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Sat March 7, 2009 John Prine with special guest Iris DeMent at the Genessee Theatre in Waukegan, IL - Back up Musicians: Dave Jacques and Jason Wilber

By: Ted Cox

PREVIEW:: Prine brings his 'sack full of songs' to the Genesee Theater
   Read and comment on full review here
   Suburban music fans get a rare treat this weekend when Chicago's finest songwriter returns home to play a show at Waukegan's Genesee Theater.
   I am referring, of course, to John Prine, as if there were any doubt.
   Who else? Willie Dixon would have to be considered for his contributions to the blues. Curtis Mayfield, too, in the realm of soul. I could even make a case for boogie-woogie pianist Jimmy Yancey, although I'd label him more of a composer, and just to be contrary Liz Phair, although her career seems to have stultified along the way.
   Yet, even though Prine long ago relocated to Nashville, he is not only the most Chicago of songwriters, he's also simply the best the city has produced. As he closes in on 40 years of recorded music, his work remains determinedly ornery, inherently empathetic and unapologetically funny - all qualities Chicagoans prize in themselves - and if it's sometimes randy as a March hare, at other times it reflects a hard-earned wisdom that never grows weary with the world.
   And the tunes just keep on coming. Although still best known for the songs that announced his arrival on his eponymous debut album in 1971 - "Sam Stone," "Angel From Montgomery," "Hello in There" and "Illegal Smile" among them - Prine augmented his last album of original material, 2005's "Fair & Square," with an accompanying four-song extended-play release just last fall.
   His concert Saturday at the Genesee reunites him with one of his favorite colleagues and collaborators, Iris DeMent. She'll do an opening set of her own material, going back to her album masterpiece "My Life" of the mid-'90s, then join Prine toward the end of his set, no doubt drawing on the three excellent duets they performed on "In Spite of Ourselves," which he released 10 years ago.
   Allow me to say, I saw them perform together earlier this decade at Orchestra Hall in Chicago, in a concert with Lucinda Williams opening, and it's one of the finest nights of music I've ever seen. With his effortless ease and natural stage manner, Prine made even the vast symphony hall seem like his back porch, and that impression only figures to be enhanced at the smaller, more intimate Genesee.
   That's Prine's way. He's never made his work labored; he's always made it seem unforced. Born in suburban Maywood in 1946, he sandwiched a job as a letter carrier around a stint in the Army - luckily missing the Vietnam War stationed in West Germany - only to emerge in the Chicago folk revival of the late '60s and early '70s, when he was discovered along with Steve Goodman by Kris Kristofferson.
   Yet, not to put too fine a point on it, where Goodman was a folk singer, producing one timeless tune ("City of New Orleans") and many others that comically transplanted the folk idiom to an urban setting ("Lincoln Park Pirates"), Prine was and is an artist. He simply found that the folk, country and bluegrass he inherited from his parents, Kentucky transplants, gave him all the tools he needed to communicate his art.
   Like Chicago author Nelson Algren in "The Man With the Golden Arm," Prine never judges his characters, not even heroin addict Sam Stone, which sets him apart from singer-songwriters from Bob Dylan and Neil Young to Joni Mitchell and even Randy Newman (who's found a way out of it by making fun of his own judgmental ways over the years). While Prine can do the confessional in the singer-songwriter tradition, more often than not it's self-deprecating and humorous rather than self-lacerating and scabrous.
   That spirit of charity - notice how even the whimsical throwaway "Fish and Whistle" concerns forgiveness - extends to his commerce. Although Prine has always been highly esteemed, by critics and colleagues alike, he's never been wildly popular. Abandoning the major labels in the early '80s, when he moved to Nashville, he formed his own independent Oh Boy Records, which has since served as the home of his serio-comic heir apparent, Todd Snider, and now Kristofferson. The Rhino compilation "Great Days" summed up his career as of the early '90s, but since then he's added the fine "Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings," largely about the breakup of his second marriage, and the aforementioned "In Spite of Ourselves," in which he came back from a two-year bout with cancer to do an album of duets on country cheatin' songs with favorite female singers like DeMent, Williams, Emmylou Harris, Trisha Yearwood, Melba Montgomery, Patty Loveless and, last but certainly not least, his new wife, Fiona.
   The cancer lowered Prine's register and sort of scraped away the nasal Chicago delivery that once distinguished his take on country twang, but without diminishing his flair for effortless melodies, even as he resorts sometimes now to sing-speak. As he told No Depression magazine a few years ago: "My voice dropped as a result of the treatments, and it seemed friendlier to me than ever. It seemed like an extension of my conversational voice. ... Anyway, I had to change the key on all the songs because of my new voice, which turned out to be a real gift for me. The old songs became new to me again. ... To have that sack full of songs and to discover them again, I couldn't ask for anything better."
   In Prine's classic 1973 title tune, "Sweet Revenge," he finds himself getting kicked off Noah's Ark. "There was two of everything," he sings, "but one of me." To this day he is unlike anyone else in Chicago songwriting - or anywhere else, for that matter.

By: Ima Prinefan

Read the blog here
Then tonight my friend Bill and I went to see longtime Chicago-born singer-songwriter John Prine at the Genesee theatre in Waukegan. First of all, it's jarring to see the icons of one's youth having visibly aged, because of course, despite mirrors, i, at least see my inner self who is still quite young. So how did John Prine get to be an old guy? But an incredible musician, still, and more a knockout emotionally with his lyrics. The entire night touched and delighted me. Delighted me in that i had a list of favorite John Prine songs i wanted him to sing and he did all of them and even one I forgot that was a favorite (Muhlenberg County). Touching with the incredible pathos of his songs. His Vietnam war dirge, Sam Stone, is so emotionally wrenching for me (and I suspect for many of my contemporaries) that I really can hardly stand to listen to it. Ditto with the song he wrote about growing old (written in his 20s or 30s) "Hello in There." Eesh - I truly wanted to jump up and run to the bathroom or something. Sad! Poignant!


See John perform "Clay Pigeons" at the Genessee Theatre by John Prine on YouTube here

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