Reviews JohnPrine lead*

Published on November 9th, 2014 | by Stratton Lawrence


Review: John Prine and Jason Isbell Hold Court to an Appreciative Audience

A Songwriting Session with the Masters

John Prine and Jason Isbell
North Charleston Performing Arts Center
Nov. 8

For generations after John Prine has left this world, his legacy will continue to play out on stages from the Ryman Auditorium to corner bars in small towns across the nation. Since his debut album in 1971 — an album that included “Angel from Montgomery,” “Paradise,” and “Illegal Smile,” just to name a few — he’s been regarded as the premier everyman songwriter, proving that a mailman at an open mic can transform himself into the lyrical poet laureate of a generation.

Fortunately for the audience at the Performing Arts Center on Saturday night, John Prine is still very much within this world. But before he took the stage, we were treated to a concise, polished performance by his apparent successor, Jason Isbell.

Anybody arriving even ten minutes late missed several of Isbell’s strongest songs. He began promptly at 7:30 p.m. with “Songs That She Sang in the Shower,” followed by “Codeine” and “Alabama Pines.” Isbell’s guitarist, local-boy-done-good Sadler Vaden, shined with his slide on “Relatively Easy,” before subtly offering  the sole accompaniment to Isbell’s poignant “Cover Me Up.”


Jason Isbell and John Prine at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center (provided)


Isbell made sure to compliment the professionalism of Prine’s tour crew, before launching into a clean, driving “Stockholm” and a slow burn take on his Drive-By Truckers classic, “Danko/Manuel” and the set-closing “Outfit.”

Prine gave the crowd about half-an-hour to brave bathroom and beer lines, before taking the stage with his band — upright bass, mandolin and guitar — for a mood-setting “Spanish Pipedream” opener, with its “blow up your TV” refrain.

Surgery for throat cancer 16 years ago has left Prine with a gravelly rasp to his vocals, but his voice is still distinct and, like all great songwriters, he’s careful to let his words shine through. Even someone not familiar with the majority of his work — my wife, for example — can understand the words, and without a drummer to keep time, erratic pacing threatened to derail a few songs throughout the night, but Prine’s band clearly knows to follow their leader as he speeds and slows his songs for emphasis (most notably, “Picture Show” opened like a freight train before rather abruptly slowing to a saunter).

Several of the night’s best moments occurred during a mid-set segment when Prine held the stage on his own, telling stories about his late songwriting buddy Steve Goodman (they co-wrote “You Never Even Call Me By My Name” for David Allen Coe). Before playing “Hello In There,” Prine described how he’d always gravitated towards older people when he found himself in a room full of strangers, because they knew things he didn’t. “I always thought that when I grew up, that’s what I wanted to be — an old person,” the 68-year-old offered, before exclaiming, “Voila,” and striking into the song.

“Christmas in Prison” provoked the night’s first standing applause, before the crowd-pleasing “Angel from Montgomery” and “Fish and Whistle.”

Prine brought Jason Isbell back out for “Storm Windows,” the title track from his seventh album, before his band rejoined the stage for the Carter Family’s “Bear Creek Blues.” To close the set, Prine offered an extended, celebratory “Lake Marie,” while the band and audience sang along with the “standin’ by peaceful waters,” chorus.

To huge applause, Prine returned to the stage, bringing the entirety of his and Isbell’s bands back out and announcing, “Let’s take you to Muhlenberg County.”

With the familiar refrains of “Paradise,” a now-standing full-house soaked it all in, before beaming on our way out the door and into the night, reminded that a few chords and the truth can make you feel remarkably alive.


Jason Isbell and John Prine at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center (provided)



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About the Author

Stratton Lawrence

is a Folly Beach-based freelance writer, editor, and songwriter. He's still trying to figure out the perfect caloric balance between beer consumption and booty shaking when he's on the job covering the local music scene. Find his work at

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