John Prine holds a well-deserved spot in the songwriters' pantheon. So, it's always a bit disappointing when a new Prine release isn't stocked with new Prine songs. After producing 7 albums between 1971-1980, he has only made a handful of albums of originals since then, although he has done a couple covers projects, the "Souvenirs" re-recordings album, a Christmas disc and now his third live album.
That said, there are bountiful joys in listening to Prine performing his songs and this does a terrific job of covering Prine's career over the course of 14 tracks. The CD starts and ends with tunes from his 1971 self-titled debut and in-between it's stocked with songs from the '80s, '90s and '00s - from his most famous (Angel From Montgomery) to his most recent (four tunes from 2005's "Fair & Square." The material here also provides a good representation of his satire tongue (Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore), his sentimental heart (She Is My Everything) and his wonderfully evocative storytelling that combine the two (Unwed Fathers).
His voice is rougher and not as strong now since he battled down a 1999 battle with throat cancer, but it's so rich with character that it enhances his songs' worldly-wise qualities. He also is supported by a number of fine guest vocalists, who make this album distinctive from his earlier live releases. It's a wonderful treat to hear him sing with Emmylou Harris on Angel From Montgomery or Iris Dement on Unwed Fathers and In Spite Of Ourselves. Sara Watkins (of Nickel Creek fame) also shines, both vocally and on fiddle, on Late John Garfield Blues, while his duet with Josh Ritter on Mexican Home shows Prine's connection with today's crop of talented singer-songwriters.
Another real treat here is listening to Prine introduce his songs - like his affectionate dedication to his wife before She Is My Everything and his family recollections that lead into A.P. Carter's Bear Creek Blues and The Bottomless Lake. He also shares humorous anecdotes about the movie set back-story to In Spite of Ourselves and how he came to write Your Flag Decal... while being a mailman and how he unretired the tune due to its Bush era relevance.
While culled from different shows, the disc itself holds together quite well- like one great, guest-filled Prine show. One shortcoming, however, is that the liner notes don't reveal where and when these shows are from. However, this is just a minor qualm for this superb set of songs from a superb songwriter.