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John Prine John Prine
Album: For Better Or Worse
Label: Oh Boy
Tracks: 15

The iconic American songwriter John Prine is about to turn 70, but he's not released a new studio album for some years now. But remember, back in 1999, he released In Spite Of Ourselves, an album of covers of classic country songs performed as duets with prominent female artists from country and roots music. That album has just been reissued on vinyl, while For Better, Or Worse arrives as a "more of the same formula" sequel. Lest that tag be accused of underselling the new record's delights, I need to assure you right away: that's not the case. This new collection was (except for one track) recorded in as-live mode (ie with both singers present), and sparkles with heartwarming immediacy. Interestingly, only two singers are common to both albums: Prine's wife Fiona joins her husband on Borney Bergantine's affectionate My Happiness, which is probably my favourite track here, while Iris Dement joins Mr. Prine on two tracks: album opener Who's Gonna Take Your Garbage Out? (which includes Johnny Tillotson among its writing credits!) and Mr. & Mrs. Used To Be (from the pen of Joe Deaton). Coincidentally, both songs had in the past been vehicles for the Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb pairing.

The rest of this new collection contains some real gems, including the authentic uptempo twang of Dim Lights, Thick Smoke & Loud, Loud Music (with Amanda Shires), Hank Williams' Cold, Cold Heart (in tandem with Miranda Lambert), the George Jones' Color Of The Blues (with Susan Tedeschi) and the sprightly western swing number I'm Telling You (with Hank's granddaughter Holly). Kathy Mattea appears twice with Prine - first on Scott Wiseman's Remember Me and second on Waylon Jennings' delicious waltzer Dreaming My Dreams - and these prove disc highlights. A little surprising maybe, but none the less effective, is Prine's version Falling In Love Again with Alison Krauss in tow. As you can see, many of the songs weren't originally duets, but they work just fine that way. No argument about the appeal and worth of this release, although I'm not convinced by the inclusion of the one solo Prine track, a (spoken) rendition of the Hank Williams (in his persona of Luke The Drifter) monologue Just Waitin', which - though nicely done - perhaps doesn't quite fit here, even though its theme of sharing company is close to the duet ethic.

David Kidman