Reviews of good albums we overlooked last year...
Once the latest in a long line of New Dylans, these days John Prine is chiefly beloved by other, more famous singer-songwriters. "Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine," a tribute disc released in June, features an impressive array of the usual tribute album suspects (Conor Oberst, My Morning Jacket) and many of the usual complaints (some of Prine's best songs have gone missing, everyone is overly reverent, no one picked his antiwar rabble-rouser "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore").
Still, "Broken Hearts" is one of the year's most spot-on marriages of artists and material. Like the best tribute discs, it showcases its subject's gifts (in this case, Prine's lyrical precision, and his vast capacity for depicting both humor and heartbreak) as much as it does those of the present-day country/folk/indie aristocracy who came to pay homage.
- Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band's "Wedding Day in Funeralville." A carnival of a song essayed with uncharacteristic looseness by Oberst, perhaps Prine's most obvious heir.
- Justin Vernon's matchup with Prine's "Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow)." One day Vernon will attempt something other than the high, looped vocals and wispy atmospherics familiar to fans of Bon Iver. This is not that day. But the matchup with Prine, the most solid and non-ethereal of folkies, goes better than expected.
- Old Crow Medicine Show: "Angel From Montgomery." They're a strange choice for this subdued (and profoundly female) classic, but "Angel" is one of history's great songs. It's pretty hard to mess it up.
Recommended tracks: "Angel From Montgomery," "Mexican Home" (Josh Ritter), "Wedding Day in Funeralville"