I became a John Denver fan the first time I heard “Grandma’s Feather Bed.” That goofy opus was perfect for an eleven year-old twisted in his musical development by a diet of school bus sing-a-longs of “Joy To the World,” “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da,” “Patches,” and “Yitsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”
But, I knew John Denver wasn’t cool. My mom and dad listened to him. I went years denying any appreciation for his music, and it is only now that I am way past worrying about anyone’s definition of cool- and beyond a lot of other things- that I can freely admit to being a casual fan of John Denver’s. Honestly, I’ve not delved too deeply into his music- a vinyl greatest hit package in junior high, quietly singing along with the truck radio when one of his songs would come on, and the purchase of the tribute album that came out last year is about it.
I do get the appeal, without doubt.
When word was released today that The Special Consensus- one of my favourite bluegrass bands- is releasing a ten-song set of Denver songs this coming March, my interest was piqued. I haven’t heard the entire album, but have previewed the three tracks made available to media today. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” is about what I expected- a fine rendering of perhaps Denver’s most familiar song, made more interesting with vocals from both John Cowan and SC’s Dustin Benson. “Back Home Again” has warmth and comfort embedded in each note, and with Dale Ann Bradley singing lead and harmony it is a sure bet to be my favourite song on the recording.
The song I’m featuring as tonight’s Roots Song of the Week would have been “Back Home Again” if a version was available online for streaming. Instead, I’m going with another instantly familiar song, “Wild Montana Skies,” a latter Denver hit with Emmylou Harris. I had thought that this was his last significant hit, never having heard of “Dreamland Express” until this evening. It was definitely the last song of his I recall having heard in regular rotation on the radio.
This version of “Wild Montana Skies” features The Special Consensus joined by Claire Lynch and Rob Ickes, and Compass Records has posted a video of the song on YouTube. The song sounds quite wonderful, with a bluegrass push kicking it up a notch. Lynch’s contributions are significant- she sounds great alongside Rick Faris- and the guitar playing of Benson is just this side of incredible.
The press release for the album reads in part: Grammy-nominated Special Consensus joins forces with contemporary bluegrass music’s best on Country Boy: A Bluegrass Tribute to John Denver slated for release on March 25. There is a natural affinity between bluegrass musicians and John Denver’s repertoire but this is the first purely bluegrass tribute to the iconic singer/songwriter who died in 1997.