German Afternoons

German Afternoons

For 1986's German Afternoons, John Prine hooked up with the progressive bluegrass band New Grass Revival, which returned him to the traditional folk feeling of his early career while also coloring Prine’s exquisitely bleak mid-career songs. Most of the tunes here address a love that won’t resolve itself. “If She Were You,” “Lulu Walls," and “Out of Love” are what Prine once called “classic ‘she left me’ songs,” though Prine gives them twists that separate them from hundreds of earlier tracks in that tradition. “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” imagines depression as a G-force from outer space, as New Grass conjures up a gorgeously understated track reminiscent of J.J. Cale. Few people can skirt the line between tradition and subversion like Prine. He can pull off the completely goofy “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” and then cut a clear-eyed version of Leon Payne’s classic country weeper “They’ll Never Take Her Love from Me.” The album ends with a reprise of “Paradise,” which first appeared on Prine’s 1971 debut and became one of his signatures. Back then it was a nostalgic song of home. Now he sings it as an old man’s benediction.

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