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CD Reviews: Review of Fair & Square by John Prine
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com John Prine: Fair & Square (Oh Boy 2005)

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After listening to even one of his albums, it’s easy to come to the conclusion that John Prine is the very definition of a guy you’d like to go have a beer with. Were it not for the sunglasses he sports on the back cover of his latest album, Fair & Square, you could surely see it in his eyes…but, failing that, he gladly provides a shit-eating grin to confirm your suspicions.

Less a singer than a narrator, Prine has spoken his way throughout his career, dating back to his self-titled debut, released on Atco back in the early days of the ‘70s. A few years ago, however, he had a bit of a scare.

As he told the magazine Paste recently, “I went through throat-cancer surgery in 1998. It was a big deal. It was life threatening. I took a 14- or 15- month break from the music business and had radiation on my throat and vocal chords.” As a result, Prine found that he had to drop the key of some of his old songs in order to continue performing them; by doing so, however, “they came out as something different than they’d been, almost something new. It’s weird, but I find that I’m enjoying them all over again. They’re like old friends who have changed, but who are still old friends.”

With Fair & Square, his 17th album, Prine has produced twelve new friends – fourteen, if you count the two so-called “bonus tracks” – many of whom stand up tall next to the other members of the songwriter’s catalog.

Ever the storyteller, Prine weaves the tale of an everyman in “Crazy As A Loon,” a tale which begins as follows:

“Back before I was a movie star
Straight off of the farm
I had a picture of another man’s wife
Tattooed on my arm
With a pack of Camel cigarettes
In the sleeve of my tee shirt
I was heading off to Hollywood
Just to have my feelings hurt”

Hollywood, of course, would make anyone crazy as a loon, and the narrator soon moves from there to Nashville…but after fame and fortune eludes him in his bid for country music stardom as well, it’s off to NYC to try his hand in business. The result? “I got hired Monday morning / Downsized that afternoon.” The moral of the story: the world can make you crazy, no matter where you are or what you do.

Prine is in a reflective mood throughout much of Fair & Square, as you’d expect from someone who’s battled cancer; that kind of thing will change anyone’s priorities. He sounds particularly thoughtful as he sings of the “Glory of True Love,” how “She Is My Everything,” and of “My Darlin’ Hometown.” Occasionally, though, he still manages to slip in the familiar Prine smirk, such as on “Safety Joe” and “Some Humans Ain’t Human,” using the latter to get off a quick shot at George Dubya:

“Have you ever noticed
When you’re feeling really good
There’s always a pigeon
That’ll come shit on your food
Or you’re feeling your freedom
And the world’s off your back
Some cowboy from Texas
Starts his own war in Iraq.”


One hates to throw around the label “American institution” too freely, but John Prine falls into the category with little effort. Now that he’s bounced back from cancer, here’s hoping he has more albums like Fair & Square up his sleeve. 

~Will Harris 


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