The last time I saw John Prine was . . . well, let's see. He's been some kind of soundtrack throughout a whole lot of my life. I've sung his songs, played his songs, put my kids to sleep with his songs, cooked dinner to his songs, and decorated my Christmas tree to his songs. My car radio is no stranger to John Prine. And yet, I don't think I've ever actually seen John Prine. Which raises the question: Does John Prine even truly exist? He does. And I have his new CD, Fair & Square (Oh Boy Records, 2005), in my hand (well, the case is in my hand; the CD itself is playing itself silly across the room) to prove it. And it's packed full of new (and not particularly new) songs that attest quite handily to the existence of John Prine. I mean, who else could describe what you find when you open up mean people:
| A few frozen pizzas
Some ice cubes with hair
A broken Popsicle
You don't want to go there. . . .
So, that settled, I can tell you how wonderful this album is. Simple, folky chords, simple, plainspoken, hard-lived, suntanned language stung with Prine's wry, wise observations. He's a guy half listening to his wife's harping, or recounting the sweet perfection of his hometown. He sings, or kind of sings, or just talks, and it all sounds good and important, like advice.
Three cuts here are cowritten with Pat McLaughlin, a songwriter I actually have seen, once, late one night in Nashville, prowling the stage like a lion on acid. I think I have every Pat McLaughlin album ever released, possibly multiple copies. My husband and I have spent many hours (yes, while driving) trying to figure out why we like him so much, and how lyrics that seemed so "tossed off" can pack such a punch. I'd had only a vague awareness that McLaughlin had cowritten some of his brilliantly bizarre rock tunes with Prine, so it was a bit of a thrill to find three of my favorites delivered up here. They're calmer with Prine driving the bus, but just as great. My favorite is "Morning Train" — at once sexy and inscrutable:
Is one big, long word.
Got three more letters
Than "mockingbird" —
You put me on a morning train. . . .
So no, I've never seen John Prine, and unless someone has an extra ticket for me, I probably won't get to see him when he comes to the Michigan Theater on Friday, June 3, 'cause the last time he came to town, the show sold out way in advance.
But that's okay. Me and John, we go way back.