May 012020

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30. Lambchop – Six O’Clock News

John Prine had the ability to pull the beautiful and the tragic out of the mundane, often blending them into songs that are hard to describe as either uplifting or sad. “Six O’Clock News” is not so nuanced. It’s dark and depressing, even as Prine delivers it almost as a lullaby. Lambchop, driven by Kurt Wagner’s distinctive deep vocals, better captures the mood behind these lyrics. The guitar and piano here still have an uplifting feeling, but the swirling instrumentation in the background and Wagner’s lilting delivery make it clear all is not right in Jimmy’s world. – Mike Misch

29. Amos Lee – Speed of the Sound of Loneliness

On the surface, this is a pretty faithful cover. But by removing the jauntiness of the original, and stripping it back to the lyrical mood, Amos Lee ramps up the poignancy. Where Prine is a matter-of-fact observer of the situation, questioning the actions of the subject of the song, Lee offers a whole lot more empathy. Lee is the next generation down from Prine, bringing some R&B influences to blues up Prine’s country-folk. Lee doesn’t tend to do many covers, restricting himself to names in the league of Dylan, Fred Neil, and Neil Young. Prine slots appropriately alongside. – Seuras Og

28. Eric Noden – Yes, I Guess They Ought To Name A Drink After You

Even, notoriously, without a chorus, this song tells quite a story. Foregoing the fiddle-heavy intro and punctuating twang, Noden gives the tune a jazzy interpretation. Noden’s smokey vocals hold their own, but the the main event is the assertive piano solo. It is spunky yet full of finesse, transporting us from the original saloon setting to a smokey jazz club. – Sara Stoudt

27. Linda Thompson – Aimless Love

Outside her tumultuous marriage and musical partnership with her ex-husband Richard, Linda Thompson was no small player in her own right, arguably a singer elbowed only into a lesser recognition by another Thompson alumnus, his Fairport cohort Sandy Denny. This is an almost McGarrigle-esque take on “Aimless Love,” another of Prine’s observational masterclasses. I suspect this outtake was first recorded for Linda’s bitter riposte to Richard, the album One Clear Moment, given it is in conjunction with underlooked and underrated singer Betsy Cook. – Seuras Og

26. Bright Eyes – Crazy as a Loon

Conor Oberst, leader of Bright Eyes, has musical tastes that run from punk to country, and has often cited Prine as an influence. In March 2007, Bright Eyes led off a live set for the AOL Sessions with a cover of Prine’s “Crazy as a Loon,” an introspective song about a singer who tries to make it big in Hollywood, Nashville and New York, before ending up in the North Woods of Canada, reflecting on his lunacy. In an interview for NPR around that time, Oberst remarked that the song “was kind of of my theme song for a while… yeah, [Prine]’s one of the greats, I think.” The cover is similar to the original, maybe even more countrified, featuring both pedal steel and fiddle. In 2010, Oberst and his more roots-leaning project, The Mystic Valley Band, recorded a different Prine cover (“Wedding Day In Funeralville”) for a tribute album, and in 2018, in his native Nebraska, Oberst opened for Prine. Prine stated that he was “an early fan” of Oberst, so the admiration ran in both directions. – Jordan Becker

25. Crescent & Frost – If She Were You

Crescent & Frost contributed this version for a Steve Goodman tribute album, but the song was actually originally by John Prine. Prine’s version has a country-western sound with just a hint (if I’m not imagining it) of laid back Caribbean island music. Crescent & Frost’s tempo is slightly more upbeat, with a persistent guitar. However, the tone is more mournful here, while Prine is matter-of-fact about the situation. – Sara Stoudt

24. Bettye LaVette – Souvenirs

Saying that Bettye LaVette knows her way around a cover song is a bit like saying that Vincent van Gogh knew his way around a paintbrush. After all, she completely enveloped her entire presence in a way that would make Nina Simone blush on two top=quality covers albums with Child of the Seventies and Things Have Changed, her Dylan tribute. Given this pedigree, it comes as no surprise that she has jumped into the deep end, heart and soul, on her rendition of John Prine’s “Souvenirs,” a Bobby Braddock co-write from his 1984 album Aimless Love.

With her version, LaVette turns up the voltage on Prine’s original, more laid-back approach to the song. She digs in and goes deep down the well, evoking the voodoo spirit of the spawn of Tom Waits and Lou Rawls, leaving the earth scorched in her wake. When she growls the money line of the song, “I hate graveyards and old pawn shops because they always bring me tears, I just can’t forgive the way they robbed me of all my childhood souvenirs,” you really get the sense that she has been there, done that. – Walt Falconer

23. Matt Hammer – Somewhere Someone’s Falling in Love

I’m a sucker for harmonica, and Matt Hammer’s cover of “Somewhere Someone’s Falling in Love” proves no exception. It’s not gratuitous, but it makes a subtle contribution to this wholesome ballad. The original’s guitar has a lighter touch, accompanied by a soft bass that keeps the measured tempo. This version has a heavier guitar strum and more explicit tempo keeping, via a woodblock-type sound. – Sara Stoudt

22. Old Crow Medicine Show – Angel from Montgomery

This is Prine’s most-covered song, largely due to Bonnie Raitt making it a genuine hit. It’s a tough crowd to stand out in, but Old Crow Medicine Show are able to lean on great musicianship to make it happen. OCMS use many of the same instruments as the original, but everything feels turned up. The piano hits with more emphasis, the slide guitar stabs at just the right moments, and the harmonica swells in and out of the background. The vocal harmonies follow suit; both parts are actually very reminiscent of Prine’s voice, but in their combination they find their strength. Everything clicks on this performance, and the results speak for themselves. – Mike Misch

21. Pat Green & Cory Morrow – Paradise

On Pat Green and Cory Morrow’s critically acclaimed yet criminally ignored 2001 album Songs We Wish We’d Written, John Prine’s “Paradise” is right there in the song stable alongside the classics “Are You Sure Hank Done It That Way,” Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever,” and “Delia’s Gone,” and deservedly so. While the DNA of this version doesn’t stray too far from the original, it doesn’t need to. The mandolin and pedal steel are still front and center, giving this the timeless quality it deserves. For some reason, and the musical gods have not let me know the reason for it yet, the death of John Prine has hit me a bit harder than the other icons we have lost recently – Tom Petty, Prince, Lemmy, etc. And this particular song, along with this particular cover version, especially so. The loss can probably be expressed in four words: the gift is gone. – Walt Falconer

The list continues on Page 3.

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  7 Responses to “The Best John Prine Covers Ever”

Comments (7)
  1. Eddi Reader’s version of ‘Hello In There’ is really great, I think.

  2. Listened to all John prine songs luv them all

  3. Are you collecting John Prine covers from not so well known artists for a future post?

  4. That disappoints that Johnny Cash didn’t know John Prine. If you are gonna borrow someone’s art you really should know credit with authenticity. Also Phil King– obscure music man strikes again! There are some not prime time players in the first 3 installments/pages of this series. Cmon srsly there are no Taylor Swifts or Eddie Vedders here! I’m sure Youtube is full of unsigned folks covering Prine songs.

    • Hi I like to put together music collections (I make no money off of it share it with a few friends). I am working on a collection honoring John Prine, his buddy Steve Goodman, and Michael Smith. So I am researching covers too as part of this endeavor. I came across a clip of John being interviewed the other day, and he spoke about Johnny Cash’s cover of Sam Stone. Johnny had a conversation with John P., and indicated that he loved the song. But that he was troubled by the line “Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose,” and John P. responded politely that the line was really the core of the song. But John also said to the interviewer, “hey it was Johnny Cash,” suggesting that he was not going to push it with Johnny because Johnny was, well, Johnny Cash. If you listen to the cover, Johnny did change that line, and though I respect Johnny’s religious leanings, really I agree with John P. that the line about Jesus just demonstrates the hopelessness of Sam Stone’s state of mind and his entire being. The line is really kind of essential. So Johnny did have some interaction with John P. about the song, and likely about more than that, and it is somewhat unfortunate that Johnny incorrectly stated John’s last name at the end of the cover. Not defending Johnny Cash, but I think it was just an honest mistake.

      • Cash knew him. He shared once that he listened to Prine when he needed inspiration. It may have been a slip of the tongue. I’m sure Cash felt badly later.

  5. You missed out on Jeffrey Foucault. He recorded an entire (brilliant) album of all Prine covers called Shoot The Moon Right Between The Eyes.

    It’s a beauty… Highlights include the most heartbreaking Mexican Home… A stunning One Red Rose… And a superb That’s The Way That The World Goes Round.

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