Imagine, you've been giving access to Prince's vault. What do you release first? One of the many incredible live concerts he put out over the years? Some of the brilliant outtakes that would be signature hits for lesser artists? Or do you go for some rinky-dink half hour of Prince futzing around at the piano in 1983?
Apparently, those who in charge of the Purple One's estate felt that last one needed to be heard. The result is maybe the most pointless official release of Prince's entire catalog.
There is nothing particularly compelling about "Piano & a Microphone"; most of the songs are just fragments, Prince's playing is satisfying but not inventive, and tracks end just when they seem to be going somewhere interesting. The solo piano "Purple Rain" looks cool on paper, but it's barely a minute long. The longer tracks, particularly the grating "Cocaine and Coffee," go nowhere of interest. "Mary, Don't You Weep," the promo single from the album, is okay, mainly because it actually functions as a complete piece of music, but it's not gonna make anyone's 'best of' playlist.
To its credit, there are some moments worth noting; the eerie early takes of "17 Days" and "Strange Relationship are truly great, especially the latter which sounds far more sinister than its bouncier studio take that wound up on "Sign O' the Times." There is also a brief but lovely run-through of Joni Mitchell's "A Case of U" that may not sound like much, but Prince's singing is gorgeous and soulful, highlighting his appreciation for the song well (it's one that was rotated in and out of live shows through most of his career).
Overall, though, the Prince estate really dropped the ball here. If the goal of this release was to present Prince's music in a stripped down, intimate, maybe...release something from his last tour (also called Piano & a Microphone)? Something with a sliver of real artistic validity? This shabbily released curio adds nothing to Prince's legacy, which is admittedly a hell of a feat giving the depth of his output.