THE ALBUM -- John Prine's "Storm Windows," on Asylum (6E-286). THE SHOW -- In DAR Constitution Hall, Wednesday at 8.

Here's a fellow who sings as though he suffers from a terminal sinus condition, rhymes "House of Pies" with "paralyzed" and has been known to compose entire songs consisting of only two lines. And gets away with it all. c

If John Prine's latest album, "Storm Windows," is not as varied and frighteningly beautiful as 1978's "Bruised Orange," it's every bit as tasteful in its longing, lonely way. Although some of the new tracks deal with paranoia and what you might call presence-shock ("Shop Talk," "Living in the Future"), the bulk of material here has to do with the phantom pain that follows romantic amputation.

Prine shows the flip side of good-riddance tunes like "There She Goes" by evoking the best and most intimate memories of affairs, rehashing the events that led up to the split and turning the mockery on himself. What really touches is that all the while, he realizes how predictable and foolish he seems.

It's this special talent for holding up the mirror that makes seemingly inane lyrics take on meaning. In "Just Wanna Be With You," Prine's yearning and self-reproach pervade his every action, even a trip to the zoo, where "The monkey's lookin' at me/Like I'm lookin' at you."

The title cut spins crystalline images of introspection and lost opportunity, but the real centerpiece of the album is "One Red Rose," etched in aching detail on a stark canvas of need. Me and her were talking softer Than all the time before I lost her Picture sat on top of the chest of drawers.

There are happier tunes on the album, especially John D. Wyker's "Baby Ruth," with its camp/country, "Oh Li'l Liza" chorus, as well as "Shop Talk," with its hilarious scenes of being embarrassed by a lover who stands on a coffee-house table to expose the dirty laundry of an ill-fated affair.

The music is, as usual, country-style with an urban point of view. Inexplicably, Prine did not choose Steve Goodman to produce this album, and the production work pales in comparison to that of "Bruised Orange." But the musicians are so impeccably attuned to both the style and content of the music (most notably John Burns on lead and Bob Hoban on keyboards and fiddle) that the end product seems none the worse for the decision.

In all, Prine braves the ravages of regret and the fickle winds of inconstancy to deliver his vision of love and loss, and the message arrives intact, made all the more meaningful by its tattered edges.

But then, what more could you ask from an ex-postman?