John Prine is well known now, but in 1970 and 1971, he was a young guy working at the Post Office in un-fancy Maywood, IL in the U.S. He's walking his route everyday just outside of Chicago, making up rhymes and songs to break up the boredom. Nothing so special in that, right? Just a singing mailman, another guy singing on the job.
He's delivering mail and writing down the words on his lunch break. A few of them show promise. A few more seem pretty good. Suddenly these amazing songs begin to blossom from his insights into peoples' lives -- the old people in Hello In There, young peoples' search for happiness and fun, the desire for fulfillment of the angel from Montgomery, the emptiness of Sam Stone and the hole in his arm, the devastation of a community by a giant coal company. He's both poignant and funny in exposing the irony of situations.
When I was young, I thought they were great songs filled with emotion. Forty years later, I listen to them and I'm amazed by their insights and wisdom, especially from someone in his early twenties.
The beauty of these two performances is in realizing their historical context. They are not a trove of recently discovered "new" songs, and you might be disappointed if that's what you're expecting. The two performances (one in a radio studio as a favor after an interview with the legendary Studs Terkel, the other at a small club in Chicago) are much more valuable for the way they peel back history.
Prine's humorous comments between songs in the 1971 live show are sharp and fresh enough to still make you laugh. These two discs are a valuable look at the act of creation of an incredible body of songs as they are being born.
It is a rare glimpse into what came before the beginning.