John Prine Fair & Square

We always knew John Prine’s heart was delicate, but, as one of America’s most cherished songwriters, Prine has always had the knack to make us chuckle at his latest heartbreak. On Fair & Square, his first solo studio record in ten years, not only do we get a fair share of heartbreak, foolish situations and rejection, but he has thrown out the heavy-handed radio-rock production that plagued much of Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings and taken over the production duties himself returning to more organic, and certainly delicate, performances of his material. Ample steel guitar, trebly electric leads and guest appearances by both Alison Krauss and Mindy Smith give the album a folky underground Nashville feel, and Prine’s meditations on getting out of America (and going fishing in Canada in "Crazy as a Loon”, and to his hideaway in Ireland on "My Darlin’ Hometown”) and war-mongering cowboy presidents ("Some Humans Ain’t Human”) find the songwriter as witty and edgy as ever. But with only two tracks that resemble anything other than a ballad tempo and a voice noticeably weak from a battle with cancer, Fair & Square has little of the ragged energy found on classic albums like Sweet Revenge. Prine is still the master of making songs out of one-liners ("I Hate it When That Happens to Me,” "Morning Train”), and with "Safety Joe” he has penned another spoken/sung epic to rival "Jesus the Missing Years” and "Lake Marie,” but a few less songs with the same tune as "Souvenirs” would be good next time around. (Oh Boy)