Saturday, March 13, 2021

CD Odyssey Disc 1457: John Prine

Another day in the ole pandemic. I have a feeling the boardgame is considerably more fun than the actual experience, but that would be a low bar to clear at this point.

Disc 1457 is…. Bruised Orange

Artist: John Prine

Year of Release: 1978

What’s up with the Cover?  “Where did you get that amazing haircut!?!” said absolutely no one who ran into John Prine that week.

I would be remiss not to also point out that this is a Giant Head cover, long a point of interest here at A Creative Maelstrom.

How I Came To Know It: I listened to a whole bunch of John Prine when I first got into him maybe 10 years ago and bought most of my CDs within a few months of each other. Not “Bruised Orange,” though. There was a used copy at a local record store for most of those ten years, but it sells for $39, and I always felt the price was kind of steep. The fact that they’ve never marked it down tells me they think otherwise. Fair do’s.

However, I am dogged when in pursuit of an album so everywhere I went I would diligently go the John Prine section of the local record store and take a quick look for it. I did this for years until finally, a couple months ago, there it was sitting pretty-as-you-please in another local record store, used, for $25. With the price point more to my liking I snatched it up and raced for the till.

Clever readers will note the cover “Compact Disc Available from Oh Boy Records.” I checked into this and to my chagrin, it is true. $11.99 US, plus S&H. D’oh!

How It Stacks Up: I have six John Prine albums (and have parted with a seventh). I feel like the top three of those are all pretty interchangeable, and I shift around a lot picking my favourite. Today, this one wins first place, but really you should be getting #1-3 for the full John Prine Experience. This being (at last) my final John Prine review, here’s the full accounting:

  1. Bruised Orange: 4 stars (reviewed right here)
  2. Sweet Revenge: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1311)
  3. Self-Titled: 4 stars (reviewed at Disc 1444)
  4. Aimless Love: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1169)
  5. Diamonds in the Rough: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1434)
  6. Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings: 3 stars (reviewed at Disc 1042)
  7. The Missing Years: 2 stars (reviewed at Disc 1026 and given away)

Prine had a lot more albums of course (18 total) and I’ve given every one of them a chance, but if you don’t see it on the list above, I didn’t like it enough to own it.

Ratings: 4 stars

John Prine is a funny guy, and a lot of his songs have a lot of wry and self-deprecating humour. “Bruised Orange” has its moments on this front as well, but as Prine albums go, it is more sad and world weary than most. The result may not cause you to laugh as much, but it does make for a solid selection of songs.

As ever, Prine’s vocals will never win a singing competition. He holds a tune, but his voice quavers with strain if pushed outside of about an octave and a half overall. I get this, having a pretty limited range myself, so no judgment. It doesn’t matter, because Prine is a brilliant songwriter and lyricist. Sure you could go looking for covers by better singers, (and I recommend you do), but pure, unvarnished Prine is well worth your time.

The first track, “Fish and Whistle”, gets us started in a relatively upbeat way. It features a lot of experiences Prine didn’t enjoy (being in the army, washing a parking lot) but he shrugs it off with a jaunty chorus of:

“Father forgive us
For what we must do
You forgive us
We'll forgive you
We'll forgive each other
Till we both turn blue
Then we'll whistle and go fishing
In heaven.”

I like the egalitarian nature of the relationship with God expressed here. You forgive us but also, we’ll forgive you. For Prine, forgiveness is a two-way street, even with the almighty.

It isn’t long before that aforementioned sadness starts cropping up, though. “If You Don’t Want My Love” a slow and somber number that will break your heart. Like “Fish and Whistle” it’s a song about reciprocity of love, only here that love is absent. Both tune and lyrics it will stop you in your tracks and make your eyes glisten.

Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” is another heavy song, as Prine further explores how the world can beat you down through the years. The tune here feels like it is constantly dropping down, and the end of every stanza falls in resignation. However, even here Prine’s innate optimism shines through with some good advice:

“You can gaze out the window, get mad and get madder
Throw your hands in the air, say, "What does it matter?"
But it don't do no good to get angry
So help me, I know”

There are a couple moments on the album where Prine descends to his “jovial uncle” personality notably “Aw Heck” which is filled with awkward metaphors redeemed in easy and natural rhymes. It doesn’t work for me, but it is one of the few songs on the record that doesn’t.

The record’s final track, “The Hobo Song” has Prine yearning for a simpler time, where hobos road the rails and life felt more free. The tune has a sad mosey, and while Prine mythologizes the experience, he ends sending a letter to his lover, after realizing he has been gone too long, and needs to find his way home again. It is just the right mixture of sadness and wisdom that makes “Bruised Orange” such a great record, and well worth my persistent efforts to add it to my collection. You know, even though I could have ordered it from the label years ago.

Best tracks: Fish and Whistle, If You Don’t Want My Love, That’s The Way That The World Goes ‘Round, Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow), The Hobo Song

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