- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2004

After some 35 years of songwriting, John Prine still has something to say — even if it means dusting off a Vietnam-era protest song to present it, anew, to an appreciative crowd last Thursday at the Warner Theatre.

Coming onstage without fanfare or introduction following a quiet opening set from Leon Redbone, Mr. Prine burst into “Spanish Pipedream” (from “Blow up Your TV”) before many of his fans could scramble back into their seats from intermission. Then he introduced “Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore” as a message to official Washington, direct from his recent audiences in the Midwest.

Even though he never mentions it, Mr. Prine sounds a bit raspier following surgery for throat cancer. He sounded smoother Thursday than he has in other shows since his successful operation in 1998. He used to smoke onstage, but he has given up cigarettes.

He hasn’t released an album of new material since the mid-‘90s. His 1999 “In Spite of Ourselves” project was filled with standard country duets with a host of singing partners, including Iris Dement, Lucinda Williams, Patty Loveless and Emmylou Harris. Only the title cut was written by Mr. Prine.

His songs were covered over the years by hundreds of artists, notably Steve Goodman, John Denver and Johnny Cash. He has outlived those three, and if Thursday night’s show at the Warner is any indication, he has done so with his sense of humor intact. His quirky outlook, hard-hitting imagery and plain silly lyrics make his catchy tunes unforgettable. The songs are simple campfire favorites, yet often they display deep insight into humanity.

The concert wasn’t all nostalgia, though.

Sprinkled among tunes from his earliest records to his 1991 Grammy-winning “The Missing Years,” Mr. Prine and his band (guitarist-mandolinist Jason Wilber and bass player Dave Jacques) treated the faithful to a handful of new songs, including “Taking a Walk.” A solo stretch — just Mr. Prine and his Martin D-28 guitar — featured “Long Monday” and “Crazy as a Loon.”

Just when he got his fans enraptured by a quiet new song and new story, he plowed into the barroom ballad “Dear Abby,” from his debut “John Prine” album, which got the whole house singing along again.

Mr. Prine also said he and the band had recorded the Carter family song “Bear Creek” for a Johnny Cash-June Carter Cash tribute disc earlier in the week, which they performed with the signature, bass-thumping Johnny Cash sound.

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