Saturday, October 13, 2012

SOTW - October 13, 2012 - John Prine

John Prine is an understudied legend. His decades-long catalog is a Transcendentalist portrait of Americana. Perhaps best known for 1971's "Angel From Montgomery," Prine broke out of the Chicago folk scene in the late 60's (what is it with the Midwest and its folk singers?) and has built his 40-plus year legacy working in modest obscurity. Never experiencing the popular forces that tear so viciously at the Bob Dylans of the world, he has maintained vigor and perspective. I saw Prine at the Fox Theater last winter and it was mystifying. Sitting deeply in my pitch dark seat watching him and his guitar under a single pillar of light, I felt confident he could give me the Key to Universe if given another hour.

Ever noticed David Allen Coe's reference to Steve Goodman in 1974's farcical hit "You Never Even Called Me By My Name?" Well, that's only half the story. Prine actually co-wrote the song with Goodman, but (smartly, I think) declined songwriting credit. Prine's share of the take ended up being a jukebox from Goodman purchased with the resulting royalties.

For the uninitiated, start with his eponymous 1971 debut or 1976's early-career compilation, Prime Prine. For a late career highlight, 2005's Fair and Square is an hour well spent.  

The late '00's brought a Prine revival of sorts as current popular artists expressed their appreciation. A series of performances with Prine and My Morning Jacket's Jim James (or, at the time, alter ego "Yim Yames") culminated in 2010's superior tribute, Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows. With an artist lineup ranging from Justin Vernon of Bon Iver to the Avett Brothers to Old Crow Medicine Show to Mike Cooley of the Drive By Truckers, Broken Hearts is that rarest of species, a tribute record with artistic vitality. It's like a group of youngsters opened a closet at grandma's house and found a dusty old toy that, while different, was of such quality and significance they couldn't resist getting it out and playing with it. The highlight of the record, My Morning Jacket's richly-textured cover of Prines touching All the Best,  is your Song of the Week for October 13, 2012. If you have no John Prine, there is a hole in your collection. Fill it.   

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