Is there a singer/songwriter responsible for more sad and funny songs than John Prine? It's amazing how the Illinois-bred, Nashville-based contemporary folkie digs right into the heart of conflicting human emotions, with lighthearted, sweet ruminations ("Daddy's Little Pumpkin," "Come Back to Us Barbara Lewis Hare Krishna Beauregard," "Linda Goes to Mars") standing side-by-side with darkly tinged themes of loss, betrayal and isolation ("Sam Stone," "Lake Marie," "Six O'clock News").
Prine, who turns 62 next week, was a fixture on the Chicago folk-music scene in the '60s whose critical acclaim was met with mostly commercial indifference. With story songs too quirky and literate for mass consumption, he was dropped by Asylum Records following the relatively meager sales of 1980's Storm Windows. Yet Prine responded by co-founding Oh Boy Records with his longtime manager, Al Bunetta, and he's never looked back. Since 1984, Prine has released several brilliant albums—including 1991's Grammy-winningThe Missing Years and 1999's collection of male/female country duets, In Spite of Ourselves—while building Oh Boy into a small but respected label of Americana acts.
Now free to record whatever the heck he likes, Prine makes us laugh and cry with timeless works rich in complex characters and vivid imagery, including 2005's Fair & Square and his new, easygoing Standard Songs for Average People, which offers a country-leaning collaboration with bluegrass ace Mac Weisman. Prine's pacing and demeanor have always been, shall we say, leisurely. But since overcoming throat cancer in 1998, the laid-back Prine is grateful just to be here—and soak up more of this big old goofy world. Shall we join him?