John Prine – For Better, or Worse
By Rob Dickens
It’s been a year of some moment for John Prine.
The Grammy Award winning singer-songwriter turned seventy and, to celebrate, played a sold-out, two-night engagement at Nashville’s historic Ryman Auditorium with a slew of special guests. Just two weeks before he treated fans (including yours truly) to a special show at another famous Nashville venue – The Station Inn – where he performed his 1971 self-titled debut album in full as well as a raft of his most-loved tunes for an intimate and mammoth show during Americanafest.
Prine also won the prestigious PEN Song Lyrics Award for Literary Excellence at a special ceremony at Boston’s John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum. The award is given to artists who have contributed definitive works to the American music canon and has been bestowed biennially since 2012. Past recipients include Chuck Berry, Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson and Randy Newman.
He is clearly highly regarded in Australia. But when you are in the US, you get to see firsthand the level of esteem in which he is held. His live shows are greeted with love and adoration and his laid-back but razor-sharp humour and insights are unique.
Now we have another cause to worship at the House of Prine. A new release (via his own Oh Boy Records, with Thirty Tigers) which is a follow-up to his acclaimed 1999 duets and Grammy-nominated album In Spite of Ourselves. For Better, or Worse features duets with some of the best female performers in the Americana/Country/Folk genres – Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Iris Dement, Lee Ann Womack, Alison Krauss, Holly Williams, Susan Tedeschi, Holly Williams, Morgane Stapleton, Amanda Shires, Fiona Prine & Kathy Mattea.
Produced by Jim Rooney, Prine’s new release has classic songs originally recorded by country A-graders such as Hank Williams, George Jones, Ernest Tubb and Buck Owens. There is plenty of evidence of Prine’s famous humour and that laconic vocal style. He clearly is paying homage to these timeless songs which have had a significant impact on him as he grew up and I can imagine developing the collaborations in the studio would have been joyous.
Prine’s original material output has been far from prevalent in recent years. The last new songs were on 2005’s excellent Fair & Square. Before that we have to reach back to 1995 – Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings. Since then we have had live albums, re-workings and now this, a second duets collection.
This is a loving album which will bring a smile to your face (just look at the cover) and tweak your interest in hearing these great artists in this setting and listening to these classic songs reworked. If you are the keenest fan of John Prine, you’ll get this anyway. Were you looking to have an introductory Prine release in your collection, I suggest that this album is not the best place to start. Rather, delve into his back catalogue, such as the self-titled release (1971), 1973’s Sweet Revenge or 1978’s Bruised Orange.
Here’s the full track list:
John Prine/Iris DeMent – ‘Who’s Gonna Take The Garbage Out’
John Prine/Lee Ann Womack – ‘Storms Never Last’
John Prine/Alison Krauss – ‘Falling in Love Again’
John Prine/Susan Tedeschi – ‘Color of the Blues’
John Prine/Holly Williams – ‘I’m Telling You’
John Prine/Kathy Mattea – ‘Remember Me (When Candlelights Are Gleaming)’
John Prine/Morgane Stapleton – ‘Look At Us’
John Prine/Amanda Shires – ‘Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music’
John Prine/Lee Ann Womack – ‘Fifteen Years Ago’
John Prine/Miranda Lambert – ‘Cold, Cold Heart’
John Prine/Kathy Mattea – ‘Dreaming My Dreams With You’
John Prine/Kacey Musgraves – ‘Mental Cruelty’
John Prine/Iris DeMent – ‘Mr. & Mrs. Used to Be’
John Prine/Fiona Prine – ‘My Happiness’
John Prine – ‘Just Waitin’’