The former mail carrier's ability to turn a phrase, combined with early '70s timing, made Prine one of the first singer-songwriters forced to don the "next Dylan" tag, and one of only two (the other being a fellow from "the swamps of Jersey") able to successfully cast the label aside and fashion a clear identity.
But whereas Dylan's poetry arrived as if passed down from the gods, and Springsteen's broad strokes approach a near-operatic scale, Prine's literate writing has never been off-putting or remote. Rather, his deceptively simple lyrics have always struck a poignant balance between the comic and the tragic, conveying the experience of ordinary folk in a musical style equivalent to a wise neighbor's nod and wink.
Though he's never been in the same zip code as a radio hit, and a not-too-distant battle with throat cancer reinforced an already leisurely work schedule (midweek fishing trips and a new album when he gets around to it), Prine's legion of loyal fans fill weekend theaters across the country for a welcome dose of his sagacious charm. Nowadays, somebody somewhere ought to be looking for the next John Prine.