Fish and Whistle
Assembled by James Kaplan and Jeffrey Herbst
This wonderful tribute to John Prine’s songs was produced for AFT’s 2006 Fall Show and featured three dynamic musicians Eric Lewis, Claudia Russell, and Scott Wakefield.
Singer/songwriter John Prine has been making music for more than 30 years. He has twice won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album (in 2006 for his album Fair and Square) and has been inducted into the Nashville Hall of Fame. His humorous and heartbreaking songs have been recorded by a diverse group of artists, such as Steve Goodman, Bonnie Raitt, John Denver, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Johnny Cash, Tammy Wynette, Nancy Griffith, and The Everly Brothers.
Door County Advocate
September 2, 2006
AFT shows Prine is well-suited
Each fall American Folklore Theatre has a tradition of offering an end-of-season show that focuses on the music of one group or artist. Several years ago they gave us a wonderful show of Paul Simon’s music. Last year it was the Weavers. This time it’s “Fish and Whistle: The Songs of John Prine.”
You might be asking, “Who is John Prine?”
Born in the Chicago area, Prine spent his early years working for the postal service. He wrote a few songs and went to one of those open mike auditions. Prine proved to be talented — no less a figure than Kris Krisofferson was invited to hear him, and liked what he heard. Prine’s career was launched.
His recording career spans 35 years, and he has won the Grammy for best contemporary folk album in 1991 (“The Missing Years”) and in 2005 (“Fair and Square”).
Like Paul Simon and the Weavers, Prine’s music is perfect entertainment for Door County. His songs are lighthearted, funny, and breezy. He has a great sense of humor but can be romantic and serious on occasion.
AFT’s singers in this show are three regulars: Eric Lewis, Claudia Russell, and Scott Wakefield. All three appreared in last year’s Weavers show, and Ms. Russell has been seen in the Paul Simon show.
The newest show offers 19 songs that truly range from the ridiculous to the sublime. Probably the silliest song offered is “Let’s Talk Dirty in Hawaiian.” Wakefield is hilarious playing a ukelele while trying to sing words that are fake Hawaiian and part English. The song gets big laughs.
Also very funny is “Quit Hollerin’ at Me.” The song is about all those annoying television commericals where the advertisers yell at us and repeat things over and over. I am in complete sympathy with this song, as I often find myself hitting the mute button on the remote when those intrusive ads come on.
“Please Don’t Bury Me” also gets a lot of laughs. Wakefield takes the lead in this tune that suggests the songwriter wants every part of his body donated to science. It might sound like a bizarre subject for a folk song, but Prine’s lyrics are meant to be very tongue in cheek. Wakefield does a great job with this song.
The serious songs, though, are where Prine and his Door County interpreters really shine. Their rendition of his “Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” is a bittersweet tune about the pain of being abandoned. The song’s lyrics are very touching and the trio beautifully emphasizes this song’s country roots.
Also very poignant is the ballad “Long Monday.” This too is another sad song that the trio handles with grace and great care. Very enjoyable is Prine’s most recognizable song, “Angel From Montgomery.” Prine has had no Top 40 hits, but this song gained fame when Bonnie Raitt took it up. The AFT players’ rendition is exquisite.
The show wraps up with the spirited “Fish and Whistle.” This clever tune encapsulates what the evening is all about.
I enjoy singers communicating with their audiences by telling a few jokes and talking to the audience. I have experienced performers who do not talk at all and those who speak too much. AFT’s trio talks a little bit but mainly allows the music to speak for itself. In the case of John Prine, his words say just about all you need to know. I appreciate the players not cluttering their performance with unecessary conversation.
The songs of John Prine makes for great listening and is very well performed. The show is also the right length: not too short and not too long.
Green Bay Press Gazette
September 1, 2006
‘Fish and Whistle’ picks prime Prine
EPHRAIM – A gem of a showcase is under way as the fall production of American Folklore Theatre.
The show mines the songs of John Prine, a two-time Grammy winner who has crafted 18 albums in his 40-year career in the fringes of folk/country.
He is present as songwriter only in AFT’s “Fish and Whistle: The Songs of John Prine.”
As with some AFT fall shows, this one is an appreciation. In 19 songs, listeners get a good idea of one person’s creativity while hearing three skilled people give it color.
The show includes skim biographical notes, little theatre, and not much folklore. It contains touching, comical, provocative and independent-minded tunes in a folky setting of a stage with wood framework reminiscent of a barn.
On the back wall hangs an arsenal of instruments that are played in the show: guitars of various sizes and types, mandolin, ukelele, accordion, drums, banjo and percussion devices. Harmonicas lie on a table, and a pedal steel guitar sits to one side.
Pulling off the show with no sheet music and no lyric sheets — about 1 1/2 hours of dense material in words and music – are Eric Lewis, Claudia Russell, and Scott Wakefield.
Opening night Thursday found the three pressed to the limit at times in some of Prine’s speedball tunes, but their performance was primarily delicious.
Delicious? There’s something about acoustical instruments played by pros blended with rich material and nice voices – heard live – that’s particularly tasty.
Material assembled by AFT Artistic Director Jeffrey Herbst and Musical Director James Kaplan touches many bases.
Songs are touching (“Speed of the Sound of Loneliness” and “Hello in There,” featuring Russell); country-clever (“Please Don’t Bury Me” and “You Got Gold,” featuring Lewis); hilarious (“Let’s Talk Dirty In Hawaiian,” featuring Wakefield); a bit defiant (“Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody,” featuring Wakefield); and weird (“Lake Marie,” featuring Wakefield).
As a whole, the show paints Prine as an original character with the “painters” painting deftly.