Fifty years after John Prine first recorded “Paradise” for his self-titled debut album, Sturgill Simpson lends his distinctive voice to Prine’s personal tale of a Kentucky town decimated by strip mining. Simpson’s rendition is set to appear on the upcoming Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows Vol. 2, a tribute album to Prine due this fall.
Simpson, a Kentucky native, sang about the environmental and societal impact of mining on his 2013 debutHigh Top Mountain in the ballad “Old King Coal,” a song that echoes the themes of “Paradise.” Simpson’s recording of the Prine staple leans toward a bluegrass arrangement and features players who appeared on Simpson’s two bluegrass albums, Cuttin’ Grass.
In a bit of tragic irony, Simpson’s “Paradise” holds the distinction of being the last song ever recorded at the Butcher Shoppe, the Nashville studio Prine operated with producer-engineer David “Ferg” Ferguson. The facility was recently demolished as Nashville continues to expand and accommodate new residents and a stream of tourists. “They wrote it all down as the progress of man,” Prine wrote in “Paradise.” Prine’s record label Oh Boy Records tweeted a video of the Butcher Shoppe’s demolition set to Simpson’s version on Thursday.
Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows Vol. 2 features artists like Brandi Carlile and Simpson covering Prine’s songs. It’ll be released by Oh Boy Records on October 8th; each month, the label will release a new artist and song from the album. “Paradise” follows Carlile’s take on “I Remember Everything.”
Prine and Simpson were fast friends. Upon Prine’s death from Covid-19 in April 2020, he left Simpson his 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo. “For myself along with many others, he was a mentor,” Simpson said in a release announcing “Paradise.” “He was very giving with his time and wisdom, and we were all grateful to get to know him.” Proceeds from the new recording will benefit UNICEF USA’s Covid-19 Relief Fund.