Last Albums: John Prine - The Tree of Forgiveness (2018)

The Tree of Forgiveness
was John Prine's last studio album, recorded two years before his unfortunate passing in April of 2020. This brief, thirty-three minute, ten song set was released after a hiatus of thirteen years that proved the well-loved folk musician didn't lose any of his songwriting skills during the long layoff.

The late singer-songwriter easily impressed listeners for five decades with his tales about lonely people who were down on their luck. "Hello In There" and "Sam Stone" -  both from his eponymous debut album that was released when he was only twenty-five years old - made him sound much older and wiser than his age would lead you to believe. 

Not all of Prine's music was dark.  Many of his songs thrived on a great sense of humor that gave listeners a chuckle, and it's this trait that helps make Forgiveness a truly fulfilling listening experience.

"When I Get To Heaven" is a hysterical take on things Prine intended to do once he passed through the pearly gates.  It is both sad and ironic that it became the last song on his last album. During the spoken word verses he declared: 

"....... I'm gonna get a cocktail,
Vodka and ginger ale.
I'm gonna smoke a cigarette that's nine miles long.
I'm gonna kiss that pretty girl on the tilt-a-whirl. 
Yeah, this old man is goin' to town.

On "Lonesome Friends of Science" Prine once again tackled a serious subject - the end of the world - with humor.

"The lonesome friends of science say
The world will end most any day
Well, if it does, then that's okay
'Cause I don't live here anyway
I live down deep inside my head."

"Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)" references life in a nursing home and the video for "Summer's End" shows a grandfather and granddaughter coming to terms with the death of her mother and his daughter.

Not every song is about aging and death. "Boundless Love" and "I Have Met My Love Today" are good, straight ahead love songs. 

Two cancer-related, major throat surgeries greatly affected the singer's voice but he received vocal support from Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile, so his vocal deficiencies were minimized.

Instrumentally, the album is typical of Prine. The arrangements are mostly acoustic, but there is enough electric guitar to liven things up.

The Tree of Forgiveness was Prine's most successful release ever on the Billboard 200 album chart. It debuted at #5, forty-nine years after his first record became an instant classic. If you haven't already, you need to listen to the whole album now because there won't be another one.

In the majority of cases recording artists' most revered and famous records are made early in their careers. However, because there are also some noteworthy final records out there it's time to discuss the really good ones. To qualify as a "last album" the work must have been recorded as a set of new material that was intended to be released to the public as a complete set but not necessarily the last one.