Relative newcomer John Denver -- his work with the Chad Mitchell Trio notwithstanding -- released his debut in 1969 to a relatively empty room. It wasn't until Peter, Paul & Mary took the singer/songwriter's "Leaving, on a Jet Plane" to the top of the charts later in the year that he began his ascent from fresh-faced folkie to America's best-selling recording artist in 1974. While the producers did their best to position Denver away from the dwindling folk scene by incorporating lush orchestrations and murky backing vocals, there was absolutely no way that they could remove the artist's heartfelt delivery and gentle disposition. RCA tested the waters by filling Rhymes & Reasons with reliable covers like "When I'm Sixty-Four" and "The Love of the Common People," but it's the four Denver originals that caught the ears and hearts of what would eventually become a gargantuan fan base. The sweet, soft, and ferociously earnest title track, the whimsical "Daydream," "Circus," and the formidable "Jet Plane" -- the latter was originally called "Oh Babe I Hate to Go" -- were indicative of what was to come, and while the other tracks are amiable enough and expertly produced, they're just window dressing that, when removed, reveals the true garden in the making. ~ James Christopher Monger
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