A lot of new fans, driven to country music by Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and others lauded for upholding quality songwriting, learned in recent years about the ageless talents of John Prine. As artists normally filed away as Americana gained mainstream country traction, they found platforms to tell anyone who’d listen about one of the brilliant folk artists behind country music’s transformation in the ’70s from entertainment to art.
Along the way, Prine turned it all into a mutual admiration society, becoming young Nashville’s go-to tour mate or duet partner. For his first album of original material in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness, he enlisted his younger peers’ help, with Isbell, Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile making guest appearances. He also adopted many of his newer friends’ recording process, working with producer Dave Cobb at RCA Studio A.
The end result brings friends and fans 10 cuts of prime Prine. Sparse arrangements keep the singer’s lyrics and weathered voice at the forefront, making this both a worthy entry point for new listeners and a rewarding listen for die-hards.
Right out the gate, Prine adds his own quirky spin to two tried-and-true types of country songs. First comes the character-driven story told in “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door,” followed by the tender pop ballad “I Met My Love Today.” From there, surrealism and sensitivity continue to define the veteran songwriter’s two artistic sides.
On the sillier end of the spectrum sits a bizarre trip to the old folks’ home titled “Egg & Daughter Night, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone).” Once Prine starts scatting, it becomes clear that he basically wrote a really great Roger Miller song. Moments of levity drift back to Earth on the poetic “Summer’s End,” featuring Carlile on guest vocals, and the forlorn “Caravan of Fools.”
Prine closes out the album with two songs featuring Isbell and Shires. On the introspective “God Only Knows,” Prine shares the spotlight liberally with his two friends’ harmony vocals and renown instrumental talents. Then things get light-hearted again, with Prine and his supporting cast mapping out his afterlife itinerary with “When I Get to Heaven.”
In 1971, Prine won over the listening public with “Hello In There,” a touching look at the elderly’s day-to-day life, written and sung by an upstart talent. At age 71, he’s still penning touching stories about the downtrodden, with a little help from young Nashville.
The Tree of Forgiveness Track List
1. “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door”
2. “I Have Met My Love Today”
3. “Egg & Daughter Night, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)”
4. “Summer’s End”
5. “Caravan of Fools”
6. “Lonesome Friends of Science”
7. “No Ordinary Blue”
8. “Boundless Love”
9. “God Only Knows”
10. “When I Get To Heaven”