John Denver was no William Shakespeare, but he could wield sentimentality as skillfully as the bard could wax poetic. ATO Records' The Music Is You: A Tribute to John Denver gathers up an oddball team of contemporary artists with a shared love for the late Muppets/Rocky Mountains loving singer/songwriter, and lets them strut and fret their hours upon the stage by paying homage to a rich assortment of Denver classics. Not as immediately gratifying as 2000's Mark Kozelek-curated Take Me Home: A Tribute to John Denver, the 16-track collection does have its moments. Some artists, like My Morning Jacket ("Leaving on a Jet Plane"), Train ("Sunshine on My Shoulders"), and Old Crow Medicine Show ("Back Home Again"), play it straight, which despite putting in fine performances, simply makes you miss the impossibly beautiful sound of Denver's voice. Other participants like Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeroes ("Wooden Indian") and J Mascis and Sharon Van Etten ("Prisoners") turn up the heat, which in the latter's case sounds a lot like Dinosaur Jr. with Sharon Van Etten providing backing vocals, but ultimately, it’s the outliers that keep things interesting. Josh Ritter and Barnstar! turn1972's "Darcy Farrow" into a full-on pub-worthy Dubliners song, Blind Pilot forge the already epic “The Eagle and the Hawk” into an indie arena rock anthem, and Brandi Carlile and Emmylou Harris (a duo that should invest some more time together) twist "Take Me Home Country Roads" into the feral, gospel stomper you never knew it wanted to be, breathing new life into the songs without losing a thing in the process.
AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger