Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 1 & 2 (Oh Boy Records)
Tribute albums can be tricky. Balancing reverence for a legend’s catalogue and style with an individual artist’s interpretation is never easy. Sometimes performers hesitate to take chances resulting in uninspired results. Other times performers twist the material so far it is as if they’d never heard the original artist. On Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine, Vol. 1 & 2 a collection of Americana aces threads the needle and turn in two series of recordings that honor the source material as well as each interpreters’ eccentricities.
Released in 2010, over a decade prior to Prine’s passing, Volume 1’s high points include Justin Townes Earle’s thumb-driven “Far From Me,” Lamchop’s country weirdness spun “Six O’Clock News,” and Conor Oberst and the Mystic Valley Band’s rollicking run through “Wedding Day in Funeralville.”
Additionally, Josh Ritter turns in a heartfelt “Mexican Home,” the Drive-By Truckers give “Daddy’s Little Pumpkin” their dirty south sheen, and My Morning Jackets presses “All the Best” through their spiritualized psychedelic machine.
Volume 2 appeared in October 2021 like a salve to the long rough road of the prior year and a half. Hearing a new group Americana’s elite lend their ears, hearts, and talents to Prine’s songs is refreshing even if it doesn’t diminish the loss of Handsome John. While everyone involved delivered the goods, Amanda Shires, Nathaniel Rateliff, and Valerie June all turn in stellar performances making each song their own. Amanda Shires rocks “Saddle in the Rain” with an energy that rivals the original and a violin solo that sets her fiddle on fire. On “Pretty Good” Nathaniel Rateliff embraces Prine’s everyman aesthetic with his “aw shucks” attitude and easy-going delivery. Valerie June tackles the late-career beauty “Summer’s End” with her Karen Dalton vocal lilt.
While there will never be another John Prine album, Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows, Vol 1 & 2 confidently assures listeners that Prine’s legacy is in good hands. His influence will continue to be heard and his songs will continue to be sung…that’s the way the world goes round.