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John Prine – In Person & On Stage – (Oh Boy Records)

John Prine is a national treasure. No one writes and sings quite like he does. His wry, poetic genius spills over with the precise amount of irreverence needed to pull his fans through hard times. One line can be the funniest thing in the world, followed by a quietly heartbreaking image. His smiling voice, especially now, is a reassuring aural companion.

If you’ve never seen Prine in concert, In Person & On Stage is the next best thing to being there.

Near the end of “The Bottomless Lake”, Prine tells the audience, “After years and years of writing story songs, I’ve learned one thing: If you’re writing a story song, you’d better have a darn good ending to it. If you don’t, then you’d better have a good moral to the story. [Pause.] Here’s the moral to the story.” Prine’s genius exists in its absolute and honest simplicity.

Culled from performances spanning the past several years with his band (Jason Wilbur, guitar; Dave Jacques, bass), and including songs stretching back to his 1971 debut, Prine is joined by Iris Dement on the eccentric and hilarious “In Spite of Ourselves” and on the brutally sad “Unwed Fathers.” Emmylou Harris’s contribution is radiant and rapturous on the classic “Angel from Montgomery,” and Nickel Creek’s Sara Watkins contributes to the haunting version of “The Late John Garfield Blues.” Josh Ritter’s emotional accompaniment on “Mexican Home” sums up Prine’s influence on the next generation of singer/songwriters.*

From the galloping and sunshiny “Glory of True Love” to the sad irony of “Paradise,” (the mandolin, guitar, and fiddle of Kane Welch Kaplin is pure heaven) Prine covers quite a bit of emotional ground. If that weren’t enough, Prine’s own spoken observations and commentary between songs are worth the price of admission.

These are recorded moments to be cherished for generations.

*Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows, a Prine tribute (love letter, actually) featuring the likes of Those Darlins, Avett Brothers, Justin Townes Earle, will be reviewed here soon.

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