REVIEWS OF JOHN PRINE CONCERTS & ALBUMS 2005
CONCERT REVIEWS BY YEAR
2006 | 2005 | 2004
2003 | 2002 | 2001 | 2000
JOHN PRINE ALBUM REVIEWS
2005 John Prine Other Links of interest:
2005 Set Lists
2005 Prine fan concert photos gallery
Orchestra Hall, Chicago, IL
June 4, 2005 - With Support: Mary Gauthier - Surprise Guest: Iris DeMent
By: Kevin McKeough
A mellower, happier Prine comes home for a spell
Inevitably, there was plenty of nostalgia in John Prine's sold-out performance at Symphony Center Saturday night, as the Maywood native repeatedly invoked people and places -- most of both now gone -- and performed songs from his early days on Chicago's late-'60s folk music scene.
As much as his hometown fans from that era might want to claim him, though, Prine doesn't live in Chicago, or in the past. Since 1980, he has made his home in Nashville (where he runs his Oh Boy Records label) and his performance coincided with the recent release of "Fair and Square," his first recording of new songs in nine years.
The new material was a stark contrast to the old favorites. Now 58 (and rather portly), Prine may seem like the quintessential kindly uncle who tells funny stories and goofy jokes, but his genial demeanor was deceptive. His early songs are a dark lot filled with suicide and murder, abuse and addiction, disconnection and harrowing loneliness.
Despite his rough voice, made gruffer and deeper by throat cancer surgery in the late '90s, Prine delivered the homespun melodies of those songs with great tenderness, imbuing his tales with compassion for the misfit lovers in "Donald and Lydia" and the Purple Heart soldier turned junkie "Sam Stone." By comparison, the spirit of the new songs ranged from put-upon at worst to downright cheerful, particularly the love songs inspired by Prine's wife, Fiona. "Glory of True Love" suggested the rockabilly songs of Prine's youth, with Jason Wilbur playing chiming electric guitar and Dave Jacques slapping his upright bass as Prine strummed his acoustic guitar. While "Angel From Montgomery" was as always a devastating portrait of an empty marriage and empty lives, Prine followed with the new "Long Monday," which found him relishing and pining for his soul mate over sparkling guitar picking.
As endearing as Prine's happiness was, many of the new songs often were little more than off-the-cuff ramblings. "She Is My Everything" was a list of gushing praise amid electric guitars that overwhelmed the song. "Some Humans Ain't Human," with its pointed swipe at President Bush and the Iraq war, came off as the complaints of a grumpy old man, especially compared with the sharply satirical "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," originally an anti-Vietnam War anthem that Prine recently revived and repurposed after decades of retirement.
That the latter song, along with the rest of Prine's older material, still is timely today attests to his skill at depicting the enduring aspects of the human condition. Of course, love, happiness and contentment are universal too, and despite the new songs' shortcomings, it was a pleasure to see room in Prine's art and life for them too.
By: Peter Cooper
http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050619/ENTERTAINMENT01/506190301/1055/ENTERTAINMENT (follow link for great photos - complete story)
Master at work - AFTER A 10-YEAR HIATUS, JOHN PRINE IS BACK TO MAKING MUSIC WITH RENEWED VIGOR
CHICAGO - Onstage at the gleaming Symphony Center in early June, Nashville singer-songwriter John Prine wore a suit, a sly smile and the same flattop guitar he's had since 1969.
Backed by Nashville bass man David Jacques and Indiana guitar slinger Jason Wilber, Prine played Sam Stone, Donald & Lydia, Paradise and other songs now regarded as classics. He drew standing ovations from four levels' worth of fans.
Five miles away, on North Wells Street in the once-gritty, now trendy Old Town neighborhood, young couples talked and drank in the kind of Irish-themed bar that exists only in gentrified neighborhoods within American metropolises.
Occasionally, one of them would break from conversation and head to the restroom, oblivious to the notion that they were walking past the spot where Steve Goodman finished writing City of New Orleans, or where Prine himself sang . . . well, Sam Stone, Donald & Lydia and Paradise.
Only back then, in what Prine estimates was probably late 1970, the Irish place was The Earl of Old Town. And Goodman was alive. And Prine was driving a mail route for the United States Postal Service.
"It all happened from here," said Prine's friend, manager and record label co-owner, Al Bunetta, sitting in what used to be the Earl, trying to mentally reconfigure the room to its 1970 dimensions and layout. "He was singing a lot of the same songs back then, 35 years ago. And now he's a national treasure."
The "national treasure" line isn't record company hype: Prine was recently interviewed about his songwriting by poet laureate Ted Kooser, who called the Nashvillian "An American master," and said "None of our poets wrote anything better about Vietnam than Prine's Sam Stone."
Country Music Hall of Famer Kris Kristofferson echoes that praise, proffering the notion that Prine is "the best songwriter this side of Bob Dylan."
That doesn't mean the well-coifed crowd at the Irish bar knows much about John Prine. He's never been a radio favorite, and it's only in recent times that the perception of Prine has risen from "critically acclaimed" to "legendary." He's written hits for others - George Strait's recording of I Just Want To Dance With You was a No. 1 country song, and Bonnie Raitt's version of Angel From Montgomery is quite well-known - but the word on Prine has been spread from mouth to mouth. His fan base is like an exclusive, private club that eventually filled beyond capacity when the neighborhood boomed toward wealth.
"Every time I see him, I sit next to someone who has never heard him before," said Suzanne Cannon of Woodstock, Ill. "But once they hear him, they love him, too."
They might not have ever heard him in the first place, though, had it not been for a night at the Earl when stars aligned through the kindness of a friend and a stranger.
The night it all began
John Prine was a glorious oddity, a songwriter who seemed to emerge fully formed. Dylan, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Joni Mitchell, Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, Guy Clark . . . they all took years to fuse their words and melodies into something sharp enough to slice hearts. John Prine got it right from the start.
A student of folk and bluegrass music, he composed songs in his head while driving his mail route, trying to make sure he'd have something new to sing at club gigs.
"I showed him a few chords, and we'd play traditional songs," said older brother Dave Prine. "One day, he said, 'You know, I've been writing some stuff.' He showed them to me, and what he showed me was half of what ended up being his first album."
An instant draw with rowdy club crowds, Prine was not the most popular folk performer in Old Town. That distinction belonged to Steve Goodman, a remarkable guitarist, lyricist and writer who could have viewed Prine as competition but instead offered his hand in friendship. Goodman was among Prine's first real champions, another being Chicago newspaper writer Roger Ebert, now a famed movie critic.
It came to pass that Goodman opened some shows for Kristofferson at the Quiet Night club in Chicago. Admittedly "pretty brain damaged at the time" by hard partying and a debilitating schedule, Kristofferson seldom made a practice of arriving in time to hear his opening acts. But his band members told him Goodman was worth hearing, and Kristofferson was duly impressed when he saw the show. Two songs knocked him out: City of New Orleans and his cover version of Sam Stone.
When Kristofferson spoke to Goodman, telling him in essence that he should be making albums and playing festivals and leaving the club scene behind, Goodman parried the compliment.
"Steve could have wallowed in that for an evening, you know," Prine said. "But instead he was like a traffic director. He was like, 'You don't even know. You've got to get in a taxi with me and go across town and hear my buddy.' Kris later told me he was thinking, 'This has happened to me one too many times and this guy is probably going to be, uh, nothing much.' But he went down there to hear me."
That night, a taxi pulled up in front of the dank old Earl, and out bounded Goodman, Kristofferson, actress Samantha Eggar and singer Paul Anka (who had been at the Quiet Night to hear Kristofferson).
"I'd had a few beers, and it was just me and the waitresses and a couple of the kitchen guys," Prine said. "I was waiting to get paid. Goodman had a grin from ear-to-ear, 'cause he'd put the whole thing together. They took the chairs off this table and sat down.
"Now that I think back on it, it was a real movie setting kind of thing. Kris Kristofferson . . . right there at the Earl, listening to me. And think about how unselfish that was of Goodman, to pour all his attention on me. But that's exactly the way he was: He wouldn't have passed the chance up to go show his buddy off, you know."
Prine played some songs, and then Kristofferson asked him to sing them again, and any other songs he wanted to play. With a backer like Kristofferson, both Prine and Goodman were soon able to reach national audiences. And Anka wound up signing them to management contracts. By the time the chairs were put back up on the Earl's tables, Prine knew things were different.
"I went home after that to my three-room apartment on Melrose Park, on the west side of Chicago," Prine said. "I was married to this Italian girl, my first wife. I woke her up and told her the whole story. I just sat there, shaking my head, going, 'I can't believe it. Kris Kristofferson listened to my songs, and asked me to sing 'em twice.' And my wife, Ann Carol, she had to go to work in the morning."
The write stuff
Goodman penned hits including City of New Orleans and You Never Even Call Me by My Name, and he released numerous albums, though his fame never matched his talents. Goodman had leukemia, and died in 1984.
"Steve was sick when I met him," Prine said. "When I met him the doctors had given him three years. He was always thumbing his nose at the doctors."
Goodman's legacy in song is best retold in a two-disc anthology called No Big Surprise, and on a DVD called Steve Goodman: Live From Austin City Limits . . . and More. During each night's show, Prine mentions Goodman when he sings Souvenirs, a song he and Goodman used to do together.
Prine released his Elektra Records debut album less than a year after the night at the Earl, arriving on the scene as a fully formed, idiosyncratic songwriter. His sandy voice sang story songs that managed to be at once engagingly specific and quite impressionistic. The choruses might tie the verses together, or might provide momentary distractions from the verses. (Imagine a lengthy barroom conversation between friends: The verses are the conversation, and the choruses are the drink orders and handshakes that are brief interruptions.)
While the first album's material - those mail truck songs - are a part of each Prine concert; his material has remained consistent through 13 studio albums, two live albums, a couple of best-of compilations and a DVD.
There came a point in the late 1980s when he thought he might be done with songwriting, and when the ones he'd written weren't doing much for him - "I got tired on the road and went through a period where I didn't appreciate the songs, or anything else for a while" - but then he stormed back with 1991's Grammy-winning, Howie Epstein-produced The Missing Years album, which found Bruce Springsteen, Phil Everly, Tom Petty and others contributing. With that album, the audiences continued to grow, and Prine's legend was set in cement.
Another hurdle came in the form of squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer in the right neck area. The 1998 operation threatened to damage his voice, but he came back cancer-free, with a deeper range, a little more gravel in the pipes and the same twinkle.
"I found out some people don't like to say the word 'cancer,' '' he said. "One person said, 'How's your, uh, situation?' I said, 'Oh, it's got cancer, too.' ''
The new Fair & Square album is his first set of new songs since the surgery, and its release on the Oh Boy label Prine shares with Bunetta has garnered a slew of rave reviews. New songs Some Humans Ain't Human and Taking a Walk can stand beside Sam Stone and the rest in concert without ever having to hang their heads, and the Martin guitar he bought in 1969 sounds better at Symphony Center than it did at the old Earl.
"His songs have such insight," said Rocky McCoy of Chicago after standing and applauding with the rest of the audience at the Chicago show. "He's an icon here."
Prine knows that, and it tickles him. He understands that his arrival as one of America's foremost songwriters came about through a combination of factors: the luck to have been given an opportunity to sing for a living, the innate talent to have cashed in on that opportunity and the work ethic to have stuck it out for decades.##### He's remained a true friend to Kristofferson, and he's worked to preserve, honor and spread Goodman's legacy. And he doesn't need to traipse back to the old Earl to remember the way it was, or to appreciate the way things are today. At his Chicago sound-check, he looked up at the lovely auditorium lights, at the tiers of plush seats, and he thought about how he could adapt his batch of dust-bitten songs to such elegant surroundings.
"Oh, man, this is a pretty place," he said to no one in particular. "I'm going to have to wear after-shave tonight."
By: perfectly still
My favorite moment was when John started to introduce "Crazy As A Loon" and a woman in the audience yelled "NO!!" (I think she may have been a bit confused as to what song he was introducing, as that song isn't exactly the type to evoke such a response...I mean, come on, it's a Prine concert - you had to know what you were going to see). He seemed a bit taken aback, and then with his his best aw-shucks smile, said "'Fraid so." In any case, a fine performance and his voice is the best it's been in years. Till next time in Chicago or Milwaukee...
By: Joe Shipley
John Prine was in top form Saturday night. His voice was strong, and his infectious sense of humor and the mutual affection between JP and his audience made it a fun show. Mary Gauthier played a strong warm-up set, opening with "I Drink," a touching autobiographical ballad that evokes Prine's poignant lyrics and precise, capoed picking. Afterward, she asked "Do you think I've listened to some John Prine Songs before?" Prine came on stage after a lengthy intermission, and launched into "Spanish Pipedream" with a youthful enthusiasm that belied his years. He explained with an apologetic grin that he had just arrived because he and his sidemen, had come out of different doors of their hotel and were waiting for each other, then introduced them as "Moe and Larry". He received well-deserved ovations and hollers throughout a nearly two hour set that included new material from his latest release, "Fair and Square," sprinkled among 35 years of old favorites, closing with "Lake Marie" and repeating the line "We gotta go", then returning for a brief encore that included Iris DeMent and Mary Gauthier on "Paradise."