For Better, Or Worse is a somewhat belated sequel to John Prine‘s 1999 release In Spite of Ourselves, this again finds Prine duetting with a variety of female country and alt-folk singers for a collection of country covers, all bar one track recorded live with both singers present. With the exception of wife Fiona Prine (who joins him on the lazily strummed My Happiness, the Betty Peterson Blasco song covered by Elvis on his very first recording), the only returning name from the first album is Iris DeMent. She appears on two numbers, both former Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb break-up hits, kicking the album off with the verse trading Who’s Gonna Take Your Garbage Out and returning later for Mr. & Mrs. Used To Be.
She’s not the only guest to sing on more than one track. Lee Ann Womack makes her first contribution on Jessi Colter’s aching two-step Storms Never Last, one of several numbers that were never conceived as duets, the second being the Conway Twitty hit Fifteen Years Ago on which, to the sound of pedal steel (either Lloyd Green or Al Perkins), she takes the first verse. Also kicking the song off, Kathy Mattea makes her first appearance on Remember Me, a Scott Wiseman song dating from 1940, originally recorded by Lulu Bell & Scotty and subsequently covered by such names as Red Foley, Willie Nelson and Ernest Tubb. Her second contribution is to a verse-sharing, harmonica-accompanied of Allen Reynolds’ slow waltzing Waylon Jennings classic, Dreaming My Dreams.
The one-shot guest singers kick off with the only track not recorded face-to-face, Alison Krauss joining Prine for the waltzing evergreen, Falling In Love Again, trading verses and providing harmonies on the chorus. Next up, and again taking the lead on the first half of the song, you get blues and soul singer, Susan Tedeschi of Tedeschi Trucks fame, here hitting the honky tonks for George Jones’ Color of the Blues. Largely forgotten Western Swing bandleader Billy Hughes wrote I’m Telling You back in 1946 and for this faithful, if slightly more uptempo and fiddle-backed (courtesy of Tim O’Brien) version Prine’s joined by Holly Williams. Of course, you can’t have an album of country classics without featuring at least one by her grandfather, Hank Williams, and that’s duly provided by Cold Cold Heart, a pedal-steel-led duet with .
Not greatly known outside of Nashville, Morgane Stapleton (the singer-songwriter wife of Chris Staleton) duets on one of the more recent numbers, the Vince Gill/Max Barnes penned brushed snare hony tonk waltzer Look At Us, this leading into another Western Swing era nugget, a twangsome Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, written by Joe Maphis, Rose Lee Maphis and Max Fidler and perhaps best known from the version by The New Riders of the Purple Sage, that features rising country star Amanda Shires.
The final duet features another relatively new name on the Nashville scene, Kasey Musgraves, who joins Prine, both speaking their verses for Buck Owens’ playful divorce number Mental Cruelty. The album closes with Prine in spoken solo form on Just Waitin,’ another Hank Williams number , a reflection on the idiosyncrasies of human nature, originally recorded in 1964 on his album of recitations under the pseudonym of Luke The Drifter.
A worthy follow-up to its predecessor (reissued on vinyl to coincide), one review said that ranked “as one of Prine’s finest works.” I reckon the same applies here.
For Better, Or Worse is released on 30 September via Oh Boy Records