John Prine should be one of the four faces on songwriting's Mount Rushmore, cheek by jowl with Lucinda Williams, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," from his brilliant 1971 debut album, is perhaps even more relevant today than it was back then.
So after 45 years of penning some of the most indelible songs of his generation, Prine has earned the right to put it in cruise control for an album of covers. For Better, or Worse is a bookend companion to In Spite of Ourselves, Prine's 1999 collection of country duets with a clutch of iconic women. Heard side-by-side, it hardly seems that 17 years could separate the two albums. Prine's voice, gravelly after a bout with cancer, is the perfect foil, allowing his partners to shine.
Prine's duet partners this time around include Alison Krauss, Susan Tedeschi, Kacey Musgraves, Amanda Shires, Lee Ann Womack and Kathy Mattea, tackling songs that range from classic (Hank Williams' "Cold, Cold Heart") to obscure (Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb's "Who's Gonna Take the Garbage Out").
Happily, Iris DeMent, who sang on In Spite of Ourselves, returns to join Prine on this album with "Mr. and Mrs. Used to Be," another tune drawn from the Lynn-Tubb songbook and a classic back-and-forth that captures the humor and affectionate needling of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash in their infamous "Jackson."