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Souvenirs(Oh Boy Records)

john prine album cover

One of the great mysteries of life - well, at least of country-music life - is why John Prine has never hit the country charts. Influenced by his childhood visits to Paradise, Ky., and by such artists as Hank Williams and Roger Miller, he is a songwriting genius. Tammy Wynette cut his "Unwed Fathers" and Don Williams took his "Love Is On A Roll" to No. 1.

These new recordings provide 15 reasons why he's one of the best in the business. If the pathetic tale of "Sam Stone" doesn't get you with its tragic, post-Vietnam tale of a vet turned drug addict (There's a hole in Daddy's arm/Where all the money goes), then "Angel From Montgomery" will. In that song, an Alabama housewife dreams of an angel to take her away from the misery of her monotony, wondering How the hell can a person/Go to work in the morning/And come home in the evening/And have nothing to say. Prine's brilliant word pictures make his characters come alive, like PFC Donald in "Donald & Lydia," about whom Prine tells us There were spaces between Donald/And whatever he said/Strangers had forced him to live in his head/He envisioned the details of romantic scenes/After midnight in the stillness of the barracks latrine.

Then there's "Christmas In Prison" with its nonchalant imagery: It was Christmas in prison/And the food was real good/We had turkey and pistols/Carved out of wood. Co-produced by Prine and Jim Rooney, the production stays solid and true, keeping the emphasis on Prine's riveting voice and words. These are songs that will make you laugh, some that will bring tears - and they're all here from country's unsung son, John Prine.

-- Gerry Wood.

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