Prine is a songwriting legend from the suburbs of Chicago and a star of counter-culture country and Americana. Mac Wiseman, raised on a farm in the Shenandoah Valley, is one of the framers of the bluegrass constitution and one of the most artful song interpreters in country music history. They are separated by 21 years, a full generation. And yet to hear their voices twine together on this set of deftly-chosen songs, one is struck by a deep and moving kinship, an empathy that goes beyond mere collaboration.
Prine reports that the duet was first suggested some years ago by Nashville producer, songwriter and idea-man Cowboy Jack Clement. Eventually, Prine reached out, inviting Wiseman over for a conversation and some music-making. It went so well that Prine suggested they each make up a list of songs they might like to record, with no limits on genre or vintage. When they sat down to compare lists, both were amazed to discover that out of the world's songbook, they'd picked seven in common. Prine said, "That's when we thought, 'Man, this is a green light.'"
John Prine has proven himself as a collaborator and interpreter before. His 1999 duets album In Spite of Ourselves earned a Grammy nomination. Wiseman has matched voices with Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt, Molly O'Day and many other greats. Thus it's little surprise that the two men sing together as easily as Fred and Ginger spinning across a soundstage. What's amazing is that Wiseman has said that of the 600-plus sides he's recorded in his career, this was "by far the most gratifying experience I've ever had in the studio." Asked why, he chose two words: "sincerity" and "compatibility."
One need look no further for adjectives to describe this album. The singers recorded the tracks facing each other across a dining room table set up in a basement studio near Nashville's atmospheric and semi-renovated Neuhoff meat packing plant. Co-producer and engineer David Ferguson (Johnny Cash) assembled an extraordinary group of sidemen, including guitarists Pat McLaughlin and Jamie Hartford, drummer Kenny Malone, bassist Dave Jacques and pedal steel legend Lloyd Green. It's no stretch to call the final product a masterpiece. Standard songs, yes, but extraordinary choices and performances. Average people these aren't, but the title carries the message that music like this, timeless and gentle and humane, is not for music snobs or insiders. It's not only for the old or the young or for a demographic or psychographic. It is, across generation and persuasion, for all of us. - Craig Havighurst, Nashville