By KAREN SCHOEMER
April 2, 1992
Prine's New Lease on Performing Life
Like any great songwriter, John Prine frames the world in a way that gives things a slightly different luster, a new sheen.
His most recent album, "The Missing Years," released on his own Oh Boy label, includes 14 easygoing folk, rock and country songs on subjects like love, family, growing up and adjusting to the odd turns life takes. But in Mr. Prine's hands, the most familiar topics get a treatment no one else could give them. "Sally used to play with her Hula Hoops," he sings in "The Sins of Memphisto." "Now she tells her problems to therapy groups."
"The Missing Years" was produced by Howie Epstein, the bassist in Tom Petty's group the Heartbreakers, and Mr. Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Bonnie Raitt and Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers all make guest appearances. So far, the album has sold more than 200,000 copies, which makes it one of Mr. Prine's strongest-selling efforts since his 1971 debut, "John Prine." "The Missing Years" is also his first studio album since 1986. Thoughts of the End
In more ways than simply its commercial success, "The Missing Years" has allowed Mr. Prine a new lease on his career. While he was recording, he thought it might be his last album.
"I was going to take off for a while and do something different," he said in a telephone interview from his home in Nashville. "I used to play music as a hobby, and just write songs to get away from everything else. Now I've been doing it for a living for 20 years. I thought maybe I needed to make music enjoyable again, instead of what I do for a living.
"I was thinking of going to college. Not for credits, but just to see if I could learn any better than when I was a teen-ager. The teachers couldn't get my attention at all. They might as well have been barking like a dog instead of talking -- I couldn't understand anything they said. So it didn't look like such a bad idea, maybe going someplace in Europe and taking a couple of courses, being a middle-aged bum." Looking for the Lost
The album's success has taken care of that idea. Mr. Prine is currently on tour with Cowboy Junkies, and will share a double bill with them at the Beacon Theater tomorrow night. But far-away places, and the desire to leave things behind, were on his mind as he was writing the album.
"Part of the reason I called the album 'The Missing Years' is that it seems like everybody's got things that are unaccounted for," he said. "A lot of people I know, as they start telling a story, whether it's about a marriage or a place they lived -- when they get done with the story they say, 'Whew, that was a long time ago.' It's the different twists and turns that people go through. I think everybody ends up with some missing years."
Musician (12/91) - "...husky charm...refreshing casualness...only Prine's dog-eared persona matters...where corny junk like truth and beauty comes first, he's way bigger than Guns N' Roses...."
"Entertainment Weekly (11/22/91) - A- - "...all the songs are keepers, perfectly relaxed and wry..."
New York Times (1/1/92) "...The newest album by the country-folk songwriter is filled with quotable verses and bitter-sweet comedy...
Q Magazine (10/92, p.88) - 4 Stars - Excellent ...more finished and consistent than anything since his classic DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH...
Rolling Stone (1/23/92, pg.46) - 4 Stars - Excellent - "...filled with idiosyncratic delights..."