John Prine and Mac Wiseman are not average people, and the songs they’ve chosen for this low-key collection are hardly standard. Prine is famous for a superior catalogue of songs with lyrics that boast a wry sensibility and emotional acuity. Wiseman, who turns 82 in May, is known for his mellow tenor voice, which first gained notice in the late 1940s when he sang with Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe. For decades, he’s been a mainstay on the bluesgrass festival circuit.
This disc recalls Prine’s covers collection of male-female duets, 1999′s In Spite Of Ourselves, except that the sexual dynamics of those pairings encouraged flintier arrangements than these sociable, verse-swapping collaborations with Wiseman. The songs are certainly first-rate, with copyrights from Ernest Tubb (“Blue Eyed Elaine”), Bill Anderson (“Saginaw, Michigan”) and Kris Kristofferson (“Just The Other Side Of Nowhere”). And the instrumentalists are top-notch, including Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Lloyd Green (pedal steel), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) and Pat McLaughlin on various stringed instruments.
“Don’t Be Ashamed Of Your Age”, a snappy shuffle by Bob Wills and Cindy Walker, might as well be the collection’s unofficial theme song, though nothing emphasizes the disc’s old-fashioned values better than “Old Cape Cod”, a 1957 Patti Page hit that’s wrapped in the schmaltzy singing of the Grand Ole Opry’s Carol Lee Singers. Add a couple of traditional gospel numbers, “In The Garden” and “Old Rugged Cross”, and you’ve got an amiable picking party that evokes placid Sunday picnics more than rowdy Saturday nights. And while the results are pleasant enough, one can’t help but wish somebody had spiked the punchbowl.