John Prine: Crooked Piece of Time review – Enlightening glimpses into ‘the Mark Twain of songwriting’

The first seven albums of the songwriter’s career are given a new lease of life

Crooked Piece of Time: The Atlantic and Asylum Albums 1971-1980
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Artist: John Prine
Genre: Singer / Songwriter
Label: Rhino Records/Warner Music

One of the peripheral misfortunes of the death of someone such as John Prine – who died aged 73 on April 7th from Covid-19 complications – is how people extol the virtues of only his best-known material – the early work is often left to languish as a lesser entity.

Some six months after Prine’s death, the first seven albums of his career have been repackaged to include mini posters and authoritative sleeve notes by US music writer David Fricke. The albums, each remastered to compensate for varying quality of the original recordings, range in worth.

rine’s 1971’s self-titled debut is deceptively simple yet utterly distinctive. One year later, Diamonds in the Rough delivered on the debut’s promise with added shades of bluegrass and country. Sweet Revenge, 1973’s offering, supplants reflection with hard cynicism and acute observations. Matters soured slightly with 1975’s tame Common Sense but picked up considerably with 1978’s Bruised Orange, which is rightly regarded as Prine’s strongest, most intimate album of this period.

The smart-looking, Christmas present-baiting box set for the avid fan, whose original records are either worn out or lost, also features 1979’s Pink Cadillac (a misfiring rock’n’roll/rockabilly collection of covers and originals) and 1980’s back-on-track Storm Windows.

In other words, for often enlightening glimpses into the young soul of "the Mark Twain of songwriting", you won't go far wrong.