★★★★ Piano & A Microphone 1983 WARNER BROS. CD/DL/LP Acoustic solo session hinting at alternate futures for the protean purple pontiff.
“Is that my echo?” asks the voice of Prince Rogers Nelson at the beginning of the first full release from the notorious Vault. He’s just checking on his monitoring with engineer Don Batts. Except that now it’s an echo from beyond the grave, and an echo of a past when Purple Rain and mega-success had yet to happen. The seeds of both are here, though, in this intimate, for-his-ears-only performance, as Prince segues between works-in-progress (Purple Rain as aching piano sketch) and grandstanding workouts (Mary Don’t You Weep is a full-on gospel exorcism). His piano-playing is a joy, his vocals a dramatis personae of lively characters: feminine and Broadway on Wednesday; comically gruff on Cold Coffee & Cocaine; like Kate Bush versus Randy Newman on Why The Butterflies. The whole thing feels – thrillingly, poignantly – like you’re in the room with him.