John Prine had a lot to live up to on his newest album, The Tree of Forgiveness, which was released this past Friday. With contemporaries such as Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash, Prine is expected to write the kind of songs that stir up a range of emotions within his audience – don’t worry though, he most certainly delivered. This is his most introspective album to date, and at the age of 71, Prine gives listeners a unique glimpse into his often humorous, but yet thoughtful worldview that he has developed after many successful years of writing.
If you’re a fan of his, you’ve probably already heard the songs “Knockin’ on Your Screen Door” and “Summer’s End”, as they were sold as singles before the album’s official release date. These choices were appropriate, as they were the best songs on the record; both songs cover themes of loneliness and creating relationships out of difficult circumstances in a way that isn’t overdone at all. On his NPR Tiny Desk Concert, Prine humbly remarked that the latter “Is a pretty song, but it might drive you to tears”, and he’s not kidding around either. I hope that you haven’t lost a grandmother or your pet cat recently, because if you have, you’re probably in for a rough ride. However, there are still several hidden gems within this album such as “Caravan of Fools”, which seems to take subtle stabs at the inanity of the world around us in a way that only John Prine could. He also quipped after playing this song in the aforementioned concert that “any likeness to the current administration is purely accidental.” Personally, my favorite song on this record is “God Only Knows”, a spiritually introspective song that features acclaimed artists Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, who are leading the way in the genre of Americana music right now. Really, any song that Isbell touches with his slide playing is bound to be special, and paired with the lyrics of Prine, this track is one that can’t help but be great.
I truly enjoyed this record, and I think that if you’re reading this article, you probably will too. John Prine is a national treasure, and it would be nearly unthinkable to say anything bad about him. This album is probably not on the same level of eminence that his self-titled debut album is, but then again, it would be pretty unfair to expect so.
It’s clear that Prine is aging with grace, and that his humor and wit are growing funnier and more clever as the years pass. He has the unique ability to make a listener laugh and cry at the same time, and with his writing, he can probably do so in the span of a single verse. While some aging artists are living relics of the past who are appreciated for a past hit, Prine is continuing to release material that impacts listeners of all ages, and is on a creative level that surpasses younger artists.
If you haven’t yet listened to The Tree of Forgiveness, you should do yourself a favor, and try it. For every second that you spend listening to Prine, you can feel yourself becoming the kind of person that you want to be.