Folk-rock veteran John Prine retains his wisdom and wit in his first original songs in more than a decade | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Folk-rock veteran John Prine retains his wisdom and wit in his first original songs in more than a decade 

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click to enlarge John Prine

John Prine

Danny Clinch

John Prine’s new record, The Tree of Forgiveness (Oh Boy), is his first album of original material in a decade. He underwent surgery for lung cancer in 2013, and his characteristically cracked voice is a little worse for wear, but he’s as avuncular, funny, and wise as ever—a poet of the everyday. Prine’s influence continues to be felt through each new generation of roots musicians, so it’s fitting that this album was produced by current Nashville darling Dave Cobb and has instrumental support from a crew of contemporary players and singers that includes Sturgill Simpson and Brandi Carlile. At 70, he’s writing songs that seem as if they could have been created at any time in the past century and erasing any gaps that might normally exist between country, folk, and rock. On “I Have Me My Love Today” he conveys a warm optimism and flushed romanticism without treacly sentiment, and his dry but exuberant delivery of lines such as “We’ll go on forever / And I can truly say / I have met my love today” says more than words on a page ever could. Likewise, on the bittersweet “Summer’s End,” a gorgeous, plainspoken ballad where Prine reaches out to a distressed lover or family member, he turns nostalgia into the most potent feeling possible: “I still love that picture of walkin’ / Just like that old house / We thought was haunted.” On the album’s closer, “When I Get to Heaven,” Prine imagines the afterlife with typically wry humor, spouting lines such as “I’m gonna take that wristwatch off my arm / What are you gonna do with time  / After you’ve bought the farm” and dreaming about the vices his body has punished him for indulging in on earth: “Gonna smoke a cigarette / That’s nine miles long.”   v

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