Mortality is very much on the mind of John Prine on this, his first album of all-new songs in 13 years. Understandably. After all, this is a man who has survived lung cancer and squamous cell cancer, the latter of which took a toll on his vocal cords. He's also had two knee replacements and a hip replacement. "All the TSA guys know me," jokes the legendary 71-year-old singer-songwriter. There are odes to the Almighty ("Boundless Love") and reflections on human limitations ("God Only Knows"). Prine's even lining up activities for the afterlife ("When I Get to Heaven").
All of which does not mean that this CD is a somber one. In fact, a somber John Prine album would be extremely oxymoronic. He's never shied away from serious topics, but there's always been an underlying element of fun in even his heaviest tracks. Even if sometimes the only fun is the joy of a perfectly-turned phrase. "Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)" is an upbeat exercise in nostalgia for an extinct way of life and keeping one's joie de vivre even in an old folks home when "...you're half out of your head / and you probably pissed the bed."
Prine even has a sense of humor about the end of the world. "The lonesome friends of science say the world will end most any day / Well if it does then that's OK 'cause I don't live here anyway," he sings on "The Lonesome Friends of Science."
After taking as many hard knocks as Prine has and emerging with humor and ability to cut to the heart of a topic intact there's no reason to think this old trooper is going anywhere any time soon. But when he does he wants us to know he harbors no hard feelings. In addition to cocktails, mile-long cigarettes and pretty girls on tilt-a-whirls, (on "When I Get to Heaven") he plans to open a nightclub where "I might invite a few choice critics / Those syphilitic parasitics / Buy 'em a pint of Smithwicks" (Speaking of perfectly-turned phrases)
JP gets some help here from some heavy hitters like Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlisle, but they're just icing on an already-tasty cake.