Wednesday, August 11, 2010
I will preface today's post by saying this: John Prine is awesome. His songs are so good that Kris Kristofferson said they (other country and folk songwriters) would have to break his thumbs. He co-wrote the "perfect country and western song" ("perfect" because it contains mama, trucks, prison, getting drunk, and trains). He's a country singer who the other country singers look up to; the same goes for folk singers. He has a hell of a sense of humor and an equally sharp sense of storytelling, which comes out in songs like In Spite of Ourselves and Spanish Pipedream.
This summer, a John Prine tribute album, Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows, came out, and it's outstanding. It has tracks by the Avett Brothers, Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, Old Crow Medicine Show, and many others. There's such a strong feeling of admiration on every track, not only for the man who wrote the songs, but for the songs themselves. The artists all interpret the songs only as far as bending them to their sound, and I think the album is better because of it: to diverge too much would take away from the song, while trying too hard to adhere to the originals would make the covers seem pale and boring. So by my criteria, there are some perfect covers on this album.
Really, I don't have much more of a review than that. I've had this album on repeat for a few days now, and I intend to keep it in heavy rotation--in all of its twangy, tongue-in-cheek glory--for the foreseeable future. Even the weaker tracks are saved because the songs themselves are so good. And the good tracks are incredible. So for today I'll leave the deep thoughts on John Prine to Bob Dylan, who said this (please read this next part in a Bob Dylan voice):
"Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about “Sam Stone” the soldier junky daddy and “Donald and Lydia,” where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that."
One last thought on the tribute album: if you switched the adjectives in the title, it probably would be just as true to Prine's work.