Review: John Prine "The Singing Mailman Delivers"
John Prine proves that the postman always does ring twice with his latest, The Singing Mailman Delivers
Take John Prine, put him in a room, give him a guitar, hook up a microphone and chances are he'll make a good record. With The Singing Mailman Delivers
, it's almost as if pre-fame Prine was transport back to the 1930s to record his classics in hopes that they may find their way into the Smithsonian Folkways recordings next to Woody Guthrie.
The tracks have that sort of old-mic, analog feel, but in reality, this is a collection of archive recordings from a November 1970, session at WFMT Studios in Chicago, which Prine is only now handing over to fans in this Bootleg Series
style two disc set.
Though in recent years, Prine's made it a habit of recycling quite a few of his old standards on "new" records, he is one of the few people around at liberty to do such a thing. He is after all, a man Bob Dylan lists as one of his favorite performers. So be prepared for the occasional sweet Déjà vu
, because this is Prine in his prime.
Though last year's prelude, Live and in Person
featured rougher, current versions of some of the same tracks included on this record, it's nice to hear Prine sing what will be folk standards, before they ever were. The first appearance on the album of "Hello in There" (that's right, there's a reprise) sounds like most tracks, in this collection, as if it is being played in an old abandoned boxcar on some lonesome railroad track. Later on finds the same with acoustic versions of "Blue Umbrella," "Paradise" and "Illegal Smile" (among others) which again finds its way onto the second disc for a yet again, acoustic live encore.
Still, the album proves that Prine is truly is a master of clever verse. With "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven," it's a wonder Prine didn't wind up a comedy writer. As an aside he even jokes, "I bet Merle Haggard's jealous." Lucky Merle didn't hear it back in 1790, because he might of kicked the then 23 year old's ass for that remark. This was recorded, after-all, before Prine ever even released his masterpiece, self-titled debut.
Like fellow legend Guy Clark recently did with Songs and Stories, Prine evidences the fact that his tales are as good as folk- lore and no matter how many times they're shared, they don't seem to get old. Though The Singing Mailman Delivers is a reference to Prine's former Bukowski style position at the USPS, prior to gaining music success, it could easily reference the fact that his lyrical delivery is par with that of a mailman handing over a well crafted letter to a long lost pen-pal. This collection turns out to be a great showcase of Prine's primal talents.
Prine's an artist who doesn't need bells and whistles, his prose is beautiful in its simplicity. In fact, he might just be folk music's answer to Ernest Hemingway. If that's the case then, play on, Papa Prine, play on.
John Prine's The Singing Mailman Delivers is now available on his label, Oh Boy Records.
An advanced stream of the album can be found at Paste Magazine.