The Missing Years (album)

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The Missing Years
Studio album by John Prine
Released 1991
Recorded Huh Sound Theater, Los Angeles, CA and The Money Pit, Nashville, TN
Genre Folk, alt-country, Americana
Length 54:32
Label Oh Boy
Producer Howie Epstein
John Prine chronology
John Prine Live
(1988)
The Missing Years
(1991)
Great Days: The John Prine Anthology
(1993)

The Missing Years is the 10th studio album by American folk musician John Prine, released in 1991 on Oh Boy Records. It won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album.[1]

Recording[edit]

According to the Great Days: The John Prine Anthology liner notes, manager Al Bunetta and longtime Prine associate Dan Einstein were brainstorming over prospective producers at Oh Boy headquarters and the name of Howie Epstein came up. Epstein, the bass player in Tom Petty's Heartbreakers, was a longtime fan, with Prine recalling "I'd heard for years that he and (Heartbreakers keyboard player) Benmont Tench would show up at my shows. And I heard all the guys in the Heartbreakers played my stuff on the road. So Al called Howie. And before he could even hang up the phone, Howie was in the office. Four hours later, he was still there, talking to my manager about my music."

The Missing Years was Prine's first studio release since his 1986 album German Afternoons and is regarded as Prine's comeback album, featuring contributions from Tom Petty, Phil Everly, Bonnie Raitt, Albert Lee, and Bruce Springsteen. It was recorded at Huh Sound Theater in Los Angeles and The Money Pit in Nashville.

Composition[edit]

Although many listeners might assume that the album's title might allude to Prine's recent sabbatical from the music business, it actually refers to the song "Jesus The Missing Years", which speculates upon the unrecorded middle 18 years of Christ's life. The surreal piece features, among other things, Jesus traveling to France and Spain, marrying an Irish bride, inventing Santa Claus, and opening a show for country singer George Jones. "All The Best" dealt with the theme of divorce, with the singer commenting before a performance of the song on Irish TV in 1990, "Country songs and country songwriters are a strange lot. Seems like some of the best country songs over the years have come from some of the sadder situations in life - like divorce. Having recently acquired my second divorce, about a month later the song truck pulled up and dumped a bunch of great songs on my lawn."

In the Great Days anthology, Prine recalls that "The Sins Of Memphisto" was written under pressure from producer Epstein: "We were 12 cuts into The Missing Years, and Howie says, 'We need one or two more cuts.' And I went, 'You're kidding. From where? We've been working for nine months. I don't have anything hiding on the shelf. You could take a autopsy, and you won't find a song inside of me.' So I went and locked myself in a hotel room and went, 'If he wants a song, he'll get a song.' I tried to write one from as far in left field as I could and came up with 'Memphisto'." Prine added that "goofy" was one of his favorite adjectives and that in part inspired "It's A Big Old Goofy World".

The Missing Years features "Take A Look At My Heart" (co-written with rocker John Mellencamp) and collaborations with Keith Sykes and British songwriter Roger Cook. The album also includes a cover of the Lefty Frizzell classic "I Want To Be With You Always".

Reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
Allmusic 4.5/5 stars [1]
Robert Christgau (A-) [2]
Chicago Tribune 4/4 stars [3]
Entertainment Weekly (A-)[4]

The Missing Years was well received by critics and won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Writing for Allmusic, critic William Ruhlman wrote of the album "Prine took five years between his ninth studio album and this, his tenth—enough time to gather his strongest body of material in more than a decade...Prine's gifts for emotional revelation and off-the-wall humor are on display in abundance."[1] Music critic Robert Christgau wrote "Occasionally too fantastic but never too bitter, the sagest and funniest of the new Dylans writes like he's resigned to an unconsummated life and sounds like he's enjoying one...I attribute its undeviating quality, gratifying variety, and amazing grace to talent, leisure time, and just enough all-star input. I wouldn't swear there's a stone classic here - just nothing I wouldn't be happy to hear again."[2] Alanna Nash of Entertainment Weekly gave the album an A+ rating, writing "John Prine's best work has always been slightly cinematic and hallucinogenic, full of images that transport as well as provoke. There's plenty of that on this new album The Missing Years...While little here is stunning - except for the Dylanesque Take a Look at My Heart, a dear sucker letter to Prine's ex-old lady's boyfriend, with a subdued cameo vocal by Bruce Springsteen - all the songs are keepers, perfectly relaxed and wry."[4] Critic Lynn Van Matre of the Chicago Tribune wrote "One of the singer-songwriter's strongest and most wittily observant efforts, the album finds Prine at the top of his form in a mix of evocative folk-country ballads and more rocking fare...Goofily surreal and straightforwardly sentimental by turns, this one's a don't-miss for longtime Prine fans and anyone else with a taste for idiosyncratic singer-songwriters."[3] David Fricke observed in the Great Days anthology liner notes that Prine offers "a parcel songs that, for melodic charm, lyric whimsy, and emotional punch, were every bit the equal of those on John Prine. And this time, the music industry, and the general public, noticed."

Track listing[edit]

All songs by John Prine unless otherwise noted.

  1. "Picture Show" – 3:22
  2. "All the Best" – 3:28
  3. "The Sins of Memphisto" – 4:13
  4. "Everybody Wants to Feel Like You" (Prine, Keith Sykes) – 3:09
  5. "It's a Big Old Goofy World" – 5:10
  6. "I Want to Be With You Always" (Jimmy Beck, Lefty Frizzell) – 3:01
  7. "Daddy's Little Pumpkin" (Prine, Pat McLaughlin) – 2:41
  8. "Take a Look at My Heart" (John Mellencamp, Prine) – 3:38
  9. "Great Rain" (Prine, Mike Campbell) – 4:08
  10. "Way Back Then" – 3:39
  11. "Unlonely" (Prine, Roger Cook) – 4:35
  12. "You Got Gold" (Prine, Sykes) – 4:38
  13. "Everything Is Cool" – 2:46
  14. "Jesus the Missing Years" – 5:55

Personnel[edit]

Production notes[edit]

  • Howie Epstein – producer
  • Al Bunetta – executive producer
  • Dan Einstein – executive producer
  • Joe Romersa – engineer
  • Ed Seay – engineer, mixing
  • Joe Chiccarelli – mixing
  • Denny Purcell – mastering
  • Mike Poole – assistant engineer, mixing assistant
  • Dave Bossie – production assistant
  • Susanne Smolka – design

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Ruhlman, William. "The Missing Years > Review". Allmusic. Retrieved July 9, 2011. 
  2. ^ a b Christgau, Robert. "The Missing Years > Review". Robert Christgau. Retrieved July 9, 2011. 
  3. ^ a b Van Matre, Lynn (October 1991). "Review: The Missing Years". Chicago Tribune. 
  4. ^ a b Nash, Alanna (November 1991). "Review: The Missing Years". Entertainment Weekly.