John Prine - guitar, vocals
Following his service in the army, John Prine seemed to spring forth as a fully formed multi-dimensional singer songwriter at the age of 24. In 1971, Prine released one of the most impressive debut albums ever, proving himself capable of writing folk balladry, country, and rock songs laced with pathos, sensitivity, and sardonic humor that reflected on the human condition. A critical smash but a commercial disappointment, this remarkable album set the tone for the rest of his career. The next two albums, 1971's Diamonds In The Rough and Sweet Revenge, released in 1973, proved that the first album was no fluke. His songs continued to have depth, compassion, and an understanding that belied his young age.
This solo acoustic performance, recorded at the Music Inn in Lenox during the summer of 1973, captures Prine performing the material from his first three albums stripped down to their bare essence. In almost every case, these songs are even more compelling with just the man's voice and guitar. This audience, the vast majority of whom had come to see Bonnie Raitt, is immediately drawn in and responds with great enthusiasm, bringing out a most inspired choice of material from Prine. Taken as a whole, this remarkable set is overwhelming in its diversity and contains a wealth of Prine's most memorable compositions.
Fans of Prine's self-titled debut will be delighted to find that album extremely well represented. Early in the set, he delivers the counterculture songs "Spanish Pipe Dream" and "Illegal Smile," setting an irreverent tone that resonates with the audience. These more humorous numbers are almost immediately balanced out by "Donald and Lydia" an achingly poignant song about a young couple separated by army life and "Sam Stone," an anguished tale of a drug addicted Vietnam vet. With its disturbing and penetrating lyrics, including a chorus of "there's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes; Jesus Christ died for nothin', I suppose," Prine's insightful anti-war commentaries have a depth and substance that seemed to come from experience. As such, they have far more insight and resonance than most anti-war songs of the Vietnam era. That first album is also represented by the autobiographical "Paradise," as well as the immeasurably sad songs, "Hello In There" and "Far From Me." Prine's trademark wit and sense of humor also gets more time to shine on the rollicking anti-war song "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You into Heaven Anymore" and "Pretty Good," one of the most outrageously funny songs in Prine's early cannon.
Several tracks from Prine's second album, Diamonds In The Rough are also performed, including "Rocky Mountain Time," the hilarious sing-along encore of "Everybody" and a powerfully moving "Clocks and Spoons." However, what is possibly most delightful here is the appearance of the new songs that would be included on Prine's third album, Sweet Revenge, including his classic "Grandpa Was A Carpenter." On this album, Prine ventured into increasingly cryptic lyrical terrain. "Please Don't Bury Me" and "The Accident (Things Could Be Worse)" are both brilliantly written songs that remain open to interpretation, while the overtly comical "Dear Abby" and the doleful holiday carol, "Christmas In Prison," display Prine's sharp wit and wry sense of humor.
For anyone interested in contemporary folk music and its history, John Prine is a required course and his first album is absolutely essential listening. This recording is a perfect overview of Prine's early career containing many of the highlights from those first three albums and most of the songs that cemented his reputation. Prine is hysterically funny here, but he is always just as thought provoking, able to strike a nerve way down deep, often in the same song.