Never an artist known to push himself harder than necessary, 2005's Fair and Square was John Prine's first album in five years, and his first set dominated by new material since 1995's Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings (a live album, a set of covers and a collection of new recordings of older material helped fill the gap). Of course, Prine had a fair amount to occupy him during that decade between new albums, most notably a bout with cancer in 1999, and while by all accounts Prine beat the disease with proper treatment, the man on Fair and Square seems a good bit less scrappy and more contemplative than the guy who cut Prine's most memorable material. The lyric sheet for Fair and Square reads like classic John Prine, with plenty of sly regular-guy wit and pithy observations on the state of life ("Crazy as a Loon"), love ("She Is My Everything") and the world around us ("Some Humans Ain't Human" and "My Darlin' Hometown"), but the spare, simple production (by Prine and engineer Gary Paczosa) and the rueful tone of Prine's vocals suggest a man who is just a bit weary, though that seems to be not a matter of health as much as advancing maturity and the world around him (with "Some Humans Ain't Human" explicitly addressing the War in Iraq amidst other recent failures of compassion). It's significant that the disc's "bonus tracks" are easily the most upbeat -- the funny henpecked husband's tale of "Other Side Of Town" and "Safety Joe," a witty warning about the dangers of too much caution. There's plenty of fine music on Fair and Square (Jerry Douglas and Alison Krauss are among the stellar pickers on-board) and there still isn't anyone who writes quite like John Prine, but for the most part this album is an unusually spare and subdued effort from an artist who usually can't help but crack a smile; with any luck he'll be feeling a bit more hopeful next time out, though this is still great music for a quiet afternoon.
Performance CreditsJohn Prine Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Electric Guitar,Vocals,Finger Picking
Jerry Douglas Weissenborn
Alison Krauss Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Pat McLaughlin Acoustic Guitar,Mandolin,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals,Wurlitzer,Soloist,Vocal Harmony
Shawn Camp Electric Guitar
Dan Dugmore Steel Guitar
Paul Griffith Drums
Kenny Malone Percussion
Phil Parlapiano Accordion
David Jacques Bass Guitar
John Wilkes Booth Mandolin,Soloist
Mindy Smith Vocals,Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Dan Tyminski Vocals,Vocal Harmony
Technical CreditsJohn Prine Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Donnie Fritts Composer
Pat McLaughlin Composer
Keith Sykes Composer
Blaze Foley Composer
A.P. Carter Composer
Gary Paczosa Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Thomas Johnson Engineer
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Fair & Square based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
No need for a long review. I've been following John Prine for years, and this is the Best! Thank-you John!
Playing Time – 62:09 -- I was wondering what John Prine had been up to when this project arrived in my mailbox for review. I knew that the well-known singer/songwriter took up guitar at age 14, spent some childhood years in Kentucky (where his grandparents came from), delivered mail, did a stint in the service, sang in Chicago and New York, and was promoted in the 1970s by Kris Kristofferson. Since the 70s, his many albums have exhibited Dylanesque, rock, folk, country and even rockabilly flavors. I hadn’t heard much of Prine since his Grammy-nominated “Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings” album was released about a decade ago. “Fair & Square” was well worth the wait. All of the songs on it were written or co-written by Prine with the exception of Clay Pigeons (by Blaze Foley) and Bear Creek Blues (by A.P. Carter). Prine’s new spellbinding songs are now ready to “go out to meet the world.” Prine’s gutsy vocals are accompanied by such instruments as accordion, guitar, mandolin, organ, pedal steel, drums, harmonica and Weissenborn guitar. “Glory of True Love” celebrates the happiness and splendor achieved when one finds their soul mate. “Crazy as a Loon” is a ballad that takes us to the crazy towns of Hollywood, Nashville, and New York. Seems that his message is to simplify your life to escape from life’s zaniness. Mindy Smith does some nice harmonizing on “Long Monday.” Prine’s clever, perceptive wit shines through on “Some Humans Ain’t Human” as he sings about certain people who are “frozen pizzas, ice cubes with hair, a broken popsicle, a pigeon that’ll sh** on your hood, or some cowboy from Texas [who] starts his own war in Iraq.” Alison Krauss, Dan Tyminski, Jerry Douglas, and Shawn Camp make appearances in “My Darlin’ Hometown.” One of the most raucous and rollicking offerings is the A.P. Carter cover, “Bear Creek Blues.” Prine introduces “Other Side of Town” as “a song about a man who’s developed a special ability over a number of years who’s able to travel in his mind, especially when his wife goes on a little too long.” The one song that comes off like it’s not quite done is the closer, “Safety Joe.” May/June/July, 2005 will find John Prine performing in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Reno, Portland (5/20), Seattle (5/21), Ann Arbor, Chicago, Manchester, TN, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, and Albuquerque. Prine is a genuine craftsman whose lyrical poetry interprets events, describes human character and emotion, and provides sage advice. Prine’s keen eye sees meaning in even the most ordinary of life’s events, observances or happenstances. A recent “Literary Evening with John Prine and Ted Kooser” at the Library of Congress discussed how and why lyrics in popular songs often mirror people’s emotions and ideas of the world better than some contemporary poetry. Perhaps the answer partially lies in songsmith Prine’s creativeness, innovation, imagination, nonconformity, piquancy, and innate ability to captivate audiences. Look no further than his new album, “Fair & Square” for examples of all these elements. (Joe Ross, Roseburg, OR)
The very first time I heard this CD, a few songs stood out, adding themselves to a long list of my favorite John Prine songs. "Long Monday" and his cover version of "Clay Pigeons" are especially awesome. After playing this CD more times than I care to count, the other songs have "arrived" for me. Overall, this CD is filled with his twisted sense of humor and his remarkable song-writing ability to catch a certain human experience within a few lyrics set to music. Lastly, I offer a warning regarding your sanity. After several times of listening to these songs, they will reside in your head for extended periods, echoing along your neural pathways..."it's gonna be a loonngg Monday..."
This album is a must-have for John Prine fans. He is one of our preminent poet-songsmiths. This effort is so well crafted, it could be called a "Best of Prine".