John Prine Tree of Forgiveness Oh Boy Records
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.
With the gut-level honesty that dazzled Bob Dylan and Kris Kristofferson, Prine shows why he belongs with them on the legend shelf. Contributions from Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires, Brandi Carlile, producer Dave Cobb and others further testify to the respect Prine still commands.
Sure, some of the things he contemplates here are heavy — depression on No Ordinary Blue, his mortality on When I Get to Heaven.
But Prine’s takes are hopeful. 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.
Derek Smalls Smalls Change (Meditations Upon Ageing) BMG
This album answers a question no one was asking: Is Spinal Tap’s Derek Smalls still alive? The British bassist (played by comedian Harry Shearer) is attempting a comeback with his solo debut at age 77, and the result is so bad it’s funny. Actually, it’s hilarious.
The sludgy arrangements are thick with every cliché known to metal, from the opening flute to a recitation and brass fanfare, followed by boogie beats, operatic female vocals, syrupy strings and hysterical solos. All that’s missing is an umlaut.
Equally predictable is the subject matter, which ranges from Satan’s hairline (Hell Toupee) to cellphones as a pain in the rear (Butt Call, bringing the backside to the forefront as the Tap’s Big Bottom once did).
An impressive supporting cast includes Donald Fagen, David Crosby, Rick Wakeman and Dweezil Zappa.
Josh Rouse Love In The Modern Age Yep Roc Records
Recorded in Valencia, Spain, and in Nashville, Tenn., Josh Rouse’s 12th album is a compact collection of cool, airy but caring songs about relationships in different stages of development or deterioration. The title track is “for the lovers who stick with it.”
Closer, There Was A Time has a Cohenesque feel — though it could be Richard Hawley, too — and the late Canadian bard may also be getting a wink with I’m Your Man. While Cohen was willing to do anything for his lover, Rouse’s guy has been out carousing and sounds more provocative than committed — come and get me while you can. Even modern loves have heartbeats, and Rouse has a delicate way of keeping his finger on the pulse.