This review of the John Prine concert at Merrill Auditorium was originally published on May 1, 2011.

With all the talk of royalty and weddings, it seems appropriate to anoint John Prine as the king of the love song.

Certainly, the highly regarded American songwriter has mastered the art of emotional devastation in verse, but does anyone write a better song of devotion?

His brilliance was on display Friday night at Merrill Auditorium. Performing before an adoring, sold-out audience of 1,900, Prine, 64, peppered a marathon 25-song, two-hour set with sweet little numbers that left you smiling and feeling pretty good about the one you love.

”I wrote this one for my wife,” he rasped, launching into a blistering electric ”She is My Everything.” Earlier in the set, he gave us an up-tempo romp through ”Glory of True Love” and a soft, sly reading of ”Donald and Lydia,” which finds the song’s characters consummating their passion only in their dreams.

Even a song like ”Hello in There,” which at its stripped-down core stands as one of the saddest songs ever written, serves as a testament to the enduring power of staying together when all other hope is lost and life seems not worth living to the end.

Cancer surgery many years ago left Prine with an altered voice. He’s always sung with a pebbles in his mouth, but these days those pebbles more closely resemble a gravel road.

Weathered by age, illness and a lifetime of travels, his current voice adds texture to his songs and makes them poignant and meaningful.

At no time was that more evident than on ”Angel from Montgomery.” Instead of forcing the issue, Prine let the higher notes slip away and settled into a comfortable mid-range. That opened up the song and gave the words maximum impact. The performance was riveting and eloquent.

Prine delighted fans by going deep into his catalog. Backed by his loyal sidemen Jason Wilbur on guitar (and mandolin on a song or two) and Dave Jacques on electric and acoustic bass, Prine opened with the quick-tempo ”Spanish Pipedream,” ”Picture Show” – whoa ho! – and ”Humidity Built the Snowman.”

After that, he settled into a quieter routine. He gave us ”Grandpa Was a Carpenter,” ”Souvenirs” and loose renderings of both ”Dear Abby” and ”That’s the Way That the World Goes ‘Round.”

”Sam Stone,” about a Vietnam vet who ODs after returning to the civilian world, found the audience paying rapt, edge-of-seat attention. No matter how many times you hear that song, it never fails to make an emotional impact.

The Nashville duo Eric Brace and Peter Cooper opened with a 30-minute set, and joined Prine and his band for the encore, ”Paradise.”

On a day when the world celebrated a royal wedding, music fans in Portland were lucky enough to be in the company of a king of a different kind.

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