John Prine (from the album John Prine on Atlantic Records) - John Prine had never sat on a bale of hay in his entire life, at least up until he needed to take promotional pics for his self-titled, Atlantic Records debut in 1971. John and the bales were centered with a guitar nonchalantly leaning on the three bundles of hay stacked behind him. The image said County though his music was typical of the work of Folk musicians making fledgling steps into the singer/songwriter genre. The words and music on John Prine were the cornerstones for a career that has never veered far from John’s intuitive ability to describe life with understanding and empathy without diluting his characters missteps, gently cradling the mistakes by showing the humanity of the men and women stuck in their decisions. John Prine put humor into social commentary, allowing listeners to see the lives of others without judgment.
John was twenty-five years old and was living in Chicago, Illinois, working as a mailman and immersing himself into the city’s Folk music revival. He was discovered by Kris Kristofferson, who brought John along to open a show at NYC’s The Bitter End. Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler saw the show and signed John to the label. John Prine plays host to some of his most famous compositions, and includes tracks that have become American standards such as the peek into the lonely lies of senior citizens (“Hello in There”), and a closer look at how coal company greed tore up lives as much as it ravaged the earth (“Paradise”). A friend had suggested that John pen another track that looked into the lives of the elderly after hearing “Hello in There”. John Prine felt he had said everything he needed to in the song and instead of giving the characters age, he chose to make the main subject a younger woman who was growing older before her time. He saw his leading lady as daydreaming over a soaped-filled sink full of dishes. “Angel from Montgomery” has gone on to become John’s most famous tune, covered by a diverse group of artists including Bonnie Raitt, John Denver, the funk group Cameo, Tanya Tucker, Dave Matthews Band, Keller Williams, and Susan Tedeschi.
While some its songs have gone on to achieve long term fame, all of the tracks are peers on John Prine, each one a shining gem, the emotions curated by John’s pen and dispersed with the voice of a friend sharing experiences. John Prine was released four years before the ending of the Viet Nam War, and political climate plays on “Your Flag Decal Won't Get You into Heaven Anymore”. A look at the lives bruised by the Southeast Asia conflict gets marquee attention in “Sam Stone” as the track digs into the day-to-day life of a soldier returning from war with a massive heroin habit, his children singing a chorus of ‘there’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes’. The album opens with an “Illegal Smile” reflecting the us-against-them mentality of the late 60’s drug culture. Small town Saturday nights and personal challenges come alive in “Donald and Lydia” as “A Quiet Man” makes his way through a week’s worth of getting by while a Honky Tonk shuffle spins and twirls through “Flashback Blues”. John Prine has noted that the album track “Far from Me” is a favorite of his with the tune setting its stage for a summer night in a small café.