When you start listening to a new album and can’t take it off repeat even though you have a dozen other albums you’re supposed to be listening to instead. That’s me listening to the new John Prine album, The Forgiveness Tree, his first batch of new songs since 2005’s Fair & Square.
This is prime Prine. Funny, relevant, smart, engaging.
Yes, Prine is a legend known for writing concise, witty songs about the foibles of being human, and yes, he has a sense of humor like no other songwriter on the planet except for perhaps Randy Newman. (Who wants to hear a Prine/Newman album of songs, Newman’s piano backing up Prine’s finger-picked guitar and the two of them croaking along gracefully and artfully? Newman plays Prine! Prine plays Newman! My hand and hopes are raised high.)
On several of these tunes he’s wistfully thinking about the past but he’s not obsessed with it either, rather using the past as a starting point for a verse, looking back with the wisdom of experience and a warm acceptance.
You can always count on Prine to make you smile and even laugh out loud which he does here on several of these tracks. One could make an entire film out of the events and characters in “Egg and Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)” and his ruminations on “The Lonesome Friends of Science” are as heartfelt as they are poignant and funny. Then Prine takes us all for a ride through a dark and demented carnival in “Caravan of Fools” which could be about the current political situation world-wide but, like many of Prine’s tunes, it’s about the human condition and SO much more. Yes, lucky for us, Prine can get serious and thoughtful, which he does in “I Have Met My Love Today,” “No Ordinary Blue,” and “God Only Knows,” and then there’s “Summers End,” the warmest song on the album—hell one of the most honestly.
warm songs I’ve ever heard. No schmaltz, no innuendo, just a song about true caring and love worth waiting for. In “Boundless Love” Prine seems to address his long bewildering career, and legion of fans with lines like:
“Sometimes my old heart
Is like a washing machine
It bounces around ’til
My soul comes clean
And when I’m clean
And hung out to dry
I’m gonna make you laugh
Until you cry”
The last song on the album starts out with a harp run straight out of Old Hollywood dreamtime that leads us into a half-sung/half-spoken word rave-up about death, Heaven, family, and having fun, with rollicking old-time piano, laughing babies, a kazoo, and one of the funniest sing-a-long choruses you’ll ever hear.
With Prine, each song just gets better and better. How does he do it? No fancy chord changes, no riffs, verse and chorus often using the same melody and usually with no bridge in sight for miles and miles. In a lesser mortal’s hands these songs would come off as unfinished, crudely written, or amateur, yet Prine ably crafts them into sharp focus, adding little touches here and there, verses as fine as Hemingway, choruses that thump you in the chest, and then delivers them all with a heartfelt seriousness that’ll make a fan out of anyone. John Prine. Still in his prime.
Released 13th April 2018
Review first appeared on https://rockingmagpie.wordpress.com/