John Prine & Mac Wiseman
Standard Songs for Average People
Oh Boy Records
3.5 stars (out of 5)
John Prine’s first three albums in the early 1970s caused some to call him “the new Dylan.” Prine certainly didn’t want the title, but hack music writers of the day heard the ambitious songwriting, acoustic guitar and gruff voice and couldn’t help themselves.
Standard Songs for Average People matches Prine with Mac Wiseman, the singer and guitarist known to bluegrass fans for 50 years as “The Voice with a Heart.”
It’s an unexpected, but pleasing, pairing. Wiseman’s voice stirs into Prine’s like Tennessee whiskey does into campfire coffee.
Their easy, verse-swapping on Ernest Tubb’s “Blue Eyed Elaine” and “Saginaw, Michigan” (written by Donald Wayne and Bill Anderson, popularized by Lefty Frizzell) tops a 14-song setlist that includes other great country & western, honky tonk and rockabilly songwriters like Bob Wills, Charlie Feathers, Leon Payne, Al Dexter, Kris Kristofferson and Tom T. Hall.
Producer David Ferguson helped line up musicians including Cowboy Jack Clement (guitar), Jaime Hartford (electric guitar), Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Mike Bub (bass), Tim O’Brien (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (guitar, mandolin), the Carol Lee Singers and the incomparable Lester Armistead to give the album a just barley pre-countrypolitan sound with a touch of bluegrass.
It would have been nice to hear one or two songs from each singer’s discography – let’s say Wiseman’s “‘Tis Sweet to Be Remembered” and “Letter Edged in Black;” Prine’s “Souveniers” and “Paradise,” which continues as a bluegrass standard thanks to Jim & Jesse – but that’s a small quibble at a very nice listen.
by Aaron Keith Harris