If John Prine is one of America's greatest singer-songwriters — and he is — you might wonder why he'd need to make covers albums at all. But Standard Songs for Average People, like 1999's In Spite of Ourselves, is not only a classic collection of other people's material but a great duets album as well. With In Spite, Prine sang 15 old country songs with nine women and threw in an original that topped everything, just to keep you on your toes; here, he and bluegrass great Mac Wiseman settle into their respective easy chairs and go kneecap to kneecap on 14 songs of varying provenance.
With expert backing from a number of Nashville pros and the plummy Carol Lee Singers offsetting the ragged headliners, the results are as relaxed as a game of cribbage with the best man from all three of your weddings. Highlights are plentiful, from Lester Armistead's yowled background vocals on “Pistol Packin'Mama” and “The Blue Side of Lonesome” to the magnificent spoken intro to Tom T. Hall's “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine” (Prine: “How old do you think I am?” Wiseman: “Well, I don't know.” Prine: “Man, I turned 65… about 11 months ago.”) to a surpassingly gentle, definitive “Old Cape Cod.” As a roommate who overheard the album put it, “I want to fry an egg to this.”