LIVE IN ASHEVILLE (1986/2016)
Oh Boy Records/Noisetrade
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The moment I got the email from Noisetrade I knew what my album of the month would be. It ain't new, but neither is the Mona Lisa and they're both masterpieces. Thirty years ago John Prine released a live concert album of a show in Asheville, North Carolina, but it's still fresher than a truck stop waitress.
In my decades of listening to and reviewing music there are lots of people who have impressed me more, who are more poetic, are superior musicians, and have induced out-of-body experiences, but there isn't anyone who has made me smile as much as John Prine. He is the master of phrases that sound pithy, until you think deeply about them. Can you describe utter boredom better than this? Bowl of oatmeal tried to stare me down…and won ("Illegal Smile"). What (non-John Prine) wry comment sums up the gap between real and ideal better than, Fatherforgive us for what we must do/You forgive us and we'll forgive you? Few have ever equaled Prine when it comes to grabbing onto small hooks that tell a bigger story. Here's his take on damaged warriors: There's a hole in daddy's arm where the money goes ("Sam Stone"). On a lighter note, you instantly begin to sketch a portrait of the central character of a song that opens with this line: Grandpa wore his suit to dinner/Nearly every day/No particular reason/He just dressed that way (Grandpa Was a Carpenter").
Live in Asheville is filled with lots of other time-tested Prine tunes: "Blue Umbrella," "Dear Abby," "Donald and Lydia," "GreatCompromise," "My Own Best Friend…." Though it's hard not to miss Steve Goodman, it's heart-warming to hear Prine sing "Souvenirs," a song they co-wrote. And if you're not in stitches listening to "Let's Talk Dirty in Hawaiian," just go away. Prine is known for his humorous and ironic songs, but among the many things that make him special is that he captures the plebeian and mundane with such arch precision that his funny songs are not one-trick/one-time novelties. We laugh each time because, deep down, we're vicariously projecting our own foibles onto his fictional scenarios. Who hasn't felt this way? Every side I get up on is the wrong side of bed/If it weren't so expensive I wish I were dead ("Dear Abby"). Yet the same guy can turn it on a dime and write good old-fashioned acoustic country that will tear out your heart and fling it across the room. If you've never listened to it closely, check out the fantasy romance between "Donald and Lydia," he the reluctant (and probably mentally damaged) soldier, and she the obese clerk in a penny arcade—two yearnings passing like running-lights-off ships in the night.
This is a contribute-what-you-want download from Noisetrade and I doubt you'll find a better bargain this calendar year. Download it and we'll overlook your smile, illegal or otherwise. Rob Weir