“John Prine was one of those songwriters that had pretty much a song for anything,” said Chris Brown when introducing his version of Prine’s “All the Best,” Oct. 7 at the Outpost in the Burbs in Montclair. “Anytime I was going through something, I needed help with something, there seemed to be a John Prine song for it.”
Brown was part of Joe D’Urso & Friends’ “A Birthday Tribute to John Prine” concert at Outpost, which featured 22 songs in honor of the folky but poetically eloquent singer-songwriter, who died in 2020 at the age of 73, and would have turned 76 on Oct. 10 of this year. (The same show has been presented a handful of times before, but this was its first New Jersey booking.) Seven artists joined D’Urso on the bill, and an announced guest, Patti Mazza, took the stage as well, singing Prine’s playful, bawdy “In Spite of Ourselves” with Loren Korevec.
There is no bad way to experience John Prine’s songs. But this show offered a pretty perfect opportunity to take a deep dive into his songbook, with a wide range of musicians — young and old, male and female — tackling material from all phases of his career. These included pretty much all of his signature songs, but lots of lesser known gems as well, from the silly to the profound.
As D’Urso said at the start of the evening, Prine had “a keen eye on the ways of the world,” and that was certainly borne out but the material. To cite one example, there’s a priceless tall tale in “That’s the Way the World ‘Goes Round” (sung by Gary Solomon at this show) in which the singer is taking a bath and the radiator breaks, freezing the water and him:
I was crying ice cubes, hoping I’d croakWhen the sun come through the window, the ice all broke I stood up and laughed, thought it was a joke That’s the way that the world goes ’round
Michelle Solomon (Gary’s sister) also noted, before singing “Unwed Fathers,” how timely this 1989 song has become in light of the current attack on abortion rights. Prine wrote about “children having children” and fathers who abandon their families. They “can’t be bothered/They run like water through a mountain stream,” Solomon sang in a unaffected but mournful tone.
The show was a real group effort. Everyone stayed on the crowded stage throughout the evening, and one or more artists often added backing vocals (or guitar or piano riffs) when someone else was singing lead. The encores were celebratory, boisterous versions of “Paradise” and “Lake Marie,” with all of the performers — and much of the audience — singing along.
D’Urso performed last in the rotation and sang lead on three of Prine’s most dependably affecting songs — old favorites “Hello in There” (watch video below) and “Sam Stone” and his bittersweet swan song, “I Remember Everything.” Michelle Solomon had the honor of singing the stately “Angel From Montgomery,” which Bonnie Raitt has helped make something of an Americana standard.
Tim O’Donohue enlisted everyone to play kazoos on “When I Get to Heaven” (in honor of the song’s original arrangement), with Korevec adding some honky tonk piano. O’Donohue also sang Kacey Musgraves’ tribute, “Burn One With John Prine.” The show’s only other departure from songs written or co-written by Prine was “Clay Pigeons,” written by Blaze Foley and recorded by Prine on his 2005 Fair & Square album. It was performed by Jake Thistle, who was the show’s youngest performer, at 18, and held his own, singing in a warm, slightly world-weary style (on “The Lonesome Friends of Science” as well as “Clay Pigeons”) that evoked Prine’s own. (watch “The Lonesome Friends of Science” below)
Before Korevec performed “You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” co-written by Prine and Steve Goodman, D’Urso added some nice perspective by talking about the longtime friendship and mutual respect of these two giants of the ’70s singer-songwriter scene.
Brown and David Frye were back-to-back in the rotation, and I couldn’t help but observe that while Brown has a deep voice and a calm, comforting way of delivering a song, Frye has a totally different performing style, often singing with urgent passion.
These very different approaches seemed equally valid for Prine’s songs, but that’s what happens when you’re dealing with a writer as talented at expressing universal truths as Prine was. One suspects that if they had switched songs, everything would have worked out fine.
Here are the songs performed, in order, with their lead singers. The songs are written or co-written by John Prine except as noted.
“The Lonesome Friends of Science,” Jake Thistle
“Glory of True Love,” Michelle Solomon
“Souvenirs,” Gary Solomon
“Burn One With John Prine” (written by Kacey Musgraves), Tim O’Donohue
“Clay Pigeons” (written by Blaze Foley), Jake Thistle
“Unwed Fathers,” Michelle Solomon
“That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round,” Gary Solomon
“When I Get to Heaven,” Tim O’Donohue
“You Never Even Called Me by My Name,” Loren Korevec
“Bruised Orange (Chain of Sorrow),” David Frye
“All the Best,” Chris Brown
“Hello in There,” Joe D’Urso
“Angel From Montgomery,” Michelle Solomon
“Fish and Whistle,” David Frye
“Summer’s End,” Chris Brown
“Sam Stone,” Joe D’Urso
“In Spite of Ourselves,” Loren Korevec and Patti Mazza
“Christmas in Prison,” David Frye
“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness,” Chris Brown
“I Remember Everything,” Joe D’Urso
“Paradise,” O’Donohue, Frye & Ensemble
“Lake Marie,” Brown, O’Donohue, Korevec & Ensemble
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