17 June 2022 (released)
17 June 2022
When a great artist passes, among the outpouring of love you'll find a plethora of tributes from the musicians who derived inspiration from them. First a wave of covers of a few of the artist's most successful songs. When Bowie died there was a deluge of 'Heroes' covers in the following weeks, as if the man with a legendary career spanning six different decades had only struck gold with the one tune. Then the covers of oddities and deep cuts come out and we get to re-experience the career of the artist through new ears. The true legacy comes from the endless ripples of inspiration that permeate from the musician's catalogue out into the culture and affect songwriters for decades to come. In some ways that is the truest form of tribute.
Artfully plain-spoken singer-songwriter John Prine was one of the casualties of Covid in 2020. His fans were a passionate bunch. Endlessly inspired by the love, care, and unfettered reality that came from his deeply affecting lyrics. One such devotee, New Jersey singer-songwriter Eric Harrison was strongly moved by the career of Prine. Driven to honour Prine's legacy and encouraged by his producer Kevin Salem, Harrison took the time during lockdown to write five original songs that were inhabited by the spirit of Prine's work. Rather than run off a set of covers, Harrison dug deep to really understand the impact that the late artist had on his songwriting and his life in general. Dear John is filled with the kind of honest, relatable stories that populated all of Prine's work.
A sonorous western lead guitar line in the vein of Roy Orbison introduces the opener 'Till You Make Me Home'. Harrison plainly confesses feelings without the veil of pretense or the self-consciousness of machismo. The singer is persistent in his quest to win over the object of his affection. The chorus lines use an instantly catchy yet deceptively elegant rhyming structure. Lap steel and subtle backing organ add church-like layers that lift the track to another level.
'Cougar Jenny' is a playful, small-town swaying ditty about the power dynamics between a young man and an older woman. Harrison and vocalist Simi Stone trade off verses about their side of an innocently misguided obsession. 'Hot Teardrops and Cold Compresses' juxtaposes jaunty standup bass with wistful lap steel. A song where you get the full sense of a life lived in under four minutes. Harrison looks through his bumpy road of life and looks ahead to his eventual end singing with acceptance and optimism “Soon I'll be across that line/Gonna burn one with John Prine”.
A light-footed hop guides 'Hoover Dam' as Harrison uses the mighty national landmark to flow in and out of a relationship metaphor. The closer 'Live Before You Die' is as largely reflective as you'd expect from a track wrapping such an album. Harrison offers those small kernels of advice that become cliches since they are so true and become glaringly relevant when certain circumstances come our way. Dear John is a welcome hug for anyone who was hit hard by the loss of John Prine. An album that is as earnest and full of heart as the man was.