Review: John Prine/Mac Wiseman – Standard Songs for Average People

JOHN PRINE & MAC WISEMAN – Standard Songs for Average People
Oh Boy Records OBR-038

Legendary Nashville record producer, songwriter and engineer Cowboy Jack Clement had a definitive hand in this production by introducing Mac Wiseman and John Prine who had never met until recently. Clement has known both of the singers since the 1960s and 70s, and they developed an immediate kinship. Realizing that they both shared a similar love for classic country standards, it was decided to record a set together using material from Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, Bing Crosby, Leon Payne and others. Knowing Cowboy Jack’s reputation, I’m sure he had plenty of advice for this collaboration too. “A good song gets better with age,” he once said. The good songs they pick include Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan,” Charlie Feathers’ “I Forgot to Remember to Forget,” Ernest Tubbs’ “Blue-Eyed Elaine,” Leon Payne’s “I Love You Because,”and Al Dexter’s “Pistol-Packin’ Mama,” and others. Clement also once stated that “there’s nothing wrong with waltzes if they’re played right.” Maybe that’s why they close the set with “Old Rugged Cross” and then “Where the Blue of the Night.”

The top session players add a variety of instrumentation and background vocals to the mostly slower tempo’ed repertoire. Acoustic stringed instruments sit nicely with piano, organ, electric guitar, pedal steel, harmonica, accordion and drums to create a sound reminiscent of the 1950s.

The accompanists include Tim O’Brien, Stuart Duncan, Kenny Malone, Charles Cochran, Lloyd Green, Dave Jacques, Ronnie McCoury, Joey Miskulin and others. Jack Clement plays Dobro or rhythm guitar on five tracks. The musical mood from yesteryear is most apparent on those seven tracks that incorporate the Carol Lee Singers’ background vocals in a style of that era. Mac and John often trade off singing verses, and they even sing a few phrases in unison (a slight distraction).

Mac and John may be getting up in their years. Mac’s in his 80s now. John was diagnosed in 1998 with throat cancer, and he’s undergone surgery to deal with that. There’s a lot of cautionary insight in the old country songs like “Pistol Packin’ Mama.” However, as they sing in “Don’t be Ashamed of Your Age,” Mac and John remind us of an essential tenet in their lives – “Life ain’t begun until you’re 40, son. That’s when you really start to go to town.” This album is proof that little is slowing these two energetic legends down. (Joe Ross)

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