John Prine and Mac Wiseman, Standard Songs for Average People (Oh Boy Records, 2007)

Standard Songs for Average People finds two legends of American music combining to pay homage to a collection of old country songs. This is a project that, in the wrong hands, could have mined the depths of kitsch and over-sentimentality, but with John Prine and Mac Wiseman at the helm you are presented with an honest and heartfelt recording. With a combined age of just over 140 years, Prine and Wiseman seem to pour every ounce of their lives' experiences and emotions into their vocals and there is an overwhelming feeling of mutual respect that permeates each and every note they sing.

The exuberant Jerry Lee Lewis hit, "Don't Be Ashamed Of Your Age," is an apt inclusion here, and neither Prine nor Wiseman have anything to be ashamed of with this song or, for that matter, any of the thirteen other songs on Standard Songs for Average People. Lloyd Green's pedal steel adds the requisite country twang and the song ends perfectly, with both singers' gritty voices combining in impressive harmony. Al Dexter's "Pistol Packin' Mama" injects another dose of fun into proceedings, with Pat McLaughlin's harmonica adding an interesting rhythmic texture and Ronnie McCoury turning in a typically impressive mandolin solo.

Tom T. Hall's "Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine" is a beautifully pensive song that muses over an innocence lost in adulthood; "Old dogs care about you even when you make mistakes / God bless little children while they're still too young to hate." This is followed by an absolutely sublime rendition of "Old Cape Cod." Both songs feature the amassed harmony vocals of the Grand Ole Opry's Carol Lee Singers, who also feature elsewhere on the album. In sashaying waltz-time, "The Blue Side Of Lonesome" is a similarly slow-burning number, given a delightful old-time sound courtesy of Jack Clements doleful dobro and Ronnie McCoury's chiming yet reserved mandolin.

Kris Kristofferson's "Just The Other Side Of Nowhere" lifts the tempo somewhat with it's jaunty sing-along chorus, whilst closing the album is another waltz, Bing Crosby's "Where The Blue Of The Night," perfect for the last dance or in this case the last song.

Standard Songs for Average People is a warm and inspired collection; a celebration of fourteen fine songs, and two even finer singers.

[Mike Wilson]