John Prine was cleaning his basement when he stumbled upon an old concert recording. But it wasn’t just any concert recording: It was Prine, in his late Seventies prime, playing full-on rock & roll with an electric band. Now the show, a rarity in the Grammy winner’s catalog, is getting wider release this week: September ’78 will be issued digitally for the first time on August 25th.
Recorded at the Park West Theater in Chicago in the fall of 1978, September ’78 sees the singer-songwriter in raucous form. He barrels through the harmonica-laden opener “Often is a Word I Seldom Use,” stumbles through the hillbilly hijinks of “Please Don’t Bury Me” and sings ragged harmonies on a bluesy take of “Angel From Montgomery.” He throws in a couple covers: the Righteous Brothers’ “Try to Find Another Man” and a breakneck version of Elvis Presley’s “Treat Me Nice.”
Prine had recorded the Bruised Orange LP earlier that year, a few songs from which – “Crooked Piece of Time” and “Iron Ore Betty” – appear on September ’78. The Park West recording sounds more like a precursor to the album he cut a few months later, Pink Cadillac, which makes sense given that Prine’s backing band here – Tommy “Pickles” Piekarski, Howard Levy, and longtime friend and collaborator Johnny Burns – all joined him on that record.
Despite the fact that Prine salvaged September ’78 from his basement clutter, it’s not the first time the album has been issued. Prine’s Oh Boy Records first released it as a limited-edition Record Store Day exclusive in 2015, pressing 2,000 vinyl copies.