John Prine

John Prine

Looking back, it’s funny that John Prine was considered one of America’s Next Dylans. Rootsy guy with acoustic guitar, yeah. But beyond that, the comparison doesn’t hold. If anything, Prine’s 1971 debut offered a kind of rebuttal to Dylan’s poetic opacity, a set of songs whose philosophies were as immediate as bumper stickers and juggled subjects of existential heft with conversational wit. Be kind to old folks (“Hello in There”), smoke weed if you need to (“Illegal Smile”), beware your glass house (“Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore”), and know that behind every face lies a lifetime of aspirations and disappointments not even their beholder may understand (“Angel From Montgomery”). Produced by Atlantic Records’ legendary Arif Mardin and executed by a group of Memphis musicians who had worked with Elvis and Dusty Springfield, the album was a musically square affair—drummer Hayward Bishop later complained that finding a groove within Mardin’s prescribed confines was like trying to milk a dog. But listen to the hayride bomp of “Spanish Pipedream” or the waltz of “Donald and Lydia” (which may or may not be about a missed connection and two people pleasuring themselves to the memory of each other hours after the opportunity passed) and one hears the bridges between Nashville, Appalachia, and New York, country polish and folk ruggedness, hippie and heartland and the kind of universal humanism that knows no cultural lines. Listen to it once and you’ll sing along to a couple by the second chorus; listen again and see if you don’t hit them all.

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