John Prine, “Tree of Forgiveness” (Oh Boy Records)
John Prine thinks about things. And when John Prine thinks about things, people want to hear what he has to say.
That’s why Prine will never join some past-their-prime legends who flounder as they try to recapture old magic. The way his brain works is just too interesting.
On “Tree of Forgiveness,” the 71-year-old folk singer’s first album of original material in 13 years, Prine rekindles the straight-ahead, earthbound spirit that made him a songwriting icon in the first place.
With the gut-level honesty that dazzled Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, among others, Prine shows once again why he belongs up there with them on the legend shelf. Contributions from Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, producer Dave Cobb and other stars further testify to the respect Prine still commands.
Sure, some of the things he contemplates here are heavy. Depression, for example, on “No Ordinary Blue.” His own mortality on “When I Get to Heaven.”
But Prine’s takes are hopeful, even cathartic. He comes off as healthy, well-adjusted, and unafraid of what lies ahead.
“When I Get to Heaven,” the album’s raucous closer, imagines the afterlife as a place where he can order a cocktail and forgive everyone who’s ever done him wrong. It’s so joyous that listeners will think less about death than about Prine’s fun-loving take on what lies ahead.
It’s the kind of song that makes people wonder what he’ll be thinking about next. It’s why he’s still worth listening to.