic version of "Calypso." With the pompous string section, clanging ship bell, and unnecessary drum fills removed, his ode to Jacques Cousteau's tenacious vessel is a wonder of emotion and nautical kinsmenship that inarguably exhibits Denver as one of the greatest vocalists of his time. For those unwilling to sift through the exhaustive four-CD Country Roads Collection, this Definitive package is a good buy and a rewarding visit with an old friend.

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