John Prine is one of those master singer-songwriters whose biggest hits were for other people—“Angel of Montgomery” for Bonnie Raitt and “You Never Call Me By My Name” for David Allan Coe among them. But Prine’s greatest songs are wrought by his own laid-back chuckle. The characters in a John Prine song are submerged in drunkenness, fatigue, ennui and/or loss and yet they all rise above the hazards of living as their dreams bubble up to the surface.
Here are a few opportunities for you to get acquainted with those people:
John Prine (1972): Worth the price of admission for “Donald & Lydia,” where Lydia “fat daughter of Virginia & Ray,” and Donald, a young PFC, met in the netherworld of dreams and “made love from ten miles away.” It is possibly the best love song ever written.
The Missing Years (1991): A solid comeback record for a guy that never really left, but the mostly spoken title track stands out, hilariously filling in the holes between adolescence and ministry in Jesus’ life story with anecdotes like “He couldn’t get divorced in the Catholic church / at least not back then anyhow. / Jesus was a good guy he didn’t need this shit / so he took a pill with a bag of peanuts and / a Coca-Cola and he swallowed it.”
Standard Songs for Average People (2007): Prine and bluegrass balladeer Mac Wiseman wear these old country and folk standards like trusty work boots, breathing new life into everything from Ernest Tubb’s “Blue Eyed Elaine” to Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw Michigan”
John Prine appears at House of Blues with Iris DeMent on December 11 & 12.