John Prine | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

One of the more idiosyncratic singer-songwriters who got saddled with the "new Dylan" tag in the 70s, John Prine is now more of an anti-Dylan: Mr. Zimmerman has never let go of his cynical, apocalyptic vision, but Prine's music has become increasingly winsome and wistful since the mid-90s. The new Fair & Square (Oh Boy) is his first album of new material since 1995's Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings; in the interim, he's duetted with his favorite female singers on a collection of country oldies, rerecorded some of his back catalog, and tossed off a couple of live discs. He also successfully battled neck cancer, but fans looking for chronicles of his brush with mortality will have to settle for love songs to his wife, the occasional goofy couplet ("Constantinople is a mighty long word / Got three more letters than mockingbird"), and a generally autumnal mood. The songs, mostly acoustic, are gentle ruminations, and Prine's voice now has a bit of a rasp to it--the sonic equivalent of crow's-feet. I picture him coasting into old age more gracefully than any American roots artist since Mississippi John Hurt, and that's something I can't say for Dylan. Prine's spirit of goodwill and acceptance fully crumbles only on "Some Humans Ain't Human," about how a good day turns bad when a bird shits on your car or "Some cowboy from Texas / Starts his own war in Iraq." Mary Gauthier opens. Sat 6/4, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan, 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114, $30-$50. All ages.

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