Many years ago – 15? – I was watching Austin City Limits as usual and John Prine came on. I had never heard of him before but I was blown away. ‘Who was this songwriter I’ve never heard of?’ I thought. I was blown away by his stage demeanour as much as his songs, probably, given how unconventional he seemed compared to so many artists I was familiar with. Anyway, I vowed to listen to him.
As with so many of these vows, nothing happened. A year or two ago, I was supposed to listen to one of his first few albums for my podcast, but it got dropped in favour of something more famous or notable or something my cohost wanted to listen to instead (I don’t remember). So this record, his third, is my first.
Prine’s songs no longer blow me away like they did when I was in my early 20s. Some of this has to do with age but much more with how much music I’ve listen to in the interim. The older I get the more I realize I prefer imagery to literalism. That’s not to say he’s a bad songwriter; he has a decent sense of melody and his lyrics are often amusing or biting and occasionally affecting. He’s a good songwriter, well above average; I’m just not sure he’s my type of songwriter at this stage in my life.
I like the aesthetic; it’s rough and ragged and he includes a live take of a song where he actually screws up, because he thought he performance was better than a perfect studio take. (So Neil Young of him. I like it!) Honestly the aesthetic is so up my alley I wish I liked the songs themselves more.
I will definitely check out other records of his, because his first impression was really strong, but this one doesn’t necessarily make me feel like I have to listen to everything he ever did.
Still worth a listen, as he’s criminally underknown.