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like Woody Guthrie or Loudon Wainwright or Lyle Lovett, urban folk singer/songwriter
Prine has always skillfully walked the thin line between satirist and
clown, bard and minstrel - deftly inserting bitter truths, biting humor, and
scarifying visions into gentle - even tender - folks songs. His little holiday
John Prine Christmas (Oh Boy! Records, 1993), is much in the same vein,
full of sardonic asides in a season known for its sentimentality. This is certainly
not a bad thing - given Scrooge or Santa, I'll choose Ebenezer every time.
But, Prine's thin veil of sincerity isn't made less opaque by the fact that
his Christmas feast
seems more like Thanksgiving leftovers, more an odds-and-sods offering to his
devoted fans than a genuine celebration of the season. Strictly speaking, none
of these recordings have appeared on an album before, but the CD is just eight
tracks long, with nearly all the songs recycled from
That doesn't make A
John Prine Christmas a bad record - in fact, I like it quite a bit - but
it dulls its impact. That said, two of the songs represent Prine at his best:
dry, sweet, and tuneful. "Everything Is Cool" first surfaced in
less developed form on The
Missing Years (1991), and it may (or may not) speak to the redemptive
power of the holiday. "Just before last Christmas my baby went away," recalls
Prine dryly before noting, "God sent me an angel
to chase away my blues." Much sweeter is "Silent Night All Day
entirely new song drenched in nostalgia:
We held hands and stared at the lights on the tree,
As if Christmas was invented for you and for me.
When the angel on the treetop requested a song,
We sang 'Silent Night' all day long.
Thankfully, we also get "Christmas In Prison," Prine's dark yule
epistle to the woman who haunts a lonely inmate. "She reminds me of
a chess game with someone I admire," Prine quotes, adding sorrowfully, "I
dream of her always, even when I don't dream." A
John Prine Christmas includes a spare live version of the song; the
superior, original recording appears on Sweet
Revenge (1973) and Great
Days: The John Prine Anthology (1993).
Only three songs on A
John Prine Christmas qualify as remotely traditional, and the first two were
pulled from the red vinyl, 7-inch single Prine used to launch his Oh Boy! label
in 1984. Prine gives "Silver Bells" a lovely, Dylanesque reading, then
romps through "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" with mischievous glee
(using an arrangement lifted by John Mellencamp for his 1987 version on A
Very Special Christmas). The third track, "A John Prine Christmas," is a
rambling soliloquy set to music.
That leaves new live versions of "If You Were The Woman And I Was The
and "All The Best" - both excellent songs, neither of which have
anything to do with Christmas. Prine first recorded the former with the Cowboy
Junkies on their 1992 LP Black
Eyed Man. The latter originates from the soundtrack to Falling
a 1992 film to which Prine
lent his musical and dramatic talents.
"Man, oh man, I sure love Christmas," Prine exclaims at one point. The little
boy on the cover (John, age 3) sure did, and the adult who recorded A
John Prine Christmas seems to still feel
that way. The album is a modest gift, for sure, but it is a gift from the heart.
- Christmas In Prison
Everything Is Cool (1993)
I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus (1984)
Silent Night All Day Long (1993)
Silver Bells (1984)
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