Piano & a Microphone 1983

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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

As the first major release from Prince's vault (the 2017 expanded edition of Purple Rain was announced prior to his 2016 death), Piano & a Microphone 1983 is disarmingly casual. Its prosaic title is a precise description of the album's content -- it is nothing more than Prince sitting at a piano, playing whatever comes to his mind for just over half an hour -- yet even if the record delivers upon that promise, it's not quite as simple as it seems. For one, there's a level of intimacy on Piano & a Microphone unlike anything else in Prince's catalog. While there may have been some editing sleight of hand to make these 35 minutes appear to be a continuous performance, there's no production to speak of, yet it still bears the hallmarks of a studio recording; the music is too clear to be anything but. Despite early appearances of "17 Days," "Purple Rain," and "Strange Relationship," this can't be called a demo session: Prince plays his recent "International Lover," hauls out the spiritual standard "Mary Don't You Weep" -- a song he could in no way have been considering for inclusion on an album -- and plays a bit of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You." The brevity of "A Case of You" and "Purple Rain" -- both hover around 90 seconds -- highlights this session's informality, but that point is hammered home at the end of the record when Prince goofs through "Cold Coffee and Cocaine" in a voice he'd later perfect on "Bob George" and tries to find a concrete song within "Why the Butterflies." Far from detracting from Piano & a Microphone, these loose ends are the reason to listen to the album. The whole affair plays like the listener is eavesdropping on Prince creating, and there simply can't be a reissue more valuable than that.

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