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Farewell Andromeda
John Denver

RCA APL 1-0101
Released: May 1973
Chart Peak: #16
Weeks Charted: 35
Certified Gold: 8/27/73

John DenverThis is John Denver's best and most balanced album in a long time, and it takes its strength from the expanded emotional range that he has been side-stepping all this time. He has, in the process, expanded his subjective spectrum, which previously ranged all the way from sunny yellow to tangerine, enough to include a few more neutral shades -- taupe, tan, khaki and, yes, even a tiny smattering of gray.

Most of Denver's new material still clings to the pop-folk tradition of oversimplification, but some of the subjects he takes on are surprising. Two tunes from his old friends Fat City, "We Don't Live Here No More" and "Please, Daddy," are suprisingly glum in sentiment (though each one is relatively painlessly arranged), with the latter one sounding especially traumatose ("Please, daddy, don't get drunk this Christmas/I don't wanna see my mamma cry"). John Prine's "Angel From Montgomery" is even tougher, the album's most abrasive cut -- and, as such, it's a little ways out of Denver's vocal range, although he gives it an admirable try.

John Denver - Farewell Andromeda
Original album advertising art.
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"Sweet Misery" is a gem, another fine Hoyt Axton song (there are more fine Hoyt Axton songs than some people imagine) and it's perfect for John who gives it just the right degree of flipness and not a trace of self-pity. Of Denver's own songs, "Rocky Mountain Suite" reiterates one of his all-time most reiterated themes, yet it sounds heartfelt and that's enough to carry it. Likewise the title cut, which is the album's fade-out and cheeriest moment. But it's "I'd Rather Be a Cowboy" that seems most straightforward, and also the most intimate, of all the Denver originals here; it also sounds like prime single material. It's about a breakup, and the fierce independence and purposefulness of that one number is worth ten tunes about the ecstasies of self-awareness, and 20 solitary strolls through those peaceful, Earth-Maternal Rockies he holds so dear.

The real curiosity here is something called "Berkeley Woman," by Bryan Bowers. In it, the narrator is entranced by a woman in a rocking chair, wearing a feather and strumming a dulcimer, with a nice no make-up complexion. But the woman who lives with him sees all this, and has a conniption ("she scratched me and she clawed me, she screamed and she cried"). So he figuratively shrugs his shoulders ("I guess she's probably right, I guess I'm probably wrong"), and they part ways. In the end, he concludes that, "A woman is the sweetest fruit that God ever put on the vine/ And I'd no more love just one kinda woman than drink only one kinda wine."

For all its lyrical peculiarities, it has a lovely melody (though this, like several other cuts here, suffers from disappointing underproduction), and it's a gripping, fascinating song for both its vocal and spiritual naivete. The writer's conception of his own woman's hysterical overreaction is almost as oddly simplistic as his idea of just what it takes to be "natural" (feathers? dulcimer?).

Denver's performance here, as on the rest of the album, is enough to render almost anything credible, no matter how strange it all may seem upon closer examination. That's what Farewell Andromeda has over so much of his previous work -- the tension is increased, the material less of a shoe-in for the style and to achieve that credibility, he's forced to push himself more that he might usually want to. Good; it's a push in the right direction.

- Janet Maslin, Rolling Stone, 8/16/73.

Bonus Reviews!

Farewell Andromeda is yet another strong effort by John Denver. Although it rocks harder on occasion than any other Denver album, it is essentially a cowboy-for-our-times record, cued by the opening selection. The impression it makes, compared to the jangly, treble-boosted Rocky Mountain High, is that it's more natural sounding, somehow. That says something for Denver's sense of relevance, since Rocky Mountain High didn't sound "unnatural" last year. The first side serves up only one weak song -- Bryan Bowers' "Berkeley Woman" -- among four very strong ones; the second side tails off toward the end, but not before hitting a peak worthy of Denver's Rocky Mountain muse.

Through it all, there's a certain reserve in Denver's vocals that suits most of the material almost perfectly. Guitarist Mike Taylor is missing: I don't know why. Toots Thielemans, whose harp probably is responsible for the genesis of that extraordinary howling sound that sometimes backs Denver, is back doing the marvelous things he did in the Aerie album. Denver handles the acoustic guitar work himself, and fairly well too -- but I noticed something: in "River of Love" the picking is turned to John Somers, who wrote the song, and his guitar (which here doesn't do anything fancy) has a nicer tone than Denver's -- a lot nicer, if you ask me. To help you program my prejudices into dealing with this, I should add that Somers' guitar, after going through the recording process and my particular speakers, sounds like a Martin.

The album's peak referred to earlier (and here we get into mangling metaphors) occurs for me in "Whisky Basin Blues," certainly one of the best-constructed of Denver's own songs, and one of the best parlays of material, vocals, instrumentals, and recording techniques I've heard in a long time. The essential, catalytic element in its production was Dick Kniss' bass. Somehow he managed to fashion a bass line that sounds just as sardonic as the attitude taken by the lyrics. "Rocky Mountain Suite" is the, uh, foothill to that peak on side two; it has preachy words, but its melody fits those mountains like a growth of pinion. The John Prine (1971) song "Angels from Montgomery" shows Denver (and most other people) a thing or two about writing song lyrics, and it's effectively done here, with a build-up of instrumentation that turns everything loose in the last chorus. "Please, Daddy" ("don't get drunk this Christmas") by Bill Danoff and Taffy Nivert performs its task of preventing ivory-tower-building with charming snideness. I'd say the album, in all, is not quite as strong as Aerie, but the flavor of it is probably Denver's most accurate representation of himself to date.

- Noel Coppage, Stereo Review, 10/73.

Singing gently but with simple conviction has been Denver's key to audience acceptance. The formula of songs about the earth and its inhabitants is used by Denver in developing a theme with mass appeal in both the pop and country fields. Denver bridges across the two vital cauldrons of creativity -- pop and country -- with a tinge of folk just to make things very American. Five of the 11 tunes are by Denver, and there is a great concentration of effort to create an outdoors type of feeling. Denver's own guitar picking is nice, but the augmented sound of other instruments is a welcome expansion of the production sound for which Milt Okun gets a fine credit. Best cuts: "River Of Love," "Sweet Misery," "We Don't Live Here No More."

- Billboard, 1973.

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