Gold Soundz: "Lake Marie"

John Prine, first and foremost, is a songwriter. His most acclaimed period were the early years of the 1970s, during which time he released many of his most famous and lasting tunes, including “Angel From Montgomery”, which has been covered too many times to mention, “Sam Stone”, and “Souvenirs”. Prine’s songs displayed that special gift of taking very simple words and creating stories with layer upon layer of feeling and meaning. He was just as comfortable singing a heartfelt, earnest folk ballad as a bitingly cynical song of social protest. His influence is undeniable, and transcends the Americana genre his music would be classified as. He was an influence on his contemporaries (Springsteen is a big fan), and his songs have been covered by everyone from Johnny Cash to Bonnie Raitt to Evan Dando.

That being said, my favorite John Prine song is from the 1990s. Tucked into 1995’s Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings is the beautiful, and beautifully weird, “Lake Marie”. The song tells a story where place is every bit as important, if not more so, than the people involved, taking different moments in the modern history of a pair of lakes on the Illinois/Wisconsin border and intertwining them. The verses of the song tell seemingly unrelated stories of an Indian tribe and 2 white babies, the highs and lows of a relationship, and a murder, all of which share the lakes as a setting. The chorus, a soaring rush of sweet harmony, ties the setting to the verses, letting us know that all of these folks were “standing by peaceful waters”, whether they found peace or not.

Prine has a solid voice for the type of music he plays, but it‘s probably not going to be your new favorite. He sounds like an old man recalling memories on the spoken word verses. What he masters throughout the song though is intonation and sharp lyricism. Honestly, I’m not 100% sure that I’m using that word correctly, but bare with me. He knows exactly when to emphasize a particular syllable or word for full dramatic effect. Listen to him drag out the ’S’ in “sssssssizzlin”, and later in “sshhhharp”, and tell me you can‘t hear those sausages on the grill, or feel that knife dig into your skin. Listen to the way he repeats “shadows” in the last verse in a higher register when describing what blood looks like on a black and white TV, or the way the line “the wind was blowing, especially through her hair” brings forth images far beyond just a windy day by the lake.

Each of the three stories in “Lake Marie”, if fleshed out a bit, would probably make for great songs on their own. Together though they tell a story in fragments that’s as alive and vivid as any traditional story song I can think of, save maybe “A Boy Named Sue”. I dare any fan of the Americana genre to not drown in good ol’ “Lake Marie”.

MP3 :: Lake Marie
(from Lost Dogs & Mixed Blessings. Buy here)

This is the latest in a fairly new series of posts featuring some of my favorite songs of all time. “Gold Soundz” because it’s cool to have a “feature” that rips off a not-at-all obscure Pavement song.

Gold Soundz - “Gimme Back My Dog”
Gold Soundz - “In The City”

1 comment:

Eli said...

I heard him play "Lake Marie" at the Beacon Theater in NYC several years ago. It was the most inspirational song I have ever heard played live. I knew the song before hand, I had heard it before, and never thought much of it. Next thing I know I'm in tears at the end of his performance. Completely unforgettable.