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CD Review: Fair & Square by John Prine

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There are few things better in this world than an album release by one of your favorite artists. I was reminded of this one night while listening to The World Cafe. I heard a song that sounded remarkably like a John Prine song. After a few more seconds I knew yes this was a John Prine song. But I didn’t recognize it and I have the complete collection box set. Then it hit me: John Prine has a new studio album coming out! As soon as I got home I checked to see when it was available. Not for a couple of weeks, drat. But not to worry I survived the wait and the album is now safely in my hands. And I can report that it was worth the wait. It is classic Prine and will go into regular rotation in my “listen often” pile.

John Prine is often referred to as a cult favorite. What this basically means is that he has millions of fans and yet gets little to no radio play on mainstream stations. One of the reasons for this is his genre defying music. Part folk, part country, part singer songwriter, part blues, part you name it. He can make you laugh, he can make you cry, he can make you dance, and he can make you think.

Fair and Square illustrates this eclectic nature well. It starts out with the folksy Glory of True Love, and upbeat easy going tune with foot tapping rhythm and mandolin riffs.

John Prine’s quirky sense of humor and story telling lyrics shine in Crazy As A Loon, the song I heard on the radio. It’s a country song that laughs at the stereotypical country song. And the lyrics will bring a smile to your face:

So, I headed down to Nashville
To become a country star
Every night you’d find me hangin’
At every honky-tonk and bar
Pretty soon I met a woman
Pretty soon she done me wrong
Pretty soon my life got sadder
Than any country song

That town will make you crazy
Just give it a little time
You’ll be walking ’round in circles
Lookin’ for that country rhyme
You’ll be waitin’ on a phone call
At the wrong end of a broom
Yea, that town’ll make you crazy
Crazy as a loon

Prine can get serious, however, and when he does his melancholic tone can be both beautiful and sad. Long Monday captures the sadness and emptiness of being away from the one you love; Taking A Walk the complexities and awkwardness of relationships; My Darlin’ Hometown is a melodic and nostalgic description of both one’s real hometown and the search for peace; while Clay Pigeons describes the lonely and tired feeling that comes from starting over and moving on.

Some Humans Ain’t Human will be sure to raise some eyebrows for its political commentary. It is a serious song about the lack of tolerance and genuine concern for others among far too many of the human race. It also contains this jab at the current occupant of the White House:

Have you ever noticed
When you’re feeling really good
There’s always a pigeon
That’ll come shit on your hood

Or you’re feeling your freedom
And the world’s off your back
Some cowboy from Texas
Starts his own war in Iraq

Prine adds a touch of blues style in Morning Train and The Moon Is Down. Granted both include Prine’s acoustic guitar and mournful twang but they also have a deeper base and blues rhythm. Not surprisingly they center on the loss of a women, the quintessential subject of both blues and country.

Just when things start to get a bit down Prine picks things up with She Is My Everything, a catchy guitar driven song about the perfect women. It reflects both Prine’s sense of humor and his nimble lyrics:

She uses Eveready batteries to keep
Her electrical appliances going steady
She can do fourteen things at one
And then the phone’ll ring
She is my everything

She know everybody
From Muhammad Ali
To teaching Bruce Lee
How to do karate
She can lead a parade
While putting on her shades
In her Masarati
She know everybody

Just getting warmed up, soon Prine launches into another jam. Bear Creek Blues kicks up the pace another notch with a country rock/bluegrass feel:

The water up on Bear Creek, Tastes like cherry wine.
The water up on Bear Creek, Tastes like cherry wine.
One drink of that water, You stay drunk all the time.

Prine, and fellow musicians Paul Griffith, Dave Jacques, Jason Wilber, and Pat McLaughlin get in a good jam at the end. This is a song you would love to here live as you have to think they will do an extended jam for a live crowd.

As if this isn’t enough, Fair and Square includes two bonus tracks recorded live. Other Side of Town and Safety Joe are classic Prine story telling. Other Side of Town is a comic look at what a husband dreams about as his wife lays into him:

My body’s in this room with you just catching hell
While my soul is drinking beer down the road a spell
You might think I’m listening to your grocery list
But I’m leaning on the jukebox and I’m about half … way there

While Safety Joe is a tongue in cheek look at a man who never took any risks.

As I hope I have captured above, Fair and Square is a welcome addition to the John Prine catalog (and temporary fix in my addiction). The more I listen to this album the more I enjoy it.

If you appreciate well crafted lyrics with insight and a sense of humor; if you enjoy the sound of a guitar and a warm rich voice; if you are looking for something different and real; check out John Prine you wont be sorry.

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About Kevin

  • Aaman

    Great Review, thankee kindly.

  • Temple Stark

    This now has another venue for success – and more eyes – at the Web sites, a place affiliated with about 12 newspapers.

    One such site is here.

    Even though it is a little delayed, also please let your contact know, if you had one, that this article, is published at one more place. That helps to show they get two?, three? for the “price” of one.

    Thank you.
    Temple Stark

  • danny

    yes man there is nothin like classic JOhn Prine I worship the very ground her walks. Theres nothing like the classic sound of Hello in THere or the lyrics of the Oter Side of TOwn his old and new is all classic and deserves to be classified up their with the best. I f you are going to have a varying music collection JOhn Prine is a requirement.