Review Summary: A drop off in quality from previous albums.
John Denver was a mainstay on the country / adult contemporary and mainstream charts in the mid 70's. His previous album "I want to live" from 1977, while commercially not as successful as "Windsong" or "Back home again", was a solid album of singer/songwriter country folk. The music scene was changing, and John Denver shifted his musical approach accordingly.
"Downhill stuff" starts off as a beautiful folk song, but changes into rock n roll. I'm not suggesting Denver shouldn't have tried to 'rock out', but the it's done here is campy and predictable. Sweet Melinda is more of the same.
"What's on your mind" is a conscious shift towards adult contemporary, as the acoustic guitars are either pushed to the background or are gone, replaced by background strings and Denver's passionate vocals are deliberately low-key, removing a lot of the appeal of his ballads.
Things do improve. "Joseph and Joe" is a haunting folk song with powerful, semi-religious imagery. Wedged between it and a rousing, live version of "Berkeley Woman" is "Life is so good". This represents a new sound that Denver could (but didn't) exploit 'Country-Baroque'. It has a lovely, flute-driven intro, but this song is sorely unfinished.
What more obvious way would there be for John to show he's now a 'rocker' than cover Chuck Berry's "Johnny B Goode"" Hmmm, doesn't suit Denver's style at all, but, at least there have been much worse version's than this.
"You're so beautiful" goes back to "What's on your mind" territory, but with much more passion, "Southwind" straddles a middle ground between Country and Adult Contemporary. John again revisits his 'country-baroque' sound with a flute-driven version of David Mallet's "Garden Song" - my pick for best song here. In the late 70's and early 80's Denver liked to have a longer, epic track to close his albums, "Songs of..." is a predominantly instrumental song that has a serene atmosphere, and at 5m 23sec, is a minute longer than any other song here.
The stand-out tracks are "Joseph and Joe" "Berkeley Woman" "Garden Song" and "Songs of..."; however the opening three songs are a real mis-step, and there aren't enough great tracks to recover the momentum, so this is an 'average', or slightly better than average John Denver album.
Most of John Denver's best material came out on albums released from 1971 to 1977, although it is advised to avoid "Farewell Andromeda" from 1973, and the only real standouts on 1971's "Poems, Prayers and Promises" are the hits "Country Roads" and "Sunlight on my shoulder". His 1969 "Rhymes and Reason", and two early-80's albums "Some days are diamonds" and "Seasons of the heart" are also strong, if not essential albums.