Saturday, December 6, 2014

John Prine: Illegal Smile

John Prine was one of the best of the folk-flavoured singer/songwriters that emerged alongside Neil Young and others in the early Seventies. Prine, who is still active today, is one of the wittiest songwriters of the singer/songwriter clan. When he appeared on the scene in the early Seventies, he was designated by some writers as a “New Dylan,” an up and coming singer/songwriter with talent and integrity reminiscent of the young Dylan.

Prine was born in Maywood, Illinois, in 1946, and following a stint in the US Postal Service, became involved in the Chicago folk scene of the late Sixties. A chance meeting with pop singer Paul Anka led to a chance to record, and his brilliant debut album, “John Prine” was released in 1971. Prine's debut was a superb collection of topical songs that included, “Sam Stone,” a tale of a drug-addicted Vietnam veteran, “Hello in There,” a song about the neglect of the elderly, and “Paradise,” a plea for the conservation of nature.

Prine's sophomore effort, “Diamonds in the Rough” (1972) was another fine work with solid songs such as the title track and “They Ought to Name a Drink after You,” all delivered with spare accompaniment. “Sweet Revenge,” an album that rivals Prine's terrific debut album as his best release, followed in 1973. Sweet Revenge was another superb collection of folk and country-inflected songs, this time with the support of a larger studio band. Highlights from this one include, “Christmas in Prison,” “Please Don’t Bury Me,” “Dear Abby,” and “Mexican Home.”

Prine's next few albums saw him exploring a more rock-oriented sound fleshed out by a backing band that included electric guitar, bass, and heavy drums. The effect was partially-successful on solid releases such as “Common Sense” (1975) and “Pink Cadillac” (1979). “Bruised Orange,” an excellent release from 1978, was a return to his simpler folk sound.

The Eighties was a quiet period for Prine from a recording standpoint. He recorded a few studio albums, but nothing of note.

In 1991, however, Prine was back with a vengeance. With the help of fellow musicians and admirers such as Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Tom Petty, he recorded another classic, “The Missing Years,” a brilliant folk-rock album brimming with top notch songs such as “Picture Show,” “Great Rain,” “The Sins of Memphisto,” and the title track.

Despite being recently sidelined with throat cancer, Prine continues to tour and record often brilliant albums. His most recent classics are “In Spite of Ourselves” (1995) and “Fair and Square” (2006).

John Prine

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