Two time Grammy-winner, singer-songwriter John Prine, is among the English language’s premier phrase-turners.
Forty-five years into a remarkable career that has drawn effusive praise from Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Roger Waters, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, and others who would know, Prine is a smiling, shuffling force for good. He is a Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame member whose classic debut album, simply titled John Prine, is recognized as part of the Recording Academy’s Grammy Hall of Fame.
Prine’s songs have been recorded by Johnny Cash, Tom T. Hall, the Everly Brothers, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Norah Jones, George Strait, Miranda Lambert, and many others. But his genius isn’t found in his resume, it’s found in the brilliance of lyrics from his large catalog of songs.
“The prospect of new music from John Prine is something the veteran singer-songwriter’s fans haven’t gotten to look forward to in more than a decade. Prine’s most recent album of original material, Fair & Square, came out all the way back in 2005, so the mere mention of his as-yet-unnamed follow-up is noteworthy enough. “I don’t wanna just sit down and write a little couplet that’s kind of witty, or something. I’ve done that,” he told Rolling Stone last year. Instead, expect real firepower: He recorded with Dave Cobb at Nashville’s RCA Studio A and recruited guests like Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile.”
The highly-anticipated album, The Tree of Forgiveness, is Prine’s first collection of new material since 2005’s Grammy-winning Fair and Square. Rather than going out on a limb, Prine cultivated the themes that have brought international acclaim since the 1970s. For example, he can take a topic like loneliness and make it funny (“Knockin’ on Your Screen Door”) or heartbreaking (“Summers End”). Perfectly aligned with his quirkiest songs, “The Lonesome Friends of Science” makes its point through the characters he calls “those bastards in the white lab coats who experiment with mountain goats,” as well as the discredited planet Pluto and the towering Vulcan statue in Birmingham, Alabama.
The songs are new, although some had waited to be finished for decades, like a co-write with Phil Spector called “God Only Knows.” Another incomplete song, “I Have Met My Love Today,” now celebrates the unexpected spark that leads to lifelong romance — with a dash of youthful innocence. The musical arrangements may be simpler than on past efforts, yet his unique ability to distill complex emotions into everyday language remains fully intact.