Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: John Prine – In Person & On Stage

John Prine is one of those songwriters whose music give you instant cred because he’s such a cult artist. He never had a radio hit of his own (although Bonnie Raitt scored mightily with Angel from Montgomery), never was particularly trendy or popular, quite possibly because his output over the past forty years has been so consistently intelligent and often brilliant. Over a career that spans part of five decades, Prine has written scores of wry, clever Americana-rock narratives, many of them classics. Steve Earle would be hard to imagine without him. Prine was one of the first artists to abandon the major label world and release his own music on his own label, Oh Boy Records, the folks responsible for this latest live album which came out late last month. For Prine fans, this is a must-own; for the uninitiated, it’s as good an introduction as any to one of the great songwriters of this era.

In the 70s, Prine’s sardonic drawl always made him seem twenty years older than he was – at this point, his vocals have a time-ravaged edge, approaching Ralph Stanley territory, but his vitality as a performer and writer comes across absolutely undiminished here (NPR has his recent Bonnaroo appearance streaming here). In this semi-acoustic setting, he’s joined by Jason Wilber, a richly melodic, tasteful yet exuberant lead guitarist who’s equally at home with twangy honkytonk as he is with incisive blues. The set is a mix of material from live shows from the recent past, with songs dating as far back as Prine’s 1971 debut album. He’s always had a sentimental streak, but even on the occasion where that vibe might overwhelm the song, the quality of the music here transcends that. She Is My Everything might not be the most poetic love song ever written, but its rich, spiky web of interlocking guitars is, well, transcendent (you can get a free mp3 here). He’s still got that indelibly literate, stream-of-consciousness stoner humor, and there’s virtually always a slyly defiant undercurrent at work here, whether on the upbeat Spanish Pipedream (be careful what you wish for), or going full blast on the classic Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, as apropos today in the “tea party” era as it was in its Vietnam War heyday.

The acoustic version of the death-obsessed Mexican Home (with Josh Ritter) doesn’t have the spooky organ of the original 1973 recording but still holds up surprisingly well. The brooding, metaphorically charged Saddle in the Rain gets a fresh treatment that considerably surpasses the studio version. There’s also the surreal In Spite of Ourselves, a comically boozy duet with Iris DeMent; the subdued Long Monday, with its surprise dark ending; a slow, pretty version of The Late John Garfield Blues, with Sara Watkins on vocals; a fiery, careening, guitar-stoked version of Bear Creek Blues; the poignant Unwed Fathers (also a duet with DeMent) and the obligatory Angel from Montgomery, Emmylou Harris mystifyingly waiting to appear on the second verse after Prine has announced in his baritone drawl that he is an old woman named after his mother. Surreal as it is, it actually works alongside everything else. Nice to see an icon from decades past still going strong.

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June 17, 2010 - Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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