When it comes to John Prine, there’s not a lot of middle ground.
‘“There’s complete devotion, or I’ve never heard of him,” said Birmingham native singer/songwriter Rick Carter, a member of the Alabama Troubadours — a group that shares and celebrates the late Prine’s music.
Count the Troubadours among the “complete devotion” crowd.
On Dec. 15, they’ll bring a two-hour, 30-song concert celebrating Prine’s music to Montgomery’s Capri Theatre, 1045 E. Fairview Ave. Tickets are $45 at capritheatre.org. It’ll be the band’s last concert of 2023.
“We love this project, and we want Montgomery to work for us,” Carter said.
The Alabama Troubadours — Carter (Rollin’ in The Hay, Telluride), Donna Hall (Wet Willie), Stan Foster (Rollin’ in The Hay, Phil and Foster) and William “Moose” Harrell (Jason Ringenberg, Telluride) — didn’t get the chance to know the late singer/songwriter John Prine personally before his death at 73, but Prine’s music made a lifelong impact on them.
“Moose and I started a band called Telluride back in 1977, but we go back to Mobile in 1974,” Carter said. “The first songs that we learned together were John Prine songs. John Prine has always been a musical character intertwined with everything we’ve done.”
In addition to harmony vocals, Harrell plays acoustic, electric and lap steel guitars.
Hall and Foster (bass and harmony vocals) are a couple in Mobile, introduced to each other by Carter.
“I performed for their marriage ceremony,” Carter said. “Unless you’re actual blood, you don’t get much closer than our family.”
The concept for the Alabama Troubadours began four years ago, about a year prior to Prine’s death on April 27, 2020.
“Out of respect, we put the whole project on the back burner until the beginning of this year,” Carter said. “We did our first show in March, and have done over a handful, and sold out four of them.”
Instead of being labeled as a “tribute act,” Carter says they’re a celebration of Prine’s music.
“There’s a lot of obvious songs that people know, but we go pretty deep in the catalogue,” Carter said. “John Prine fans, really true fans, they look for those deep cuts.”
Among the songs they’ll perform is, of course, Prine’s 1971 hit “Angel From Montgomery,” which was taken to new heights a few years later by Bonnie Raitt and has been covered and beloved in the years since.
“Singing ‘Angel’ really has made me use my voice differently,” said Hall, a member of the music hall of fames in Alabama and Georgia. She’s an original member of the band Wet Willie, and is sister of Jimmy and Jack Hall. She’s sang back up with Marshall Tucker Band, Bonnie Bramlett, Gregg Allman, and Grand Funk Railroad.
“With Wet Willie and a lot of the other projects, I’m a belter. A gospel, heavy vibrato,” Hall said. “(Alabama Troubadours) made me step back and use more dynamics, and I’m really enjoying using that part of my voice.”
“Angel From Montgomery” is one the Troubadours usually save for toward the end of the show. Another is “In Spite of Ourselves.”
“Ninety percent of the people want to hear ‘In Spite of Ourselves,’ and they’re done,” Carter said. “So we make them wait until the end to do that.”
In addition to all the Prine songs, the Troubadours have one original piece, “Now He’s Gone.” That’s a tribute to Prine, written by Carter about the night Prine died.
“I used select lyrics of his songs in the verses,” Carter said. “It’s part of the encore that we do.”
Foster said he’s enjoying all the harmonies with the Troubadours.
“Rick and I have been playing together since ’94 with Rollin’ in the Hay, so I know how to sing harmonies with Rick,” Foster said. “I sing well with Donna, so it’s an immediate three part.”
But it’s more than just voice.
“Rick has worked so hard to do the exact finger picking patterns, and all the things that are really important to make it sound like John Prine,” Foster said. “Not just strumming the guitar.”
Whether or not audiences happen to remember Prine the man, odds are they know his songs.
“A lot of people know the words, so we invite them to sing along,” Foster said.
It’s a show that Alabama Troubadours could be continuing for many years to come. They’re already making plans for 2024.
“We’re a team, and we feel like a family,” Hall said. “We really look forward to playing with each other, and I think the audience can tell how much we love it.”
Stick around after the concert for a meet and greet with the Alabama Troubadours, and you can also pick up some of the band’s swag.
“We have different posters and t-shirts that are made specifically for each performance,” Carter said. “This particular show in Montgomery has two different show posters and two different t-shirts as well.”
The band offered a big shout out to the Alabama Troubadours’ producer and manager Lisa Gholson, whose works behind the scenes have made this year’s tour possible.
“She’s sort of like the talent wrangler,” Foster said.
Carter is also an author. His book “Fables and Stories: Tales From an Alabama Troubadour” was released in 2022. A book signing is planned in conjunction with the Capri and the Fitzgerald Museum.
Keep up with the band online at thealabamatroubadours.com.
Montgomery Advertiser reporter Shannon Heupel covers things to do in the River Region. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org