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John Prine sounds just fine

Lowell Memorial Auditorium, Lowell, Mass., September 13, 2008

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

John Prine isn't the most prolific artist. He was once upon a time, decades ago at this point, releasing such albums as "Bruised Orange" and "Pine Cadillac" in the 1970s. He lasted on the major labels for about a decade before being far ahead of his time and starting his own label, Oh Boy, and releasing his own albums through the company since 1984. Prine has built himself quite a career, although he has only released 3 albums since 2000, including 2005's "Fair and Square," which won him the Grammy for best contemporary folk album. Prine continues touring, drawing the faithful and doubtlessly new fans to keep his career on a steady keel.

The former Illinois mailman was considered a folk artist at the time and still is by some. Maybe he's changed or perhaps standards have changed, but based on his sturdy 115-minute show, he has veered towards country far more than folk. There's a lot of twang and country instrumentation in his songs these days.

Prine's voice is a bit weathered, a bit rough around the edges. What really stands out his excellent songwriting. He could be serious as well as humorous in his songs, painting clear images with his words. One of the best songs was "Sam Stone," about a soldier who falls on hard times. Prine sang, "the morphine eased the pain/And the grass grew round his brain/And gave him all the confidence he lacked/With a Purple Heart and a monkey on his back." The sadness certainly was quite clear.

Telling the crowd that the song was about his wife Fiona, "She Is My Everything" was a tender song and good change of pace from the preceding twangy, harder edged "Bear Creek Blues."

Prine was aided and abetted time and time again by his backing mates, guitarist Jason Wilber on guitar and long-time sidekick Dave Jacques on bass. Prine was not a stage hog at all often stretching out the songs with Wilber and Jacques doing the heavy lifting. Wilber, who has released several albums on his own in the alt.-country field, was at times twangy, at times retro sounding and just about always right. Jacques switched between electric and upright bass and didn't make anyone wonder where the drummer was.

The evening ended with opening act, husband-and-wife duo Johnny Irion and Sarah Lee Guthrie, coming back for "Paradise," a song by Prine about going to his parents' home in western Kentucky, which was ravaged by coal mine companies. Irion and Guthrie had a well-received opening half-hour set and did a good job helping Prine end the evening. It was a nice change of pace to hear a female's vocals as well. While it would be nice to hear more of new Prine material more often, what he does sounds just fine.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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