How John Prine’s Final Album Revitalized His Career
John Prine had a long and exceptionally distinguished career, and he went out on a high note. The folk icon's final album, 2018's The Tree of Forgiveness, was an award-winning project that earned him the highest album chart positions of his entire life.
The Tree of Forgiveness was Prine's first album of his own new songs since 2005's Fair and Square, and he collaborated with some top songwriting talent -- including Pat McLaughlin, Dan Auerbach, Keith Sykes and Phil Spector -- on the songs. The tracks were also peppered with guest appearances from Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires and Brandi Carlile, all of whom count Prine as an influence. Prine enlisted producer Dave Cobb to helm the album, which he recorded at RCA Studio A in Nashville.
Released on April 13, 2018 -- three years ago today -- The Tree of Forgiveness was a commercial success, debuting at No. 1 on Billboard's U.S. Folk Albums chart and at No. 2 on the Top Country Albums, Independent Albums and Top Rock Albums charts. The project also reached No. 5 on the all-genre Billboard 200: the highest album chart positions Prine had ever earned across his decades-long career.
The Tree of Forgiveness went on to sell more than 150,000 copies, and it earned praise from critics, with Rolling Stone calling the album "very good, frequently brilliant, with all the qualities that define Prine’s music." Pitchfork described the record as "wise and economical," while NPR, the New Yorker, the New York Times and more weighed in with accolades. Its final song, "When I Get to Heaven," lays out plans for the afterlife with Prine's characteristic humor and worldview -- a bittersweet move, given Prine's death about two years later.
The Tree of Forgiveness earned Prine three Grammy nominations: one for Best Americana Album and two for Best American Roots Song, for both "Summer's End" and "Knockin' on Your Screen Door." He received Album of the Year at the Americana Music Honors & Awards, at which he also won Song of the Year, for "Summer's End."
Prine finished off his career in a place of rare honor, having become one of the elder statesmen of the Americana movement and one of the main inspirations for some of today's most important singer-songwriters. He died at the age of 73 on April 7, 2020, from complications from the coronavirus (COVID-19), leaving behind an irreplaceable musical legacy; posthumously, his finale song, "I Remember Everything," debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Rock Digital Song Sales chart -- his first chart-topping song.
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