Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Album Review: John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness

John Prine
The Tree of Forgiveness 
**** out of *****

The first collection of new material from John Prine in over 13 years comes leafing out as The Tree of Forgiveness, a collection of folk/country tunes that musically are straight ahead but lyrically showcase Prine's wit charm and depth.

Excellently produced by the fantastic David Cobb, this laid back collection matches Prine's restrained vocals as he sings softer following his second confrontation with cancer. Coming out on the wining end of that battle allows him to put forth this set of tunes that glide by as easily as a southern summers sunset.

Opening with perhaps the strongest track on the record "Knockin' on Your Screen Door" strums with confidence and country flair. The call out to high cotton, George Jones, cans of pork & beans along with sweat potato wine places it directly in the wheelhouse of Nashville pickers as increasing instrumentation adds small flourishes to the music.

Co-songwriter Pat McLaughlin helps out Prine on numerous tracks including the whimsical "Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)". The funniest track, it has help from Jason Isbell (who is a presence throughout), a killer piano phrase and tons of silly smirking lines and backup vocals. While Prine is a consummate songwriter, his ability to make it all feel tossed off is what is keep fans coming back for more and more. 

The albums first single "Summer's End" fits this motif as it is simple, yet lingers long after it has dissipated; a direct statement calling out to everyone personally as an honest plea. While the ominous "Caravan of Fools" is an outlier in this collection, co-written with Dan Auerbach and McLaughlin it slowly marches along with building dread, strings and deep bass. The tone and wit of Townes Van Zandt becomes channeled for the "Lonesome Friends of Science" while "No Ordinary Blue" has a Tom Petty Wildflowers musical ease breezing through it. 

Brandi Carlile helps out on the pretty "I Have Met My Love Today" while "Boundless Love" also pours on the charm with typical Prine touches, like the charming washing machine stanza. The nod to Phil Spector and the Beach Boys, yet his own spin of "God Only Knows" (supported by Isbell and Amanda Shires) confronts spirituality before the album addresses mortality closing with "When I Get To Heaven".

Prine knows he is much closer to the end than the beginning however, he approaches it with humor and grace as always. Prine lists of to-do's once he enters the pearly gates is laid out with a babies laughter behind him adding a dynamic touch to the song. The track turns into a party with barrel-house piano and ends the successful The Tree of Forgiveness on a joyous note.
Support the artist, buy the album and peep some video below:

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