John Prine’s son Tommy first tested out the hypothesis of pedigree in music with the song “Ships in the Harbor,” which fared so spectacularly well from a songwriting standpoint, it was named the Saving Country Music 2022 Song of the Year. About the death of his father and so much more, the song immediately announced this second generation performer as an important new voice in Americana music.
Now with a full-length album produced by singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly along with Genna Johnson, we have a more complete profile on Tommy Prine’s approach and prospects. This Far South includes glimmers of great songwriting and some engaging tracks that make it worth queuing up to find something new for your playlist, while also being one of those records that gives itself ample reasons to second guess some of the approach despite an overall positive assessment.
In the traditional sense, Tommy Prine does not possess a naturally pleasing singing voice, though that’s not especially required in the folk and songwriting realm. Just look at his father and many other folk singing contemporaries. Tommy’s vocal tone conveys sort of a sleepiness to it that can take some warming to. Doubling up on his vocal signal (though not harmonizing) to attempt to bolster his singing comes with mixed results on this album, and from a practice commonly frowned upon by producers and engineers.
This Far South is a rather genre-less work, perhaps more akin to indie rock than anything. It’s definitely not a rootsy or twangy album overall, though the steel guitar in the song “Boyhood” will be appreciated by country fans. Maybe the best way to succinctly describe the album is to say it includes that moody Ruston Kelly vibe, which might be a little too dour and obtuse for certain audiences, while this approach is not always complimentary to the songwriting.
Where This Far South finds its strength is when tempo and energy are introduced, acting like an antidote to some of the sleepiness of Tommy Prine’s delivery, and instilling some passion that is lacking in some of the other parts of the album. Though maybe one of the more risk-taking tracks, the powerpop moments of “Mirror and a Kitchen Sink” might be the album’s best. “Cash Carter Hill” about finding your own path and forging your own legacy in the rugged topography of the roots music landscape is inspiring and engaging as well.
Reigning SCM Song of the Year “Ships in the Harbor” did not make it on this album. But there are multiple instances where Tommy’s revered father is invoked, including the song “By The Way” that Prine sings directly to his late pops. This Far South is a very personal work to Tommy, taken directly from his thoughts and experiences, though sometimes coming across a bit puerile, like in the agnostic anthem that starts the record, “Elohim,” which may present an unnecessary roadblock for listeners of faith, and unfortunately, at the very beginning of the album.
Some of the tracks of This Far South feel more like glorified journal entries than actual songs, and you may start to wonder if there are a few too many references to John Prine and his passing by the end. But that doesn’t take away from the more spirited moments of this album, and what a rather phenomenal portfolio of quality songs that Tommy Prine has already accrued, including through this work.
This Far South is one of those albums that lends to opinion giving because it doesn’t take a straightforward approach. But it also keeps alive the promising aspects of what this up and coming songwriter is capable of, while doing the same to the name and legacy of the Prine family.
– – – – – – –