Remembering John Prine: 7 essential albums

Seven albums you should check out very soon.
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John underwent major surgery in 1998 for cancer. They had to take a fair bit of his neck and there was the very real possibility that he would not speak, or sing, ever again.  Yet a year later, he came out with what would become one of his fans’ favorite albums.

He enlisted the support of nine different female vocalists to produce 16 tracks, most of which were covers of classic country love and break-up songs. (This was seven years before Tony Bennett got the same idea.) He brought in his vocal soulmate Iris DeMent to sing on four of them, and right from their opening “(We’re Not) the Jet Set,” we are in for a treat.

Whether it’s the brassy twang of Melba Montgomery (on two tracks, with the stand-out being “Milwaukee Here I Come”) to the classic country of Patty Loveless (“Back Street Affair”), there is not a false note here. He sings a beautiful “Til a Tear Becomes a Rose” with his third wife, Fiona Prine, and a lovely “I Know One” with another of his frequent collaborators, Emmylou Harris.

My favorites are the two songs he does with Irish singer Delores Keane (especially the takedown of small-town gossip “In a Town This Size”) and of course, all the tracks with Iris. John’s one original composition, which Iris says she had to sing with him because no one else would, is the title track. It is one of the best love songs there is. Among the many tributes recorded by various celebs in the immediate aftermath of his death was a very entertaining version of this by Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick.

“In spite of ourselves, we’llend up sittin’ on a rainbow
Against all odds, honey we’re the big door prize
We’re gonna spite our noses right off of our faces
There won’t be nothing but big old hearts dancing in our eyes"