Friday, September 5, 2008

In The Toolbox: John Prine (1971)

Well, Nelson’s three-for-three for his Essential Albums over at A Fifty Cent Lighter..., so i figured i better get a move on. My second installment of In The Toolbox comes from a 1971 debut disc from one the most respected songwriters alive.

John Prine's self-titled album is a collection of songs, all of which - every artist that plays music even vaguely resembling ‘folk’ or ‘country’ is secretly jealous of. A perfect example of this is shown in my first experience with John Prine. In 2001, Pat Green & Cory Morrow paid tribute to some of their heroes (and a few contemporaries) with Songs We Wish We’d Written. They included John’s Paradise on the disc – along with their versions of some classic tunes from people like Darrell Scott, Willie Nelson, Billy Joe Shaver, Waylon, Merle, and Townes. So many artists today that value songwriting list John as a major influence: Deer Tick, The Roadside Graves, Todd Snider, Hayes Carll, Kasey Chambers, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, Randy Newman, Johnny Cash - just to name a few.

John Prine - John Prine
Atlantic (1971)

This introduction to John Prine continually reminds us of the simple elegance of lightheartedness and brevity in music. He begins with an acoustic-driven tune about that glorious "escape from reality" that's just a puff away. Halfway through, John gives us a political number poking fun at those obsessed with puttin' the American Flag anywhere it'll stick - and even admits that he's guilty of it. Scattered throughout the disc are perfectly written lines ("i knew that topless lady had something up her sleeve") that make us wish we could all look at life with the same loving flippancy as John.

Helping to frame these lyrical gems, and possibly his greatest appeal, is John's ability to turn a phrase. No one, not even Dylan, has better melodic timing or syllabic choices in their songs. He often goes the less intellectual route in his word choice in order to get that timing just right, and in doing so, shows us just how smart he is.

i'll leave you with the great advice John gives in Spanish Pipedream: "Blow up your TV. Throw away your paper. Go to the country. Build you a home. Plant a little garden. Eat a lot of peaches. Try and find Jesus on your own."

John Prine - Illegal Smile
John Prine - Hello In There
John Prine - Sam Stone

1 comment:

  1. i remember 101.1 klol playing "illegal smile" for their 4:20 break (that, or the less subtle "two joints"), me always trying to be on my way home from school just to hear the line "sat down in my closet / with all my overalls"