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John Prine - Fair & Square Music Album Reviews

John Prine - Fair & Square Music Album Reviews
Newly reissued on vinyl, this late-career gem from the beloved songwriter highlights the hope, humor, and underdog rage that animate his best work.

By 2005, John Prine had lived many lives. In his formative years, he had been a soldier in Vietnam, a mailman, and a contender in the very-bizarre-in-retrospect New Dylan sweepstakes of the early 1970s. Singing in the folk clubs of Chicago, he was discovered by Kris Kristofferson and widely admired by everyone around him, including Dylan himself. But he remained a cult act, a “songwriter's songwriter,” which is just another way of saying not that many people listened. Prine’s audience considered him to be a genius, but his genius was for modesty and humor, and modesty and humor don’t always scale. No writer during the 20th century wrote more beautifully about the overlooked, the under-acknowledged, or the never-thought-about-at-all.

When Fair & Square was released in 2005, Prine was 58, and it had been five years since the world had heard from him, following a diagnosis with neck cancer in 1998. On this late-career gem, newly reissued on vinyl, he sounds weakened, which is different from saying he sounds weak. His voice had dropped an octave from radiation treatment and having given up a 30-year pack-a-day cigarette habit. There is sometimes a slurred hesitancy to his delivery, which contributes to the poignance of shaggy dog stories like “Taking a Walk,” a lovely, loping song which imbues the simple act of strolling around with metaphysical portent.

Given his health crises, you might expect Prine’s spirits to be low on Fair & Square—but it isn’t so. The wry and ebullient opener “Glory of True Love” reflects with awe on spiritual and romantic deliverance: “You can climb the highest mountain/Touch the moon and stars above/But Old Faithful’s just a fountain/Compared to the glory of true love.” Following the tumult of two broken marriages, Prine had wed Fiona Whelan, with whom he would raise a family and remain for the rest of his life. Very much in love and too close to death for comfort, Fair & Square splits the difference between Dylan’s winsome domestic bliss classic, 1970’s New Morning, and his trembling-at-mortality classic, 1997’s Time Out of Mind.

Like the novels of Charles Portis, Prine’s records are loaded with characters you might encounter on a wayward road trip. “Crazy as a Loon,” a co-write with the multi-instrumentalist Pat McLaughlin, is among Prine’s finest, a hilariously forensic biography of a three-time loser who roams the country searching for contentment but can’t escape his own thoughts. A heartbreaking cover of Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons” recounts the gnomic utterances of a down-and-out Greyhound-rider hoping to “get back in the game,” whatever that means. And then there is the tale of “Safety Joe,” a man who “wore a seatbelt around his heart” and never took a risk.

There was no safety belt around Prine’s heart—no risk he wouldn’t take and seemingly no limit to his compassion. Uninterested in cultivating the mystery that shrouded many of his folk peers, Prine’s purview was what the writer Jim Gavin once referred to as “people who don’t know how to climb the pyramid of American success.” For all of Fair & Square’s loveliness—the album was co-produced with Gary Paczosa and resembles Nick Drake’s transporting work with producer Joe Boyd—the subtext of underdog rage remains. “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” which takes aim at the George W. Bush administration, may be the angriest song Prine ever wrote:

They screw you when your sleeping
They try to screw you blind
Some humains ain’t human
Some humans ain’t kind

Fair & Square won that year's Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album, and it began a renaissance of interest in his previous work. He continued making music up to his death in 2020, and he enjoyed a long and well-deserved eminence as an inspiration for younger generations of artists, ranging from Kacey Musgraves to the Drive-By Truckers to the Mekons. In 2013, Prine appeared on an episode of The Colbert Report With Stephen Colbert, a huge fan who confronted the artist with a knowing question: “Were you a mailman’s mailman?” Prine, not missing a beat, responded, “I was the kind of mailman that dogs couldn’t wait to see coming down the street.” An enduring beacon of hope, Fair & Square cemented his stature as an elder statesman of the folk tradition.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
John Prine - Fair & Square Music Album Reviews John Prine - Fair & Square Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Saturday, October 09, 2021 Rating: 5

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