In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Simultaneously exactly what I expected, and a totally fresh surprise.”
15 or 16 years ago, I was on a camping trip with some mates and the soundtrack was pure blokey rock from the 90s. It was the turn of the millennium and we were dudes who loved dude music, like Guns n’ Roses, Pearl Jam and Tool. Then, one person pulled out a mix tape from their car and what we heard was something different. It was hokey country music, with a man and women trading corny verses like, “She don’t like her eggs all runny, she thinks crossin’ her legs is funny. She looks down her nose at money, she gets it on like the Easter Bunny. She’s my baby I’m her honey, I’m never gonna let her go”.
We made a lot of fun of that song, and the person who’d supplied the mix tape. But the song stayed in my head, grew on me, and found its way onto my iPod. Then, a couple of years ago, my obsession with Jason Isbell grew to the stage of following him on Twitter and he often referenced the man responsible for, “she gets it on like the Easter Bunny”, John Prine. Once I knew who he was, his name popped up more and more, mentioned by bands and singers I really like, as well as appearing in Youtube clips with bands and singers I really liked. I obviously had a legend on my hands. A point which was only solidified by listening to John Prine.
Finger picked folkie guitar, with a down south charm that makes Illegal Smile immediately more palatable than general folk. When the pedal steel comes in for the chorus and Prine ratchet’s up the drawl, it only gets better. “Last time I checked my bankroll, it was gettin’ thin. Sometimes it seems like the bottom, is the only place I’ve been”, is such a perfect country music line. And everything about this song is just as perfectly country.
His plan to leave the modern world behind and live the simple life sounds so enviable when delivered with an upbeat country swing on Spanish Pipedream. And as his tale of friends long gone roles out in Hello In There, John Prine is only three tracks in and already making a good argument for Prine being one of the greatest story tellers via song that I have ever heard.
The dominant guitar might be replaced by a church organ in the intro to Sam Stone, but this story of a returned veteran loses none of the intimacy that is more and more becoming my favourite thing about the John Prine sound. And with Pretty Good, Prine’s affinity for some dirty, sleazy blues proves that he’s more than just gentle acoustic guitars and down home charm.
As I reached the half way mark, I was all of a sudden aware of what might be Prine’s biggest strength. His good old boy southern drawl, and knack for melodic, gentle country, makes it the perfectly sarcastic delivery system for some very dry, very liberal commentary. In Your Flag Decal Won’t get you Into Heaven Anymore, the chorus has so much more bite when delivered through Prine’s genial, nice guy grin. “But your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven any more. They’re already overcrowded from your dirty little war. Now Jesus don’t like killin’, no matter what the reason’s for. And your flag decal won’t get you into Heaven anymore.”
Going a little more 60s and bordering on hippy territory, Quiet Man shows how universal Prine’s voice and turns of phrase are. He alters little in his voice and delivery, but it matches this ample change in genre effortlessly.
Listening to John Prine was simultaneously exactly what I expected, and a totally fresh surprise. Everything I already knew I liked about him is at the forefront of every single song. Yet he somehow finds way to take that very individual sound on way more directions than I ever would have thought possible.