John Prine For Better, Or Worse
Published Sep 30, 2016Long before he became a lauded alt-country singer-songwriter, John Prine had a much humbler vocation: a mailman, thinking up would-be hit songs while navigating his monotonous route. And while he talked about handing out mail on a fascinating recent episode of interviewer/comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast, he's just as compelling while singing about taking out the trash.
That's right: Prine opens his new duets covers album For Better, Or Worse with the classic "Who's Gonna Take Your Garbage Out," originally performed by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb in 1969. Prine's rugged everyman vocals perfectly suit the sauntering, sly music and lyrics about a wife giving her cheating husband the boot, while he argues that no one will be there to take out the rubbish after he's left. Like all the songs on this new LP, Prine picks a prime songstress to accompany him on the mic, with long-beloved artist Iris DeMent more than holding her own against him, especially during the charming between-the-verses-banter: he quips "I'll take that garbage half way out. Miss me yet?" to which she quickly replies, "I'm trying!"
Prine chooses Holly Williams to cover a similarly charming song penned by her legendary grandfather Hank Williams, "I'm Telling You." Here, Williams ably plays the frustrated female co-star to his rascally protagonist, especially when the lyrics call on her to insist that he "change his ways" in time for an accompanying fiddle to squeal with equal sass.
There are also plenty of songs on this album that touch on the softer, more sentimental side of love. A clear standout is "Storms Never Last" (written by Jessi Colter and sung by her husband Waylon Jennings on his 1980 album Music Man). It boasts a breezy melancholy tone thanks to its gently subdued instrumentation, which lets Prine and accompanist Lee Ann Womack (famed for her 2000 hit "I Hope You Dance") stand out loud and strong from the mix. Even more moving is bluegrass star Alison Krauss's turn on "Falling in Love Again," as she describes the men that fly to her like moths to a flame, and how she's not to blame for them getting burned. She and Prine's vocals beautifully intertwine on the track, over purring pedal steel and guitar plucks.
It's a true joy to hear talented women juxtapose their obviously more gifted vocals with the rough-hewn Prine in dramatic, textured contrasts. On For Better, Or Worse, they help this old mailman deliver once again. (Oh Boy)