Saturday, September 1, 2012

John Prine: Poignant and Powerful

On a dusty pew in a vestibule
Sits the Devil playing pocket pool
He’s waiting for the next poor fool
Who forgot that it was Sunday

Whenever I hear a John Prine couplet I never know whether to laugh or cry. Usually I can do both because he is the Zen Master of musical irony. John’s abillity to tug at your heart strings and tickle your funny bones was on full display during the recent evening when he shared the concert bill with Emmy Lou Harris.

Prine doesn’t so much re-invent himself for a tour as he re-tools his sound. This year it is a spare acoustic take provided by David Jacques on bass and Jason Wilber on guitar and mandolin. Looking a bit like nineteenth century undertakers in dark suits, they played serious sounds to accompany’s John’s repertoire of classics.

Here’s a lyric sampling from the evening:

Humidity built the snowman
Sunshine brought him down.

He voted for Eisenhower
Cause Lincoln won the war

Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us we'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing in heaven

Prine can move from sublime to ridiculous faster than he can change guitars and that was highlighted in his duets with Emmy Lou. After they did the raunchy, rocking “In Spite of Ourselves” (She gets it on like the Easter Bunny/ He ain’t got laid in a month of Sundays), they crooned the classic, “Angel from Montgomery.”

Prine completely brought the house down as he battled his way through the hysterical, “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian,”
The steel guitars are playin’
While she’s talking with her hands
Gimme gimme oaka doaka
Make a wish and wanta poka

Just reading this song ( will crack you up.

Then as he wrapped up with a solo version of the haunting, “Sam Stone,” I was reminded how many of those protest songs of the sixties and seventies (Your flag decal won’t get you into heaven any more) are still relevant today.

Prine brought everyone back on stage to send us home on an upbeat note with “Paradise” and the satisfaction that once again The Singing Mailman had delivered.


  1. Great review! He is a master. Glad you got to see him again.

  2. Some of Prine's whimsical lyrics make me think of the late Jim Croce.

    Whenever I hear Prine's name though I am always reminded of "Sam Stone" from 40 or more years ago.

    But that song "In Spite of Ourselves" always makes me think of Iris DeMent.

  3. I don’t often see He Forgot That It Was Sunday quoted. That’s the kind of Prine song I like, offbeat, funny, obscure. Back in the day (Way back in the day) I wrote a novel. It’s an original story, offbeat, funny, obscure, with reprinted lyrics from 3 JP songs and tons of references to others, some obvious, some not. The lyrics help to tell the story, and there’s a big Prine tribute at the end. My little Ode to Prine is out there right now. Argyle Gargoyles; A Darkly Humorous Novel is an ebook available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and Lulu. It’s posted on the main page of The John Prine Shrine. I’d love to hear what other Prine fans think of it. Aw Heck, that’s why I wrote it in the first place. I’m going to the show in Philly in November, I think I know what song to shout out now…

  4. Great review! He is a my favourite.i love him.