Remembering John Prine: 7 essential albums

Seven albums you should check out very soon.
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“A Mocha Man in wigwam, sitting on a reservation
With a big black hole in the belly of his soul
Waiting on an explanation
While the white man sits on his fat can, and takes pictures of the Navajo
Every time he clicks his Kodak pics
He steals a little bit of soul"

The five years between Prine’s second Oh Boy album German Afternoons and The Missing Years had people wondering. The promise of the early ‘70s had seemed to dissipate. Nobody said the newer albums were bad – but they just didn’t seem as essential as they once did.  

The 14 tracks (plus one bonus) of The Missing Years changed all that. John was back, and he was writing and performing at a very high level. From the upbeat snark of the opening track, “Picture Show” to the wondrous story of “Jesus, the Missing Years,” John is exploring every lyrical theme and every musical device he had learned in the last twenty years.

There’s the lyrical wit of “Big Old Goofy World” recalling “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round” and the unbridled fun of “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” channeling “Fish and Whistle.” There’s Dylanesque ennui (“Everything is Cool”) and numbers that would be right at home at the Opry (“You Got Gold”). There’s New Orleans jazz (“I Want to be With You Always”) and there’s about the hardest John ever rocked (“Take a Look at My Heart”).

There are a few dips along the way, but even the weaker material is solid. It’s just when you’re on a really good John Prine album, you have to truly shine to stand out. Shine the way the simple seesaw of sarcasm and acceptance (“All the Best”) manages. Or the way “The Sins of Memphisto” invents an entire world through a few simple rhymes.

“Sally used to play with her hula hoops
Now she tells he problems to therapy groups
Uh huh"