JOHN PRINE, following the lead of his good friends Steve Goodman and Danny O'Keefe, now puts out his own records, the majors having apparently given up on non-videomatic singer-songwriters of the old school.
"Aimless Love," his latest production, contains ten Prine songs, most of them written between 1981 and 1983. "The Bottomless Lake," a 1977 tune whose raw, old- timey fiddle and knee-slap contours are reminiscent of the New Lost City Ramblers, is the lightest song, a weird cautionary fable about the perils of a wrong turn. Last year's "People Puttin' People Down" is the newest song, a bitter dig at the mental games people play.
Many of Prine's songs take advantage of the melancholy built into his voice; it's still terrible, but its flatness works in the emotional context of the lyrics. For instance, on the languid, country-tinged "Me Myself and I" (old ghosts and empty bottles meet at midnight) and "The Oldest Baby in the World" (looking for love in all the wrong places), Prine seems to the Nashville manner born. On the edgy "Maureen, Maureen," he lies to effect an emotional reconciliation.
It's not that all the news is bad: On "Somewhere Someone's Falling in Love," Prine sees the sunshine of hope behind the clouds of soured romance; on "Slow Boat to China," he suggests musically what the lyrics celebrate; and "Only Love" is as melodically enchanting as it is simple in its affirmation of the purity of that emotion.
Recorded in Nashville and co-produced by Prine and Jim Rooney, "Aimless Love" suggests that Prine hasn't lost his touch -- the majors have.
JOHN PRINE -- "Aimless Love" (Oh Boy 002); appearing Friday at Wolf Trap with the Seldom Scene.