In the songs of John Prine, there exists a near-perfect intersection of understatement and insight. Prine does not trumpet his truths: they just emerge, crawling out of sparse, carefully arrayed and encapsulated moments, presented with unflinching, unsentimental clarity. Assumptions are neatly overturned with a disarming, almost casual turn of phrase, while long-accepted aspects of human nature are brought to light in unexpected contexts that only reinforce their universal nature. It's devastating stuff, yet strangely uplifting. The contrasts and paradoxes Prine uncovers – combined with his unquestionable abilities as a craftsman – have insured that his music continually influences generation after generation of maverick artists.
2010's Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine features 12 newly-recorded versions of classic John Prine songs. The album boasts an enviable roll call of lauded, inventive musicians and songwriters, including My Morning Jacket, The Avett Brothers, Conor Oberst And The Mystic Valley Band, Old Crow Medicine Show, Lambchop, Josh Ritter, Drive-By Truckers, Nickel Creek's Sara Watkins, Deer Tick featuring Liz Isenberg, Justin Townes Earle, Those Darlins, and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon. That Prine's perspective flourishes so vividly in these modern recastings is testament to not only the sheer power of his songs, but to the subtly defiant undercurrent that runs throughout the master singer/songwriter's oeuvre.
Astonishingly, despite the various perspectives, studios, personnel, and voices, Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows holds together as a compelling unified statement. More of a heartfelt thank-you note than a tribute (after all, John is still creating some of the best music of his career), Prine's irreverent spirit permeates every note here, while the range of textures and styles reflects his own wide-ranging influences, which encompass everything from vintage country and stringband music to stinging, snarling R&B.