John Prine - John Prine - Review
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critics' view

A product of Chicago’s country-folk revival of the late 60s, Prine was offered a recording contract by Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records after the record executive saw the singer perform several of his own songs at a Kris Kristofferson show at the Bitter End. Prine would later remark: “I was terrified. I went straight from playing by myself, still learning how to sing, to playing with Elvis Presley's rhythm section.”

Kristofferson had championed the hobbyist, recognising his ability to write powerful, affecting songs with down-home earthly mannerisms, and it was he who sat in the producers’ chair. In his liner notes, Kristofferson quipped: “Twenty-four years old and writes like he's two-hundred and twenty.”

Bob Dylan was also a big fan of this newly emerging talent, later writing: “Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. And he writes beautiful songs. I remember when Kris Kristofferson first brought him on the scene. All that stuff about “Sam Stone”, the soldier junkie daddy, and “Donald and Lydia” where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that.”

Existentialism is a hoot in John’s world – straight from the off on “Illegal Smile” he ruminates: “Total silence is my only friend, ‘A bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down’.” His one-liners are incredible. In “Sam Stone”, a song about a drug-addicted war veteran and his death by overdose, the line “There’s a hole in daddy’s arm, where all the money goes” continues to reverberate long after the album is over. “Pretty Good” is a classic – a most Dylan-esque attack on phony patriotism, especially in the context of the exhibitionistic chauvinism of the meat-heads.

Best on side 2 is “Far From Me”, which Prine later said was his favourite self-written song. It’s a lonely waltz about lost love for a waitress: “Ain't it funny how an old broken bottle, looks just like a diamond ring, but it's far, far from me.”

He’s got a way with words that boy…

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