John Prine is one of a dang kind. With nearly five decades of music tucked into his back pocket, he is sauntering into the role of next generation “elder statesman of country music that doesn’t include ‘bro’ or ‘pop’ as a preface.” Following the path trod by the big shoes of Cash and Willie and Merle. Though he would probably have a fantastic self-deprecating quip to brush off this statement, I’ll go ahead and say it anyway: for my money he holds his own with these greats as a unique songwriter and he does it with a knowing smile in every line.
So as you can imagine, I was immensely jazzed to hear that he was releasing his first album of original material in 13 years. And I’m happy to report that it does not disappoint.
The Tree of Forgiveness was released in April but it has an easy-breezy-springy-summerness to make it a perfect fit for this baton handoff period between the seasons. Just right for some feet-up-wristwatch-off-porch-swing-time in the dying hours of the afternoon where you take it easy and let the shade and a cold brew do the heavy lifting. The opening track “Knockin’ on your Screen Door” will have your mind in this summery sweet spot almost instantaneously. You might even start muttering some John Prinesque phrases like “Ah, Heck” and “Daggum.”
Prine has a natural gift of being able to pen brilliant chuckle-y tunes without letting them sink anywhere near the realm of corny or cheesy or any other food-based descriptor of bad humor. “Egg and Daughter Nite...” and “Lonesome Friends of Science” present perfect examples of his wit and wordplay delivered with infinite galaxies of twinkles in the eye and his distinctive drooping drawl. But humor is only one of the tricks in his songwriting bag: there’s an empty well of forlonging in “Summer’s End” and an uneasy dread in “Caravan of Fools” and all the glories of relationship wrapped up in “I Have Met My Love Today” and “Boundless Love.”
John closes the album with the rollicky “When I Get to Heaven.” Detailing his big plans to open an afterlife nightclub and puff on a 9 mile long cigarette. It’s the kind of thing that might make the uber-religious “tsk” but all the same it puts a big ol’ grin up on my face. At 71 he’s getting to the age where death occupies more headspace and I’m glad he’s confronting it with the same warmth and humor that he’s done with life. Here’s hoping he has many more days and songs ahead before he shakes God’s hand and orders a vodka and ginger ale.
So pull up a porch swing, pour some lemonade on the rocks and let this quirky, affable songsmith spin some summertime yarns in your ear. John Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness is Musical Musing’s Pick o’ the Week for this second week of June 2018. Enjoy friends!