Over nearly 50 years of making albums, John Prine's been able to turn the sense that he's slightly underappreciated into a trademark. He's the secret favorite everybody can agree on, never quite in the middle of the conversation but always poking around in the corners for a modest truth that will linger after the noise dies down.
It's hard to believe it's been 13 years since the last album of new John Prine songs. Maybe because his old songs retain the power to say something new when you revisit them; maybe it's just that in the time since Prine released Fair & Square in 2005, he's become a mentor to a rising class of songwriters who poke at Nashville convention the way he has throughout his career: playing with Jason Isbell, sharing a songwriting office with Sturgill Simpson and singing, on his 2016 album of classic country duets, with Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Amanda Shires and more.
Either way, it's nice to have Prine back among the mess of active songwriters — today he announced that he'll be releasing a new album, The Tree of Forgiveness. The ten-song album was produced by Dave Cobb, who has worked with both Isbell and Simpson, and will be out on Prine's own label, Oh Boy Records, on April 13. The album also features contributions from Isbell and Shires, Dan Auerbach and Brandi Carlile.
"Summer's End," the first song we're hearing from The Tree of Forgiveness, is classic Prine, full of wry observations that accrue weight as they pile up. "Summer's end's around the bend, just flying / The swimming suits are on the lie, just drying," it opens. Everything here is familiar and minor, worn in like a foot path trampled into grass, stuff you could take for granted until it's gone. Even celestial bodies are just hanging out, waiting for something to happen.