By Gail Reynolds, Rock At Night Columnist
Album Review:John Prine’s The Tree of Forgiveness-Release date April 13, 2018–Oh Boy Records
With the release of The Tree of Forgiveness, John Prine made his fans ecstatic for so many reasons. Not only is this his first album of original material in over ten years, it proves worth the wait. Unlike so many legendary singer songwriters who lose their creative chops later in their careers, he still makes musical magic as reflected by this album’s # 5 rank on the Billboard top 200 chart in its first week and his three GRAMMY nominations: Best Americana Album, Best American Roots Song for “Summers End” and Best American Roots Song for “Knocking On Your Screen Door.”
Not one of the ten songs on the The Tree of Forgiveness is a derivative re-tooling of past successes; yet, the unmistakable Prine style is evident. One constant is his humanity, delivered sometimes with wry humor and other times with poignancy.
His insight and sensitivity was astounding for a man just in his twenties when he identified with “an old woman named after my mother” and the isolation of old age with “Hello In There.” Now The Tree of Forgiveness reflects on vulnerability and mortality more personally. A survivor of two cancers that ravaged his throat, he utilizes his rasp like a new-found instrument. “When I Get to Heaven” rejoices in the prospect of indulging in the old vices.
Gonna have a cocktail
Vodka and ginger ale
Gonna smoke a cigarette that’s nine miles long.
He also pledges
As God is my witness
I’m getting back into show business
And open a night club called The Tree of Forgiveness
And forgive everybody ever done me any harm Well, I might even invite a few choice critics
Those syph’litic parasitics
Buy ’em a pint and smother ’em with my charm.
Yet, in the same song he looks forward to seeing his extended family he so misses, “because that’s where all the love starts.”
The darkest cut– in more than one sense!– on the The Tree of Forgiveness is “Caravan of Fools” describing in lugubrious minor tones “The dark and distant drumming / The pounding of the hooves / The silence of everything that moves.”
For the most part, his empathy is intact even extending to the humiliation Pluto suffered as a demoted planet.
Poor old planet Pluto now
He never stood a chance no how
When he got uninvited to / The interplanetary dance
Once a mighty planet there / Now just an ordinary star
Hangin’ out in Hollywood / In some ol’ funky sushi bar.
One of the times I saw him in the ‘90s, around the release of Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings, the woman behind me exuberantly shouted out “You are a gifted artist!” That sums it up. And he remains so, which is why I hope he earns several GRAMMY awards this Sunday, not for longevity or overall achievement but for specifically creating The Tree of Forgiveness, his latest gem.
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