John Prine has never had a hit and he's no longer with a major label, but he's still writing new songs every bit as good as his old ones, and enough people came out to see him last night to fill Wolf Trap's Filene Center. Standing alone on stage with just an acoustic guitar, Prine proves an artist can transcend this year's gadgets, last week's record chart and this morning's latest trend to connect with an audience with nothing more than a sleepy voice, borrowed tunes, bad puns, true stories and deadpan insights.
Dressed all in black with a rakish mustache, Prine mixed his new songs in with his better- known old songs, and the quality never wavered. When he sang "Souvenirs," the aching lament over lost innocence he wrote with Steve Goodman, he explained that Larry McMurtry had adapted it as the title of a film script Prine has been filming with John Mellencamp. When Prine paused before the last verse of his hilarious vacation-disaster song, "The Bottomless Lake," he said, "Ain't but two American songwriters who bother to put morals in their songs anymore. Me and James Brown. And you see what they've done to him."
In the opening set, Virginia's Seldom Scene showcased several songs from their new album on Sugar Hill Records, "Scenic Roots." As usual, the quintet's picking -- led by Mike Auldridge's "talking dobro" -- was impeccable. What was new was the current lineup's ability to sell romantic material, thanks to Lou Reid's warm, disarming tenor at the center of the sterling three-part harmonies. The Seldom Scene perform every Thursday at the Birchmere.