Jun 222010

The amazing thing about this album is that it didn’t come sooner. An indie-Americana tribute to country/folk songwriter John Prine seems so inevitable. He may never have become a household name, but anyone who ever recorded a song with steel guitar or mandolin knows Prine. With bands like My Morning Jacket and the Avett Brothers spearheading an alt-country revival, Prine’s slyly sarcastic songs about love and life are due a second showing.

The artists who appear on Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine comprise a who’s-who of young folk/Americana bands, but these obvious admirers choose some very non-obvious tracks. The usual-suspect songs are largely missing in action. No “Paradise,” no “Sam Stone,” no “Illegal Smile.” The only no-duh selection is “Angel from Montgomery,” one of four songs from Prine’s self-titled debut. The rest span the gamut, dusting off tunes from the ‘80s and ‘90s alongside the canonical ‘70s material.

The songs’ relative obscurity may be this tribute’s saving grace. All the artists turn in respectable performances, but none venture far afield (Drive-By Truckers’ rocking “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” being the possible exception). Sure, Jim James sprinkles a little Omnichord into My Morning Jacket’s falsetto wash and Conor Oberst unleashes more energy than anyone familiar with his work as Bright Eyes would have thought possible, but neither performance would surprise anyone familiar with the originals. The set peaks five songs in, when the lazy drawl Lambchop’s Kurt Wagner brings to “Six O’Clock News” uncovers the absurdly morbid song as a dark comic gem.

Unearthing lesser-known songs like “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” and “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” is an accomplishment in and of itself, so the artists involved (Those Darlins and Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, respectively) can be forgiven for not reinventing the wheel. If this compilation exposes a few younger fans to an underappreciated songwriter, that’s more than enough.

Broken Hearts and Dirty Windows

01) Justin Vernon: “Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)” (originally on 1978’s Bruised Orange)
02) Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band: “Wedding Day in Funeralville” (originally on 1975’s Common Sense)
03) My Morning Jacket: “All the Best” (originally on 1991’s The Missing Years)
04) Josh Ritter: “Mexican Home” (originally on 1973’s Sweet Revenge)
05) Lambchop: “Six O’Clock News” (originally on 1971’s John Prine)
06) Justin Townes Earle: “Far From Me” (originally on 1971’s John Prine)
07) The Avett Brothers: “Spanish Pipedream” (originally on 1971’s John Prine)
08) Old Crow Medicine Show: “Angel From Montgomery” (originally on 1971’s John Prine)
09) Sara Watkins: “The Late John Garfield Blues” (originally on 1972’s Diamonds in the Rough)
10) Drive-By Truckers: “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” (originally on 1991’s The Missing Years)
11) Deer Tick: “Unwed Fathers” [ft. Liz Isenberg] (originally on 1984’s Aimless Love)
12) Those Darlins: “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian” (originally on 1986’s German Afternoons)

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