Fair & Square
After a nine-year hiatus since his last album of new material, a songwriting legend returns in fine form, with twelve originals and a pair of imaginatively executed covers. A battle with neck cancer has left Prine's voice rougher-edged than before, but the overall effect is as warm and homey as ever. Producing his own work for the first time, Prine employs mostly acoustic arrangements of guitar, pedal steel, mandolin, and accordion, with occasional bursts of electric guitar (see his honky-tonk take on the Carter Family's "Bear Creek Blues"). Highlights include the sweetly upbeat "The Glory of Love" and "Crazy as a Loon," with its wry dissection of life in three different cities of dreams. Prine has lost neither his sense of humor nor his conscience, as in the politically pointed "Some Humans Ain't Human": "Some people ain't kind/You open up their hearts/And here's what you'll find/A few frozen pizzas/Some ice cubes with hair/A broken popsicle/You don't want to go there." Listening to Fair and Square is like hearing from an old friend who's been away too long: it's thoroughly worth the wait.