It's a morbid business, but most practical editors in the journalism racket have a folder filled with pre-written obituaries all ready to go for seriously ill, soon-to-be-departed public figures of import. John Prine undoubtedly found his way into some of those folders in 1998, when he was stricken with cancer of the neck at age 52 -- after all, the Illinois mailman turned singer-songwriter was once tagged as "the next Dylan" for his narrative prowess, keen wit, and knack for affecting performances, and he's influenced countless numbers of folk, country and rock musicians since the early '70s. Yet Prine beat the disease with surgery and a year of treatment that at points threatened his vocal cords ("I said [to the doctors], 'You guys ever heard me sing? If I can talk, I can sing. I'll worry about singing, you guys worry about getting rid of all the cancer,'" he later told Wholenote). His voice may have dropped an octave as a result, but there's no tumble in quality on this year's acclaimed Fair & Square -- his first disc of new material in nearly a decade -- behind which he's touring. Expect a wonderful show from a classy performer who's very much alive and kickin'.
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