My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: John Prine — ‘The Tree of Forgiveness’

John Prine is back with his back with his twenty-fourth album, but only his second since 2011, Released on the Oh Boy label (a label founded by Prine), this is his first album since 2005’s Fair & Square to consist of new songs written by Prine, albeit mostly co-writes.

In terms of chart success, The Tree of Forgiveness has been Prine’s most successful album reaching #5 on Billboard’s Hot 200 albums chart and #2 on Billboard’s Country Albums chart.

For those who haven’t listened to Prine in recent years, a battle with cancer in 1998 resulted in his voice gradually deepening and becoming more gravelly, lending his vocals a gravitas previously lacking.  A battle with lung cancer in 2013 resulted in Prine losing a lung and losing some of his vocal power in the process.

John Prine has never been about hit singles, and this album contains nothing likely to become a hit single. It does contain a bunch of really good songs that tell stories

The album opens with “Knockin’ On Your Screen Door”, which was co-written with Pat McLaughlin. This song is a ballad about being alone

I ain’t got nobody
Hangin’ round my doorstep
Ain’t got no loose change
Just a hangin’ round my jeans

If you see somebody
Would you send em’ over my way
I could use some help here
With a can of pork and beans

I once had a family
But they up and left me
With nothing but an 8-track
Another side of George Jones

The next song was co-written with Roger Cook and is a real gem. “I Have Met My Love Today” is about the joy and anticipation of finding love

True love will always have its way

There ain’t no doubt about it: true love is here to stay

 

Day-by-day our love will grow

Day-by-day our love will show

We’ll go on forever and I can truly say

I have met my love today

I have met my love today

“Crazy Bone” and “Summer’s End” are collaborations with McLaughlin. “Crazy Bone” is a jog-along ballad that attempts to explain (or justify) erratic behavior. If any song on this album had potential as a single, this is the one:

If you like your apples sweet

And your streets are not concrete

You’ll be in your bed by nine every night

Take your hand spanked corn fed gal

And your best friend’s four-eyed pal

To a treat right down the street

That’s dynamite

 

Let your conscience be your guide

If you put your foot inside

You wish you left your well enough alone

 

When you got hell to pay

Put the truth on layaway

And blame it on that old

Crazy Bone

“Summer’s End” is a gentle, but somewhat generic ballad about a love that has wandered away. Dan Auerbach joins McLaughlin and Prine as co-writer on “Caravan of Fools,” a somewhat dramatic but depressing ballad that expresses emotions we all have felt at one time or another:

The dark and distant drumming
The pounding of the hooves
The silence of everything that moves
Late at night you’ll see them
Decked out in shiny jewels
The coming of the
Caravan of Fools

Like the wings of a dove
The waiter’s white glove
Seems to shimmer by the light of the pool
Some dull blinding winter
When you can’t help but lose
You’re running with the
Caravan of Fools

“Lonesome Friends of Science” is a solo effort by Prine, both in terms of the songwriting and performance (it sounds like Prine accompanying himself on guitar with little else on the track until halfway through the track). I’m not sure that sardonic describes the song, but there are some interesting turns to the song

Those bastards in their white lab coats

Who experiment with mountain goats

Should leave the universe alone

It’s not their business, not their home

I go to sleep and it never rains

My dog predicts hurricanes

She can smell a storm a mile away

That’s all the news we have today

Prine collaborated with Keith Sykes on “No Ordinary Blue”, a song that that sounds like something Paul Simon might have written had he been something other than a New Yorker.

Last night
Turned on the TV
Looked out the window
Then pulled down the shade
And I came to the conclusion
My mind cannot be made

I hear a hear a lot of empty spaces
I see a big hole in you
I feel an outline that traces
An imaginary path back to you
This ain’t no ordinary blue

Auerbach, McLaughlin & Prine team up on “Boundless Love”, a song that can only be described as folk. I really like this song and its positive message,

If by chance I should find myself at risk
A-falling from this jagged cliff
I look below, and I look above
I’m surrounded by your boundless love

Surround me with your boundless love
Confound me with your boundless love
I was drowning in the sea, lost as I could be
When you found me with your boundless love
You don’t found me with your boundless love
You surround me with your boundless love

“God Only Knows” was co-written with Phil Spector. Since Spector currently is incarcerated, I suspect that this song was written some years ago. This song features singer-songwriter Jason Isbell on guitar and Amanda Shires on fiddle, with both of them singing backup

God only knows the price that you pay
For the ones you hurt along the way
And if I should betray myself today
Then God only knows the price I pay

God only knows
God only knows

God only knows the way that I feel
Is only a part of the way I feel
If I can’t reveal the way that I feel
Then God only knows the way I feel

God only knows
God only knows

The album closes with the upbeat “When I Get To Heaven”, a song Prine wrote by himself. The song is basically a narration with a sung chorus with a honky-tonk salon piano leading the way:

When I get to Heaven
I’m gonna shake God’s hand
Thank him for more blessings
Then one man can stand
Then I’m gonna get a guitar
And start a Rock and Roll band
Check into a swell hotel
Ain’t the ‘Afterlife’ grand!

Chorus:

And then I’m gonna get a cocktail
Vodka and Ginger Ale
Yeah, I’m gonna smoke a cigarette
That’s nine miles long
I’m gonna kiss that pretty girl
On the Tilt a Whirl
‘Cause this old man is going to town

I’ve never been a big John Prine fan except on his collaborative album with Mac Wiseman and the two duet albums with various female county stars because I did not like his voice. Recently I’ve gone back and revisited his catalog focusing on the lyrics and have gained a greater appreciation of his work and his talent.

While I would consider this to be essentially a folk album, I really liked it and would give it an A-

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