The Top 10 Greatest Ever Americana Artists: Number 6 – John Prine

Photo credit: Laura Fedele

It’s Friday and we’ve reached the halfway stage in our rundown of ‘The Top 10 Greatest Ever Americana Artists’. With the rundown not resuming until Monday we know that the AUK readership will be wishing away their weekend and in a complete about-face from convention, longing for the new week to be upon them. So how can we help you get through the rigours of Saturday and Sunday? Well how about we serve up an absolute treat on Friday? And we can do that as we reveal that the Number 6 position goes to the superb John Prine with 33 points. John topped two of our AUK writers’ personal lists and so I’ll leave the final words with them.

Paul Russell wrote: “The number one slot on my list could only go to one artist – the much respected and masterful John Prine. There’s not many musicians who can cite an early job as a mailman as the perfect grounding to becoming a songwriter. But John Prine was that musician – he worked as a mailman in Chicago and performed in local folk clubs in the evenings, crafting songs around people he’d “met on the job”. . Quickly his witty, playful yet sometimes mournful lyrics really shone, as did his musicianship.

With the help of critic Roger Ebert and Kris Kristofferson, they helped him secure a contract with Atlantic Records and so began a wonderfully rich and successful career. With three albums under his belt and success guaranteed, he turned his back on the established model of the recording industry and formed his own record label, Oh Boy Records, which survives to this day.

His subsequent albums were all so good, with ‘The Missing Years’; ‘Lost Dogs and Mixed Blessings’; and ‘Fair and Square’ being particularly memorable. I had the honour a few years back to see Prine live at The London Palladium and it was one of the most memorable gigs I’ve ever been to. I knew he was a consummate performer but I had no idea how easily he held the audience in the palm of his hands with his witty banter, funny and moving songs and a backing band to die for.

It was so sad to hear that he had passed away from Covid complications – but it’s so good knowing his amazing wife, Fiona Whelan, and her team at Oh Boy are continuing to promote and remember Prine’s fantastic talent.”

And Andrew Frolish wrote: “John Prine was one of the recipients of the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020 and that is, perhaps, a fitting way to celebrate his enormous talent and influence after decades of crafting songs that consistently got to the heart of the human condition.  From protest songs to social commentary, Prine wrote about important themes through personal tales and engrossing fictional narratives that were often infused with relatable humour and wry observations.  One of the best lyricists I’ve known, Prine also, simply, created fine songs, timeless tunes delivered in his wonderfully characterful voice.  Often sounding like he was in the room with you, almost speaking rather than singing, telling stories and sharing intimate details of life and love, Prine just made you care that little bit more.  Since his death in 2020, much has been said about Prine’s lyricism, wit and storytelling ability.  His talent for creating beautiful songs was a rare gift but, most importantly, those songs have an emotional resonance that has influenced so many artists.  The likes of Brandi Carlile, Sturgill Simpson and Jason Isbell, amongst respected contemporary artists, have cited Prine as an inspiration and, when I think of americana, I think of his brand of heartfelt, heartwarming country-folk.  One of my favourite albums of all time is ‘Souvenirs’ from 2000, which contains re-recordings of earlier, well-known songs and is a fine place to start for anyone still unfamiliar with Prine’s work.  I think his voice improved with time, age, experience and at this stage it was so warm and welcoming.  He joked himself that his voice improved after surgery in the 1990s.  Songs like ‘Souvenirs’, ‘Angel From Montgomery’, ‘Sam Stone’ and ‘Hello in There’ are masterful and deeply moving.  Explore further and enjoy songs like the half-spoken ‘Lake Marie’ on ‘Lost Dogs + Mixed Blessings’ and the flowing poetry of ‘Fish and Whistle’ from 1978’s ‘Bruised Orange’.  Absorb the entirety of his self-titled debut and ‘The Missing Years’, which won him a GRAMMY.  His final album, ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’, is the most stunning farewell.  In ‘Long Monday’ from ‘Fair & Square’, Prine sings: “You and me sittin’ in the back of my memory…We made love in every way love can be made // And we made time look like time could never fade…Gonna be a long Monday // Sittin’ all alone on a mountain by a river that has no end.”  It sums up a life spent living and loving in words that are simple and yet profound and, in such words, he captures us all.  It’s great, affecting americana.  The greatest.”

See you all next week for the final Top 5 run down.

About Clint West 318 Articles
From buying my first record aged 10 and attending my first gig at 14, music has been a lifelong obsession. A proud native of Suffolk, I have lived in and around Manchester for the best part of 30 years. My idea of a perfect day would be a new record arriving in the post in the morning, watching Ipswich Town win in the afternoon followed by a gig and a pint with my mates at night,
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