Review : John Prine - The Singing Mailman Delivers
PopmattersIt’s been 40 years since the release of John Prine’s eponymous debut album, a classic singer-songwriter record if ever there was one. So now is as good a time as any to celebrate the man’s songs, which have always been more complex than they first appear. They’re both witty and emotive, heartbreaking yet life-affirming, slice of life yet thoughtful and penetrating. It seems oddly symbolic, for a man who delivered so many messages, that his music career began while he was a postman. And here, on the two-disc The Singing Postman Delivers, we get to hear and celebrate the humble beginnings of a legendary career.
These two discs come from recordings made in 1970, before Prine’s first album was recorded and released. According to Prine, he found these tapes when cleaning out his garage before a move, so it’s lucky enough these are seeing the light of day, but also surprising that they sound as good as they do. Both discs—one a set of recordings made quickly in WFMT Studios in Chicago, the other a live performance from November of that year—show Prine’s early songs fully formed and genuinely brilliant, though we also hear him figuring out just how to deliver them.
The WFMT recordings came about after Prine was interviewed by Studs Terkel. He stopped by for the interview and then talked them into letting him put all the songs he’d written down to tape. As a result, the session feels quick and thrown together. Prine rips through each song, and of the 12 tracks, more than half clock in at two-and-a-half minutes or less. There’s a charming zeal to these performances, to be sure, when he runs through classics like “Illegal Smile” and “Flashback Blues”. The deep-seeded nostalgia of “Paradise” is there from note one here—and in some ways this is a more intimate performance of it than we get on the record—and “Blue Umbrella”, which would end up on Diamonds in the Rough, is the most heartbreaking of these performances. Prine’s buoyant voice drops into something more muted and broken and the shift is palpable....full text
TelegraphWhen he's being funny, he's like the Kurt Vonnegut of the written song, but John Prine has also composed some of the most poignant songs of the past four decades.
Prine, who turned 65 this month, is one of the true greats of American music. His debut album, back in 1971, had songwriters of the calibre of Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan in raptures.
But now, after clearing out his garage and discovering his 'lost' first recordings, John Prine has released his very first work, taped while he was still working delivering post in Chicago.
The two-disc CD is called John Prine: The Singing Mailman Delivers. And delivers he does. The first disc was recorded in August 1970 by a kindly engineer at WFMT Studios after Prine had done an interview with Studs Terkel, who wanted to talk to the Mailman who was starting to be hailed as a new singing star....full text
SlantmagazineJohn Prine's early work, like that of most of the great neo-country songwriters of the late '60s and '70s, is simple, inhabiting familiar forms while providing a cheeky update of classic lyrical styles. His first few albums maintain a conversational, blackly humorous style, which allowed him to tackle domestic situations and political issues with equally withering aplomb. The music on these albums is nothing special (a base of acoustic guitar, a few organic touches), which makes the prospect of a stripped-down document like The Singing Mailman Delivers, an early recording from 1970, all the more exciting, offering an opportunity to hear the singer in gestational form.
The album is culled from Prine's first studio session, paid for out of his own pocket, and contains the seeds of what would make for a string of great albums in the following years. But it's more than a little disappointing to discover that the majority of The Singing Mailman Delivers isn't really previously unheard material; most of these songs would appear, in modified form, on later albums, especially his 1971 debut. This downgrades the album from an essential look into an artist's pre-history to a companion piece for longtime fans, its main lure being the curiosity of hearing the songs in slightly rougher forms.
This doesn't affect the power of tracks like "Hello in There," which strikes a perfect mix of sentimentality and sadness, and there's a certain pleasure in discovering that Prine was capable of producing material of the caliber of "Illegal Smile" right out of the gate. The backstory provided in the liner notes, with the singer cobbling lyrics together in his head as he worked a mail route, offers slightly interesting context. There's also an additional live disc, recorded during the period, that provides further novelty for the package.
The best way to approach The Singing Mailman Delivers is as a kind of shadow greatest hits, a picture of the artist in formation, detailing a specific point in his development. It's the kind of thing Neil Young has been doing with his archival series, but isn't quite as interesting, both because Prine has always been a generally static artist and because the live disc isn't nearly as dynamic as the ones Young has been putting out. Still, with a stable of effective songs and a healthy dose of good humor, The Singing Mailman Delivers remains a likable, if not terribly compelling, effort....full text
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