John Prine is bringing his celebrated songbook to Las Vegas

Leave it to one titan of song to best distill the essence of another. “Twenty-four years old and writes like he’s two hundred and twenty.” That’s Kris Kristofferson talking in the liner notes of Prine’s self-titled debut, which the former produced.

Kristofferson’s words would be echoed over the years by plenty of those who know their way around a tune, including fellow folk, country and rock greats such as Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash and Roger Waters.

Prine has never looked or even sounded all that special: a slightly rumpled Everyman with a voice that, while unerringly sincere and deeply felt, could be on the flat and nasally side.

But his lyrics are a different story — and what stories they tell.

Prine is like a method actor of song, inhabiting characters, bringing them to life, making them feel like someone you know intimately — a neighbor, a lover, the person in the mirror. He’s done so with wit, humor, grace and empathy for close to 50 years.

With Prine coming to Las Vegas, let’s revisit his celebrated songbook by delving into an album from each decade of his career:

‘John Prine’ (1971)

If the Vietnam War was the first armed conflict to be televised, “Sam Stone” was its musical corollary, a song that simply, stingingly conveyed the toll that all the bloodshed took on the psyche as well as the flesh.

One of Prine’s most iconic works, the spare, unflinching number tells the tale of a soldier struggling with addiction upon returning home from combat.

“There’s a hole in Daddy’s arm where all the money goes,” Prine sings on what’s become a folk standard. “Jesus Christ died for nothin’ I suppose.”

Three cuts later, Prine dismisses self-serving patriotism on “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore,” another song of the times that’s since become a song of the ages.

As with any Prine record, there are moments of levity here — “Illegal Smile,” “Spanish Pipedream (Blow Up Your TV)” — but, ultimately, this is an album defined by its poignancy. If you don’t get misty-eyed hearing Prine’s tribute to what coal miners like his father once had to endure (“Paradise”) or the loneliness inherent in our twilight years (“Hello in There”), it’s time to get some Drano for those tear ducts.

‘German Afternoons’ (1986)

Empty hearts and full glasses of beer, so goes this alternately beatific and biting reflection on love’s blossoming and wilting.

The centerpiece is “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” a song written when Prine’s marriage to fellow musician Rachel Peer-Prine, who sings on the record, was crumbling like a sandcastle falling prey to the sea.

“Well, I got a heart that burns with a fever / And I got a worried and a jealous mind,” Prine confesses on the ringing ballad. “How can a love that’ll last forever / Get left so far behind?”

It’s a question for which Prine doesn’t have an answer, though that doesn’t stop him from searching for one on the Budweiser-abetted “Out of Love” or amid the lap-steel ache of “They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me.”

It’s not all tears and tallboys, though: High-stepping, higher-spirited waltz “I Just Want to Dance With You” is as sweet as the wedding cake Prine eyes with suspicion elsewhere.

‘In Spite of Ourselves’ (1999)

Mining the past in the face of an uncertain future, this collection of mostly classic country covers was the first album Prine released after being diagnosed with cancer in 1998. Surgery that removed a portion of his neck added a dash of grit to his singing voice.

A series of duets with some of Prine’s favorite female counterparts, from Lucinda Williams to Emmylou Harris to Patty Loveless to album MVP Iris DeMent, “Spite” sees Prine shaking the dirt off his honky-tonk roots with audible relish, savoring the marrow of his musical backbone.

Must-plays include album opener “(We’re Not) The Jet Set,” which cheekily testifies to the joys of rural life (“Our steak and martinis / is draft beer with weenies / Our Bach and Tchaikovsky / is Haggard and Husky”), and the almost painfully beautiful “ ’Til a Tear Becomes a Rose.” Sung with his wife, Fiona, it’s capable of eliciting enough of those titular tears to grow a garden.

‘Fair & Square’ (2005)

John Prine’s love songs pierce the heart like Cupid’s arrowheads.

He proves to be the harvester of a thousand sighs once more on “Long Monday” from his only album of new material released during the 2000s.

“We made time look like time could never fade,” he tells his lover in a plaintive lilt on a song about coming and going, the former easing the ache of the latter. The line is a Prine staple: a few words that distill a depth of emotion that would be hard for most of us to convey with a thousand.

“Monday” is one of the standouts on an album that pendulums between the wistful and the world-weary, where Prine testifies to the glories of love while wondering why we don’t all exhibit more of it.

‘The Tree of Forgiveness’ (2018)

When John Prine gets to heaven, a nine-mile-long cigarette awaits.

Or so he hopes.

At 72 years old, Prine eyes the afterlife with a wink on his first album of new material in 13 years, which also became his highest-charting record when it debuted in the top five in April.

It’s a ruminative, understatedly affecting album, with Prine’s wizened voice conveying his age like a tree trunk’s growth rings.

Warm, intimate and sparely arranged, “Forgiveness” often sounds as if Prine is in the room with you, practically whispering these songs in your ear as he pines for “Boundless Love,” playfully swipes at science skeptics, and takes your breath away on standout ballad “Summer’s End.”

“Yeah, this old man is goin’ to town,” Prine announces at album’s end. By that point, you feel fortunate just to have been able to eavesdrop on the old man’s party for a while.

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Entertainment
You Can Design With 3D Printers, Laser Cutters And Ceramics At Discovery Children's Museum
You Can Design With 3d Printers, Laser Cutters And Ceramics At Discovery Children's Museum (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Champagne vending machine at Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas
One of only a few in the country, the Moët & Chandon machine at the Waldorf Astoria in Las Vegas is stocked with Imperial Rose for Valentine’s Day. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Las Vegas Valentine’s Day desserts
Mio Ogasawara of Sweets Raku and Rebecca Bills of Gen3 Hospitality in Las Vegas create elaborate Valentine’s Day desserts. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
One Night For One Drop
Cirque du Soleil cast and crew donate their time and talent to this year's "One Night For One Drop" performance at the "O" Theatre in the Bellagio. The event takes place March 8, 2019, and benefits the One Drop organization. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Chinese New Year Parade
Chinese New Year parade takes place on Fremont Street. (Bill Hughes/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Manzo restaurant a key part of Eataly
Nicole Brisson, executive chef of Eataly, at Park MGM in Las Vegas, talks about new restaurant.
Designer Makes Festival-style Crowns
Designer at MAGIC trade show Makes Festival-style Crowns (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Excalibur Raises tent that will house "Fuerza Bruta" show
Workers at Excalibur raised a tent, which will be the home of "Fuerza Bruta," a temporary show that will run from March 7 to September 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roc Boots Make For Glittery Festival Wear
With 3-inch-tall chunky heels, cleated platforms, and sparkly glitter, you’ll want to wear these to dance the night away. Sally Cull, product and development for Roc Boots Australia, assures you that you can. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Get A Custom-painted Jacket At Las Vegas Fashion Event
On the first of the two-night Commotion event, clothing brands connected with consumers, offering shopping, giveaways and customization opportunities. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Venetian Celebrates The "Year Of The Pig"
The Venetian hosted dancers to celebrate the Chinese New Year and "Year of the Pig." The dancers performed a traditional eye-dotting ceremony and lion dance. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Pepe the truffle-hunting dog
Jose Andres knows that quality black truffles can also be found in his native Spain. He’ll be sharing some with the world for a week, starting Monday. From Feb. 11-17, his Cosmopolitan restaurant Jaleo will be showcasing four special dishes made with Spanish truffles discovered by the truffle-hunting dogs of his friend Nacho Ramírez Monfort. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tony Abou-Ganim mixes drink at Libertine Social
Tony Abou-Ganim, The Modern Mixologist, helped change the cocktail culture in Las Vegas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Masaharu Morimoto talks ramen in Las Vegas
Masaharu Morimoto talks about bringing a ramen restaurant to Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Morimoto considering full-time Las Vegas ramen spot
Morimoto talks about a full-time ramen spot in Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to new home at Neon Museum Boneyard
The famous and newly restored, Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign is working it's way to a permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to Neon Museum Boneyard
The famous and newly restored, Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign has been moved to its permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign moves to new Las Vegas home
The famous and newly restored Hard Rock Cafe guitar sign has moved to a permanent home at the Neon Museum Boneyard in downtown Las Vegas. It will be moved in six pieces and take five days for reconstruction. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas band Otherwise release song and video in tribute to slain cousin
Adrian and Ryan Patrick, brothers in the band Otherwise with drummer Brian Medeiros, talk about the release of a tribute song to their deceased cousin Ivan. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @rookie__rae
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Las Vegas residency
Artist Joshua Vides created a "White Wedding" chapel for Billy Idol's Vegas residency (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas
Try the Burning History cocktail at Zuma In Las Vegas (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES final night showcases Drake at XS Nightclub
Drake performed for CES attendees and club-goers at XS Nightclub in Encore at Wynn Las Vegas in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (John Katsilometes Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Happy Hour party at Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace
Conventioneers mingled during the Hardware Massive CES 2019 Happy Hour Bash at The Hangover Suite at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
CES 2019 Has A Cordless Hair Dryer
CES Has A Cordless Hair Dryer (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails
Print intricate designs, your pet or your face on your nails (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES 2019: Panel talks Impossible Burger 2.0
Panel talks Impossible Burger at CES during launch at Border Grill on Monday, Jan. 7. (Ben Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets
Momofuku Makes A Cocktail With Bok Choy And Beets (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Dream of AJ Montgomery
AJ Montgomery lost part of his leg in a vehicle accident but found his dream as a performer in “Le Reve.” (John Przybys/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Kelly Clinton-Holmes of the Stirling Club
John Katsilometes chats with Kelly Clinton-Holmes, director of the Stirling Club's New Year's Eve entertainment.
ad-high_impact_4
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like