If you've had enough of a sociopathic world, take a break with this sweet sliver of hope, wit and beauty: Next week, John Prine, 71-year-old good ole boy, chronicler of small weird lives and master of poignant, lustrous, soulful, impeccably crafted songwriting releases his first collection of original songs in 13 years, titled The Tree Of Forgiveness. A two-time cancer survivor with an ever-more-raspy voice to prove it, Prine has regularly toured for years but says his wife and son "tricked" him into finally making a new record: "They pulled me aside last summer and told me it was time for a record, and I believed them." Working with producer Dave Cobb and collaborators both old and new, he recorded Tree with his longtime band in Nashville. It will be released April 13 by his Oh Boy Records.
To those who know and love his stuff, the seriously grizzled Prine shines for his uncommon but deeply human gift of phrase-making - small, sly, achingly real images that sound like nobody else's. From Donald and Lydia: "There were spaces between Donald and whatever he said." From Sam Stone: the "hole in Daddy's arm where all the money goes...While the kids ran around wearin' other peoples' clothes." The sizzlin' sausages in Lake Marie, the flies buzzing in Angel From Montgomery, feeling "naked as the eyes of a clown" in That's the Way That the World Goes Round, the mournful failing romance in Far From Me, where "an old broken bottle/Looks just like a diamond ring" and "Well, ya know, she still laughs with me/ But she waits just a second too long."
Charmingly, Prine himself seems unsure how the word magic works. Describing writing the lyrical new song Boundless Love, he explains changing one line to, "Sometimes my heart’s like a washing machine/It bounces around ’til my soul comes clean" with, "I figured that sounds more like something John Prine would write. This is a new thing for me, to try and be John Prine. At the same time, I am John Prine." Ha. His wife Fiona might come closer to coherence on the subject:“When he sings ‘the world will end most any day / but if it does, that’s OK / ’cause I don’t live here anyway,’ that’s true. He is somewhere else most of the time.”
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A few weeks ago, Prine gave a lovely, low-key Tiny Desk Concert at NPR. He sang two songs from the new album - “Caravan Of Fools” and “Boundless Love” - and a couple of oldies, "All the Best" and one of our all-time favorites, the achey-breaky classic "Souvenirs." Small pleasures, listen up.
Broken hearts and dirty windows
Make life difficult to see
That's why last night and this mornin'
Always look the same to me.