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Monday, Dec. 12, 2011

John Prine

The Singing Mailman Delivers (Oh Boy)

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In 1970, Chicago letter carrier John Prine, still a year from his classic debut album, recorded his early songs for copyright purposes. The great Studs Terkel, who had just interviewed him on his radio show, allowed Prine to keep the reel-to-reel running. Revealed by the belated release of those tapes is that the songs were already fully mature, delivered with perhaps only a tad less confidence than on the upcoming album and lacking the steel guitars and other arrangements. Grounded in the '60s folk revival and inspired by Dylan, Prine's early songs were wonderful in their humanity and humor. Aside from an occasional topical reference (who under age 50 remembers Judge Hoffman?), his songs about lonely elders, young heartbreak, strip mining, illegal smiles and the trouble of returning war veterans ring true 40 years on.