JOHN PRINE & MAC WISEMAN "Standard Songs for Average People" Oh Boy

Friday, June 15, 2007

JOHN PRINE & MAC WISEMAN"Standard Songs for Average People"Oh Boy

"STANDARD SONGS FOR Average People," the title of the new album from John Prine and Mac Wiseman, is misleading on two counts. Although the 14 tracks include a few familiar hits (Lefty Frizzell's "Saginaw Michigan," Patti Page's "Old Cape Cod" and Leon Payne's "I Love You Because"), you couldn't describe obscurities such as Ernest Tubb's "Blue Eyed Elaine," Bing Crosby's "Where the Blue of the Night" or Kris Kristofferson's "Just the Other Side of Nowhere" as standards.

Nor could you call Prine and Wiseman average people. Prine is one of the best songwriters of his baby-boomer generation, while Wiseman helped pioneer bluegrass in the preceding generation. These two eccentrics are an unlikely pair singing an unlikely repertoire, but the album is a delight nonetheless. Part of that is because of the terrific string-band musicians; "Cowboy" Jack Clement, Tim O'Brien, Ronnie McCoury, Stuart Duncan and more back the singers with graceful restraint.

Even more key to the album's success are the two contrasting voices of Wiseman and Prine. Wiseman, 82, still has a honeyed tenor that gives itself so readily to the songs that it often verges on sentimentality. Prine, 60, has a small, scratchy voice that approaches the songs warily, as if suspicious of sentiment. Whether they're chuckling their way through Bob Wills's "Don't Be Ashamed of Your Age" or soberly singing the hymn "Old Rugged Cross," the sensual pleasure of Wiseman's vocals and the skeptical intelligence of Prine's push and pull at each other to create a fascinating drama.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at the Warner Theatre with Iris DeMent.

Listen to an audio clip of John Prine

© 2007 The Washington Post Company