Long before he became a lauded alt-country singer-songwriter, John Prine had a much humbler vocation: a mailman, thinking up would-be hit songs while navigating his monotonous route. And while he talked about handing out mail on a fascinating recent episode of interviewer/comedian Marc Maron's WTF podcast, he's just as compelling while singing about taking out the trash. That's right: Prine opens his new duets covers album For Better, Or Worse with the classic "Who's Gonna Take Your Garbage Out," originally performed by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb in 1969.
The veteran songwriter celebrated surviving cancer with 1999’s In Spite of Ourselves, a set of country classics sung as male-female duets that proved righteously popular. Here, he repeats the trick with an impressive parade of young female singers to complement his own leathery tones, the exception being Iris DeMent. Most songs, made famous by the likes of George Jones and Jessi Colter, evoke the “countrypolitan” Nashville of the 50s and 60s, with Prine cast as laconic observer while the women take the lead.
In 1999, John Prine released a thoroughly charming and engaging album called In Spite of Ourselves, in which he covered a handful of classic country tunes (tossing in one new original for good measure) as duets with nine talented female vocalists. Prine has given the same approach another try 17 years later, and though For Better, or Worse isn't quite as good as his first go-round with this concept, it's still a fine collection of songs from a man who knows a bit about crafting a tune. The greatest strength of For Better, or Worse is also one of its weaknesses -- Prine himself.