Zac Brown knows as well as anyone the place that the very living and legendary John Prine holds in the heart of any Americana and folk music lover. The affable, bearded, beanie-wearing artist earned the faithful following for himself and his band with crowd-friendly country songs like “Chicken Fried” and “Free,” and the loving “Whatever It Is,” and he has stretched himself to patriotic and personal depths in song, too. John Prine already had released numerous anthology collections by the time “The Missing Years” came in 1991, once again bringing his raw, playful and real songwriting genius to another generation. Clearly, Zac Brown has been listening to John Prine through many years, and he invites talents, Kacey Musgraves and John Driskell Hopkins to create a very worthy tribute to the elder folk master, who’s still out there singing.

Homespun and raw heart

“All the Best” is the last track on “Welcome Home,” which releases on May 12, and there couldn't be a more fitting title for the artist who prides himself as much for providing his loyal fans with the finest cuisine, served with southern hospitality, at the band’s shows as much as his music. Speaking of fans, Zac Brown constantly surprises them with swings from earnest country to electro-pop dance music, as in the “Jekyll + Hyde” collection from 2015. “I'm stripped-down and naked on a fence for this album,” Brown explained, describing the work as “honest and personal as it can be.” The return-to-roots direction likely draws from producer Dave Cobb, known for his deft touch with Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton, and Jason Isbell, whose recent collaborations have yielded Grammy gold and critical acclaim.

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For Brown, “All the Best” is about speaking to history, to joy and heartbreak in life, and it all is heard through the lyric video.

A different tack

“All the Best” is completely truthful, in true John Prine fashion on the original, but there is the tone of a slight smirk, too. With Zac Brown’s treatment, set against black and white footage of war memorials, old treasures, and extreme close-ups, the cry is more plaintive, almost asking “What can we do?” in ending the hurt that seems to be touching the soul of global humanity. The harmonies and percussion are almost so faint as to become inaudible at times, but the message rings clear. The “told you so” tone is absent on the “Welcome Home” version, but the shared wisdom of turning cheeks and hope out of hurting is equally genuine.

John Prine is not slowing down at 70. He starts selected tour dates on May 3 running through September and has a lifetime of songs to choose from in his beloved catalog. He is joining the ranks of other artists to see that fans get tickets over scalpers, and don't be surprised if special friends show up on stage.