Poems, Prayers & Promises
Released: March 1971
Chart Peak: #15
Weeks Charted: 80
Certified Gold: 9/15/71
John Denver has a problem with sincerity. He's loaded to the gills with it, and also with the kind of welterweight political conscience the Chad Mitchell Trio used to make the most of when they'd badmouth Barry Goldwater and then call themselves "irreverent." John, despite the early evidence of his Mitchell Trio days (he took over lead position when Chad left the group and took his first name with him; right about then the boys got immeasurably better, though nobody bought enough records to find out), is just about as reverent as they come.
John's made four albums since "Leaving On A Jet Plane" success brought him away from the trio and out on his own. They're all uneven, but this may well be the best of the lot by virtue of the better-than-average number of rough diamonds in its midst. "Take Me Home, Country Roads" is the cut that had some AM airplay, and it's a showcase example of John doing what he does best -- bright, easy singing, friendly, workmanlike 12-string, and above all not falling into the trap of taking himself too seriously.
Back when John still hung out with the Trio, he used to do other people's material, and do it surprisingly well at that. He still does; the album contains particularly pleasant cover versions of "Fire and Rain," "Let It Be," and McCartney's "Junk," to which Denver's voice is just about perfectly suited. As for the rest -- well, just forget about that Stillsian ode John's written to His Lady, or the poem he recites that'll just about drive you out of the room (conveniently located at the end of side two). Just sit on back and take it easy. John will make it seem even easier.
- Janet Reva Maslin, Rolling Stone, 9-16-71.
Liking Joan Baez as much as I do, I wondered why I'm not awfully enthusiastic about John Denver. He has the same obvious sincerity of purpose, the same gift of phrasing, and the same idealistic aims. And he is a fine songwriter in the new-old troubadour tradition. When I have seen him on television I have been mildly impressed, especially by his material, but listening to him on records I find my attention wandering and a certain amount of impatience creeping over me. Finally I realized why. Unlike Baez, whose voice enchants me even when she wanders around the pitch, Denver's voice grates on me. And bythis I mean I find something ventriloquial about it, as if it were being produced by a compartment somewhere within him and projected though his windpipe. Second, Denver's low-key style, effective in the tight close-up of a TV camera, comes across on records as a serious lack of showmanship. Projection is certainly not all, but it is a fair part of any performer's responsibility in extracting the most from his material. In his performance, "Junk," one of the better "ecology" songs seems to just lie there, like its title. And his version of the Lennon-McCartney "Let It Be" comes off not so much gentle as vapid.
There is no question Denver is an important writer or that he deserves the success he has already achieved, but I just don't care much for him. Why? Because... well, just because.
- Paul Kresh, Stereo Review, 7/71.
This is the artistic as well as commercial package that should put the super talents of Denver up the LP charts with heavy sales. Along with his current single, "Take Me Home Country Roads," and the LP title tune, he delivers top readings of Taylor's "Fire And Rain," the Beatles' "Let It Be" and "Junk." His "I Guess He'd Rather Be In Colorado" is a beauty.
- Billboard, 1971.
Sincerity, social consciousness and a sense of survival all come through on John Denver's latest, Poems, Prayers & Promises. While much of the recording is concerned with getting back to basics, there's a lot of romantic material -- some of it pretty, such as "Sunshine On My Shoulders," some of it banal. Denver's clear, controlled voice sharply etches a tune such as James Taylor's "Fire and Rain," yet the wistfulness of that lyric seems lost on him. If Denver could loose his Mr. Purity image, his singing would benefit immeasurably. When he reports in the midst of the title song that he's glad to be with his friends, who "sit and pass a pipe around," one is almost shocked.
- Playboy, 10/71.
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