The Drudge Report - Country
John Prine is well-known for his great songwriting, classics like "Sam Stone," "Hello In There," "Unwed Fathers" and "Angel From Montgomery," but on his new album, "In Spite of Ourselves," he concentrates on covering material from a time-honored country music genre, cheating songs. "It was an idea that I had for about 15 years," said Prine, "singing a bunch of cheating songs with girl singers. I'd mention it every once in a while, and (musical director) Jim Rooney was the guy who said 'That's a great idea, let's sit down and make a list.' That's all it took, was sitting down and making a list." Prine says, "I made a list of about 40 girls because I figured I'd start calling people and they'd say 'Good luck, John, but I'm gonna be in China.' I was prepared to be turned down left and right, it's like inviting someone to the prom or something, but the first eight or nine I called said 'Let's do it."' The project took shape quickly. In the space of a week Prine recorded eight tracks including a medley of "Wedding Bells" and "Let's Turn Back the Years" with Lucinda Williams, "So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)" with Connie Smith, "We Must Have Been Out of Our Minds" with Melba Montgomery and several songs with Iris DeMent, including the great album-opener, "(We're Not) The Jet Set." That was two years ago. Prine was forced to put the project on hold when he was diagnosed with cancer. "I hit the road that November and when I came off the road I had this lump I could only feel when I was shaving and it would go away and then come back. It was bugging me so I decided to have it removed and when they did the biopsy they found out I had cancer. I shut down everything and me and my wife said 'All we've got to do is find the right doctor and take care of this."' "We went from doctor to doctor and they were more like used car salesmen than doctors," Prine laughed. "None of them had the same remedy. They all had a new thing or a different thing. Then I got a phone call out of the blue from Knox Phillips, Sam Phillips' son. Knox and I worked on a record project back in the '70s and he had gone through the same thing that I had and he heard through the grapevine that I was going around talking to cancer doctors. So he told me to drop everything and go to this place in Texas." Prine says, "At the time I had kind of settled on a doctor in Memphis. Knox is kind of an abrasive personality and I thought he was trying to undermine my confidence in my doctor so I was kind of pissed at him. But I couldn't get through his hard head and he puts Sam on the phone. Sam sounds like Moses on the phone. 'John... Prine...' he says. He takes a lot of pauses when he talks. 'Now... well... we'll talk about this, won't we?' It's like talking to your father. He keeps me on the phone for an hour. Finally Sam says 'John Prine, if you don't do this I'm coming to Nashville and I'm gonna kick your ass every inch of the way down there." "So I booked the flight and went down there and it was almost like they had my name written on the wall. They had all the answers. And it was all because of this phone call from Sam Phillips. Really amazing. Since that day I had no worries whatsoever." A year and a half after he started the project, Prine resumed work on "In Spite of Ourselves." "We went over to Ireland and did a couple of songs with Dolores Keane, then we came back here and recorded with Emmylou Harris and Trisha Yearwood. Then I did the track with my wife, Fiona." Wrapping up the project by singing with his wife brought a personal touch to the record that underscored the new lease on life that recovering from cancer brought Prine. "It changed the way I looked at a lot of things," said Prine. "Everything's the same, but better. Brighter. I already had things really good, I had a couple of babies, a great wife. I had a real great home life and I was appreciating that before I got sick but now it's magnified. I wouldn't wish it on anybody but when you get to the other side of it it's a good glass to look at the world through."
John Prine: In Spite of Ourselves (Oh Boy)
4 stars (pub. date: September 13, 1999, The Tennessean)
By Jay Orr staff, The Tennessean
Singer-songwriter John Prine picked a bunch of his favorite cheatin' songs, called his favorite female country and folk singers and enlisted Jim Rooney (Nanci Griffith, Hal Ketchum) as his co-producer to make this delightful, 16-track collection. The title track is a patented Prine original, full of naughty wit and romantic irreverence, penned for Billy Bob Thornton's upcoming movie, Daddy and Them. The last track, Tex Ritter's Dear John (I Sent Your Saddle Home), is the logical last stop in the battle of the sexes. Elsewhere, Prine's craggy, soulful voice blends easily with Irish singer Dolores Keane on the Moe Bandy chestnut It's a Cheating Situation, with Patty Loveless on Webb Pierce's Backstreet Affair, with Emmylou Harris on the Jim Reeves tune I Know One (written by Jack Clement), with Connie Smith on Don Everly's So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad), with Iris DeMent on the Charley Pride/Jimmy Dickens tune We Could and with Melba Montgomery on the George Jones/Brenda Carter duet, Milwaukee, Here I Come. In every case, the pairing of singers and song succeeds. For sympathetic accompaniment, Prine and Rooney enlist Prine's road band, supplemented by strong players such as steel guitarists Buddy Emmons, Dan Dugmore and Al Perkins. The interplay with voices of steel guitars, Dobros and fiddles recalls earlier, simpler musical values, a relief from the booming and overamped guitars that can obscure the beauty of a good song. A simple premise, the duet album holds unexpected riches. Prine's love of traditional country and the interaction between voices with character make repeat listenings mandatory.
John Prine: He just loves the ladies
By Brad Schmitt / Tennessean Staff Writer
John Prine's upcoming album is a collection of classic country songs -- done as duets with some of Nashville's hottest female vocalists, country and otherwise. John, for instance, does a medley of Hank Williams Sr. tunes, Wedding Bells and Let's Turn Back the Years, with Lucinda Williams. He also performs with Trisha Yearwood on Jim Reeves' When Two Worlds Collide and with Patty Loveless on Webb Pierce's 1952 hit Back Street Affair. John also sings with Emmylou Harris on Reeves' and Charley Pride's hit I Know One. Connie Smith joins Prine for the Everly Brothers' So Sad (to Watch Good Love Go Bad) and Carl Smith's Loose Talk from 1955. John said of this project, In Spite of Ourselves, due in stores Sept. 10: "I'll tell ya, I like singing with girls. It kinda takes the edge off my voice." Add margaritas and shake well . John Prine's upcoming collection of country classics, done as duets with famous Nashville vocalists, includes one with a relative newcomer -- his wife. Indeed, Fiona Prine is his duet partner for 'Til a Tear Becomes a Rose, also done by -- among others -- Keith Whitley and Lorrie Morgan. "I had to trick her into doing it," John says of the pairing with his Irish spouse. "The only time she ever sings is like 3 o'clock in the morning when I make her sing those old Irish songs. She used to sing under her breath in the house, and the first time I heard her I couldn't figure out where that amazing voice was coming from. "I knew I had to have her on this record. So one weekend, I broke it to her with a couple of pitchers of margaritas and my acoustic guitar."
By David Connor The California Aggie (U. California-Davis)
DAVIS, Calif. -- John Prine sings with an unabashed country voice. Never tormented and always brutally honest, his tone is often nasal and tart. Throughout In Spite of Ourselves, Prine joins some of his musical contemporaries to sing 16 classic country and western songs, in spite of his rash method. The CD opens with a mockable duet with Iris DeMent on "The Jet Set," where the two revel in the beauty of local color. Prine welcomes Lucinda Williams on Hanks Williams' "Let's Turn Back The Years," and joins Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless, among others. Trisha Yearwood lends her magnificent voice to "When Two Worlds Collide" to make the album's best collaboration. Unfortunately, the style which Prine espouses is a fading honky-tonk relic of what some call the good ol' days and some call good riddance. Prine takes country twang and spikes the punch; before long, the wavering violins actually soothe to overcome the oddity of this aging musical style.
John Prine, "In Spite of Ourselves," Oh Boy. By ROBERT HILBURN
Prine is a magnificent songwriter but a limited singer. Unfortunately, it's the latter role he occupies on this offbeat outing (due in stores Tuesday). The idea is intriguing--Prine teams with some interesting duet partners, from Iris DeMent to Emmylou Harris to Melba Montgomery, to record some classic country tales about troubled relationships, including such lively numbers as "(We're Not) the Jet Set" and "Loose Talk." Yet little in this sweet but minor collection, which also features one goofy Prine composition, quite matches the charm of the original recordings.
John Prine ``In Spite of Ourselves'' Oh Boy
Rating: ** Is there anything more frustrating than hearing great songwriters do cover material? For the listener, I mean. For musicians, it's undoubtedly a very rewarding way to pay homage to their heroes, resurrect favorite songs and/or work with people they respect and yadda yadda yadda . . . But an entire album's worth of covers? That's what we get from Prine on this ``collection of meetin', cheatin' and retreatin' songs,'' for which he duets with the likes of Trisha Yearwood, Iris Dement, Lucinda Williams, Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless. Prine recovered from throat cancer last year, so maybe this is his way of kicking back and having some fun. Fair enough. But hearing that wise voice do well-known country songs by George Jones, Hank Williams, Don Everly and Roger Miller is like hearing your favorite author do a reading from Reader's Digest. You can't help but wonder, what's really going on in his heart/head? What are his simple pleasures and fears these days? Doesn't he feel compelled to write about the wild, wild world we're living in? One can only hope: Along with Kane's little-known ``In a Town This Size,'' the best song on the record is the title track, written by Prine, one of our greatest natural resources. Amidst all the other tales, it is an emphatic reminder of exactly how much we need his thoughts, not just his voice. -- Jim Walsh
By Deborah Benjamin Oklahoma Daily U. Oklahoma
NORMAN, Okla. -- Before listening to John Prine's new release, In Spite of Ourselves, you better check your violin at the door, because only fiddles are allowed on this album. After a five year hiatus, Prine teams up with three generations of country divas in an album of duets, which pay tribute to classic country music songs of love, jealousy, heartache and infidelity. Prine's duet partners include Emmylou Harris, Connie Smith, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, Iris DeMent and Lucinda Williams. The album begins with "(We're Not) The Jet Set," a song of love and devotion, which proves that money can't buy love. "Our Bach and Tchaikovsky/Is Haggard and Husky/No, we're not the jet set/We're the old Chevro-let set/But ain't we got love." But in typical country music fashion, the happiness doesn't last for long. The album progressively enters into a fit of melancholy, so that by the final track, the listener is left with the lyrically heart-wrenching song "Dear John (I Sent Your Saddle Home)." One of the most humorous tracks off the album is "Let's Invite Them Over," a love-sick tale--or perhaps a sick tale--that could easily make Jerry Springer blush. "You're lonesome to see him/And you long to see her too/ We're not in love with each other/We're in love with our best friends/So let's invite them over again." Chock full of steel guitars, fiddles and "backwoodsy" vocals, In Spite of Ourselves dishes out a stereotypical country sound with stereotypical vocals of infidelity and heartache. However, these musical stereotypes reveal the beauty of country music, which rests in its ironic layering of upbeat music upon lyrical pathos. Prine's album is solid, particularly since the songs he covers are by musicians like Don Everly and Hank Williams. Not only will these selections appeal to country enthusiasts, but also to anyone interested in tracing the history of rock'n'roll. Don Everly's soft vocals and intricate melodies have influenced musical artists such as the Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys, the Byrds and the Eagles. As one of rock's forebears, Hank Williams provided inspiration to a young Bill Haley, who with his Comets, started the rock'n'roll revolution. If you're still not sure about this album, you can wait to hear the title track (an original song by Prine) on Billy Bob Thorton's upcoming film Daddy and Them. In Spite of Ourselves is a rich collection of country classics, that admittedly will take the non-country music listener some time to adapt to. But even if you think you don't like country music, John Prine's new release might just surprise you.
Old-Fashioned Honky-Tonk Tales
John Prine Warms Up Under the Covers With an Album of Duets
By Mike Joyce
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 22, 1999; Page C05
"In Spite of Ourselves," the new album by John Prine, is proof positive that you can still make an album full of old-fashioned, unpolished country music duets. Of course, it helps if you happen to run your own record label. Prine does, and so he's free to indulge himself in this weathered collection of classic and obscure country tunes, singing alongside such Nashville veterans as Connie Smith and Melba Montgomery and such relative newcomers as Patty Loveless and Trisha Yearwood. Iris DeMent, Emmylou Harris and Irish vocalist Dolores Keane are also among Prine's duet partners on "In Spite of Ourselves" (Oh Boy!), and though he's certainly no one's idea of a perfect harmony mate, his parched baritone and backwoods delivery are responsible for much of the album's unvarnished charm. The songs, though, are what really make this album special and surprisingly affecting. Prine composed only one tune--the album's terrific title track, a lovers' slugfest with a happy ending--but several songs here mirror his perspective on modern life and love--or, as is more often the case, love gone bad or sad. There are honky-tonk tales of infidelity (the Moe Bandy hit "It's a Cheatin' Situation" and the Webb Pierce gem "Back Street Affair"), along with twangy remembrances of rural romance (the George Jones and Tammy Wynette classic "(We're Not) The Jet Set)," small-town gossips (the Carl Smith song "Loose Talk") and big-city dreams ("Milwaukee Here I Come"). While some of these songs have been staples of Prine's concerts, most are just tunes that he always wanted to record. That he got a chance to do so in this uncluttered setting, with the likes of Smith, Montgomery, Harris and DeMent, make the results all the more enjoyable and refreshing.
CD REVIEW: John Prine's 'In Spite of Ourselves'
Click on our sponsors! Updated 12:00 PM ET September 28, 1999
By Anna Baker Daily Texan U. Texas-Austin
AUSTIN, Texas -- In the long, long list of popular country performers, you're not
likely to find John Prine's name among household favorites. At least that's been the case
up until now. The release of In Spite of Ourselves should make Prine's name just as common
as Garth, Jerry Jeff or even Willie.
The Illnois-native has been in the music industry for three decades, and has the resume to prove it. Among the stack of albums in his career is the Grammy-winning The Missing Years. It's perhaps the success of Years that Prine was able to attract the country divas appearing with him on In Spite of Ourselves: Trisha Yearwood, Iris DeMent and Patty Loveless just to name a few.
Easily one of the best pure-country tunes on the album, "(We're Not) The Jet Set" blends country mainstay Iris DeMent's soft, crooning voice with Prine's. With lots of twang and back-woods inflection, the pair croons out a love song that naturally calls to mind the old Sonny & Cher tune "I Got You Babe."
Prine's ability to bend his voice into an instrument itself is part of his genius. Although he can sound Bob Dylan-ish, Prine is perhaps the one man who can pull this off without it being an insult to Dylan. Other songs, like "Back Street Affair," the duet with Patty Loveless, prove Prine's trained vocal chords leave little wanting. And, like always, Loveless sings straight from the heart.
Lucinda Williams, fresh from her acclaimed Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, also makes an appearance. The tear-jerker "Wedding Bells/Let's Turn Back The Years" follows the traditional outline for a sad country song: "I got the invitation that you sent me, You wanted me to see you change your name." The lover left, probably followed by the dog and the truck, but the song still moves listeners to think of all those past relationships that "just didn't work out."
In Spite isn't Prine's first shot out of the gate working with such music legends. In previous years, Bruce Springsteen and John Mellencamp have jockeyed for a shot to work with Prine. Perhaps it's because the three have held close their roots: the Boss' love for Jersey, Mellencamp's affection for the Midwest and Prine's ties to rural life.
Even for those who don't know how to two-step or enjoy the metallic sound of a banjo, In Spite of Ourselves is a collection of incredible vocal talent from Prine and his guests. Toe-tappin' is a guarantee, and if you can listen to the whole thing without thinking of a beat-up pickup truck flying down a dusty back road, then you've never been to Texas.
Oh Boy Records
Home of John Prine