These are a few of my favorite things about Chuck Prophet's great new album:
1) It's called Age of Miracles—despite all evidence to the contrary. 2) Prophet's goofy vocal homage to Dylan on the bridge of the title track. 3) The outrageously sexy backup vocals of his wife Stephanie Finch. 4) The werewolflike howls that Prophet lets loose at the end of "West Memphis Moon." 5) Despite being pigeonholed as an alt-country guy, Prophet lays down a soulful little rap at the end of "You've Got Me Where You Want Me." 7) The cheesy glockenspiel flourishes and even cheesier backup vocals on "Just to See You Smile." 8) And most of all, the final track, "Solid Gold," a ridiculously schmaltzy and beautiful shout-out to friends and lovers.
Valley Fever - Green On Red Live at the Rialto
"Downwardly mobile ambitions" - that's how writer Fred Mills described the music of Green On Red, the Southwestern band that became an underground sensation in Europe during the eighties. The band was among a handful of progenitors of the eclipsed "desert rock" sound, which blended elements of country with a frenetic, edgy guitar sound a la Neil Young.
Starting in 1980, the band released 11 albums, toured relentlessly, and experienced immense burnout throughout a 12-year career that included its share of lineup changes, business squabbles and drug/alcohol addiction. Singer, guitarist, songwriter Dan Stuart could be the poster child for musicians stuck between cult status and overblown celebrity.
Valley Fever is a serendipitous document of a one-off reunion of the group paying tribute to drummer Alex MacNicol, who died in 2004. Stuart and his mates Chris Cacavas (keyboards), Chuck Prophet (guitar), and Jack Waterson (bass) enlisted the help of some Brazilian tourists with video cameras to film the show. Surprisingly, the film work is first-rate. Instead of the standard shaky-cam shots that more often show the stage lights than the band, the turistas.com cameras capture extraordinary frames of the members that show grudging appreciation of each other and at other times facial expressions that indicate the opening of old wounds from being on stage again.
The focus is on Stuart, Prophet and Waterson as they jam with casual abandon while Cacavas and hired gun Daren Hess on drums are the subjects of two shots while they pound out some spiritually energizing rhythms throughout. As with any film, it's the small details that really make the characters stand out, and Valley Fever has a number of moments that illuminate us into the group's dynamic. Among the best are Stuart grabbing and mangling his lyric cheat sheets after each song, and foisting them gently into the audience, as if they were dry tumbleweeds being carried off by a dusty wind.
Musically, the band is brilliant. Green On Red was never known for theatrics or technical precision, instead plying a sloppy, self-deprecating style that heightened the bands' status as rock anti-heroes. Anyone familiar with the band knows Stuart hates live performances, especially in theatres. Yet, his hatred of performance enhances the lazy attack of guitar chords that solidified his reputation in the first place. Prophet plays against Stuart's minimalist approach with some shrapnel-spewing lead work accompanied by Waterson's lively bass. This mélange supporting Stuart's lachrymose words leads to an exalted concert experience.
While Mills was spot-on about Green On Red's "downwardly mobile ambitions", Valley Fever proves why the group surpassed its own expectations on a path littered with eighties bands that never found their potential. While the Rialto concert is a fitting tribute to a fallen comrade, Valley Fever is homage to what Green On Red might have been.
Chuck Prophet finds solace in this Age of Miracles
Chuck Prophet is a perverse kind of guy. He's the type of person who would invite all kinds of people to the same party - in part because he likes them all, but also so that he can see what happens when they all hang out together.
The singer/songwriter, who spent eight years with the psychedelic cosmic cowboys Green on Red - a band that was described as a country-meets-folk-meets too many drugs Americana -is set to release his seventh solo CD and second album for New West Records, Age of Miracles.
True to Prophet's form the album is a mish-mash of styles, collaborators and conspirators, which for some reason fit together like the pieces of a Tetris puzzle.
"When I catch an inspirational virus, I try to inflict it on my closest conspirators and even come up with a batch of songs. Then assemble a group of talented, intense, fierce, difficult, even perverted people, many of whom I've worked with before and a few I'll probably never work with again, lock 'em in a studio and ... you get the idea," Prophet said.
While it sounds like a strong formula for success Prophet admitted that producing Age of Miracles actually threw him for a loop several times. "I had a couple of false starts where I had to discard some material because there was some kind of overlap schematically. In some ways I kind of simplified things a lot to embrace the chaos and resist the temptation to fix it. It was just one of those records with false starts. I went this direction, and then went another one, and about three-quarters of the way through I guess I got in a groove," he said in a recent interview with The Marquee.
Through it all, Prophet has kept two things in the forefront of his mind - one, avoiding singer/songwriter trappings and two, that no matter how hard you try, there's only so much you can do on one record.
"In Green on Red, we did a lot of fun, character-driven songs, and I think that helps me to avoid a lot of the singer/songwriter trappings, You know, `My coffee's getting cold' kind of things that I try not to fall into," he said about the former.
As for the latter, he commented, "My self criticism (once my closest and most reliable friend) gave way to a struggle with my self esteem and mental health. So I took a little break from the record to get some ... ah ... perspective. I found there were some food groups under-represented on the record. So I looked around the couch and pulled out the dusty shoe box of cassettes. At about the same time, I bumped into Eric Feldman (P.J. Harvey, Polyphonic Spree and Captain Beefheart) and I immediately enlisted him to oversee and co-produce. Because even with all the new technology, it's still impossible to be on both sides of the glass at the same time - Jim Dickinson taught me that."
Beauty Walks on a Razor’s Edge: GOR at Koko
Green on Red, during their Eighties glory days were said to be part of a movement known a the Paisley Underground. Bands which saile under that flag of convenience tended to be le by sissies or nerds who'd gotten all excited abou The Byrds
Green on Red bore much the same relationship to this scene that William Burroughs did to the Beat Generation. With them, but not of them. Laughing at them, not with them. They knew one another, but there the connection ended.
There was nothing second division or socially acceptable about GoR's rich stew of sophistication, urban alienation, cultural ambition, or punk rock exuberance. They fitted, more tidily, into that troublesome wave of acts which included The Gun Club, Panther Burns, and Alex Chilton. These people tended to be hugely aware avant gardeists high on, amongst other things, the redemptive powers of rock music as high art.
There ended up being two versions of Green on Red. The original was Chris Cacavas, Chuck Prophet, Jack Waterson, Dan Stuart, and Alex MacNicol. I saw them live at The Buttery in Dublin's Trinity College; I don't know if I've ever seen anything better. Their 1985 album, Gas Food Lodging, is just one of the dazzling artifacts they created; it conjures up the American landscape of Steinbeck, Charles Willeford, or Horace McCoy. I like its cover artwork which calls to mind Philip K Dick's The Man in the High Castle.
That band came apart at the seams; sometimes the center cannot hold. A while later, Green on Red Mark 2 (Stuart and Prophet backed up by good session players) showed up in Europe, issued a batch of impressive albums, gigged their way up the greasy pole of the live circuit, and became more popular (in Europe) than the original GoR had ever been. I got to know Chuck and Dan somewhere in the middle of that phase in their lives, when they became the Phil and Don of Bukowski Rock. I also met and talked with Chris Cacavas when he passed through London playing with Russ Tolman.
All three men were significantly poignant examples of gifted musicians stranded in an Eighties world gone wrong. The leader of their particular pack, Dylan, was temporarily knocked out and loaded. U2 were writing the book on a whole new set of (tediously mind-numbing) rock'n'roll ethics and mores. Like old gunfighters in Sam Peckinpah movies, the likes of Green on Red were the last of their type, riding off into a post-nuclear sunset. To use an old Irish phrase, their sort will never come again. Just like the sort that I am myself, and the sort who used to throng their long-ago sweaty smoky gigs, will never come again.
And here they come again. That's bands for you.
Original drummer MacNicol died last year. Death, especially premature death, concentrates the mind and the psyche. The rest of the original lineup got together for a gig in the States and came to London this January to do a one-off show at the Astoria.
I got offered a blowjob as I made to leave the venue by the side exit down a slimy back alley. `No thanks, man, I had one earlier.' I responded, pretty sharpish. One is always being offered blowjobs in the vicinity of the Astoria. It goes with the territory.
It'd been an emotional night of tunes suffused by a narcotic beauty. The dueling between guitarist Prophet and Cacavas on keyboards -- two real master musicians -- still seemed to be as fundamentally original a sound as anybody important has ever made. Vocalist Dan Stuart, a patrician writerly figure fronting a strident swaggering swamp of sound, was man enough to wear his heart on his sleeve and to be moved by the whole experience. I was touched by the occasion myself.
Bands reforming is tricky business. The Velvet Underground took a hammer to their pristine reputation when they did a Nineties tour. My own favorite adolescent band recently reunited dreadfully as a bunch of besuited, smiling, and middle-aged bores. The Stones' restoration started shakily but they ultimately found their feet.
You can always come back but you can't comeback all the way.
Green on Red have just finished a short tour of Europe involving gigs at festivals and clubs.
They sailed into London to participate in an itinerant festival -- Don't Look Back -- which gets classic bands to perform live an entire album deemed by armchair pundits to be their finest. Iggy and the Stooges played Fun House as part of last year's festivities. This year Green on Red did Gas Food Lodging.
I'm totally opposed to the idea of bands playing a so-called "classic album" live as if rock music has become a preserved-in-aspic art form whose best days are behind it. The concept of the "classic album" is a crock of shit too. You either like a band and you buy every last thing they do and you like the most of it or else you're just a male bozo who collects stuff and reads monthly rock magazines. The "in-concert album" phenomenon started when that abominable Republican walrus Brian Wilson started touring his allegedly "legendary" Smile masterpiece. Why won't somebody tie Brian Wilson up in a sack with a few large chunks of concrete inside, and throw the sack into the nearest river?
I don't much like Koko, where GoR were performing, either. It used to be the faintly ridiculous Camden Palace and now it's been gussied up to look like the world's biggest bordello.
Back in the Astoria in January the crowd was mainly fortyish gentlemen in black suits, some of them chomping on cigars while others sported Stetsons. Koko and the Don't Look Back concept brought in a different element. There were a lot more women, many of them glamorous. Denim was much in evidence.
It looks like Green on Red is going to be around a bit from now on. This is good. Gas Food Lodging doesn't exist as some slice of cultural nostalgia to be conjured up like a magic trick for self-styled cognoscenti. It's an album available in the shops now, still as exciting as it was in 1985.
The band's set finished, like their album did, with the old civil rights hymn, We Shall Overcome. As they played it, a filmic backdrop featured examples of American torture and abuse in Iraq. The song turned into a long, percussive, sonic throb. Its great that this band is around again, helping keep beauty on a razor's edge.
Green on Red - Gas Food Lodging
Green on Red's Gas Food Lodging was a high point for the band, a lasting document of 80's post-punk rock, and a precursor to the alt-country movement of the 90s. That's quite a bit of hyperbole, I know, but this record, first released in 1985, does have staying power. The addition of Chuck Prophet on guitar amped up and roughened up the band's twang, but just as integral were core members Dan Stuart (vocals, guitar) and Chris Cacavas, whose organ gave the group its signature sound. As the title suggests, this is a road record, equal parts Kerouac and serial killer. It sounds, at times, like Crazy Horse, minus the freak-flag-fly romanticism of Neil Young. The record's centerpiece is the three song raveup, "Sixteen Ways"/"The Drifter"/"Sea of Cortez," which ends with Stuart's primitive, anguished wail crashing against a wall of guitars, keys, and drums. As a bonus, the re-release includes the self titled, 7-track debut, which includes gems like "Hair and Skin." Now it's time for a double of Gravity Talks and No Free Lunch, the Mercury release currently available only as an import. Gas Food Lodging, along with records like The Days of Wine and Roses and Rum Sodomy and the Lash, will disabuse you of the notion that 80s rock totally sucked.
Green on Red
David Sinclair at the Astoria, WC2
Never the most reliable team of performers in their day, Green on Red have nevertheless turned out to be men of their word. Having failed to play a show at the Astoria in May 1987 - the point at which the singer and guitarist Dan Stuart was declared clinically insane and the group fell apart - the group finally returned to honour the booking on Tuesday night. They even played the same set of songs that they were planning to feature 19 years ago.
With so much water having passed under the bridge, Stuart felt obliged to preface the show with a lengthy and often comical monologue at the end of which he apologised for "all this reunion s***". This was nice, but unnecessary. For if ever there was a band that always conducted its affairs with a cavalier lack of concern for tactical or business considerations, while performing music that came straight from the heart, it was Green on Red.
The band, which originated in Tucson, Arizona, pioneered a heroic brand of Americana music before the term was even coined. They released a succession of brilliant but commercially neglected albums in the 1980s, which fused elements of country, blues and rock, while blazing an erratic trail around the concert halls of Europe. Their shows could either be a display of transcendental genius or a very earthbound shambles.
The core line-up of Stuart, keyboard player Chris Cacavas, bass player Dan Waterson and guitarist Chuck Prophet was joined by Jim Bogios, replacing the original drummer Alex MacNicol, who died last year. Older, wiser and somewhat more wizened they may be, but the years rolled away as they embarked on an opening sequence which included the perennial drinking song Hair of the Dog. Stuart, all gruff snarl and gargoyle eyes, spat out the lyric, while Cacavas leavened the mood with a jaunty honky tonk piano part.
Stuart was an amiable frontman but it was Prophet who stole the show with a succession of elegant, dramatic and tightly scripted guitar solos, most notably during the slow, bluesy Jimmy Boy and the soaring finale of Sea of Cortez.
While the danger and unpredictability that was part of their original appeal had given way to a more seasoned professionalism, it meant that the songs actually sounded better than ever. And when Stuart sang the familiar chorus line, "Time ain't nothing when you're young" from his new perspective, there was a genuine surge of affection for these unlikely survivors from another era. Let's hope it is not so long before their next outing.
Chuck Prophet has come a long way from his "paisley underground" years as a lead guitarist for Green On Red with whom he recorded eight albums. Age of Miracles is his seventh solo effort and the musical territory Prophet explores here has, again, widened from the country/rock area he hailed from since his musical beginnings to soul, funk, hip-hop and industrial noise. Prophet as the producer of the album, the main guitar player and the singer and songwriter could not have put his signature down more clearly, but co-producer Eric Drew Feldman (Captain Beefheart, Frank Black, PJ Harvey) has certainly not just been another fiddler on the knobs. He helped to drag Prophet out of a creational and inspirational impasse and added some crucial sounds on his Moog synthesizer on a couple of tracks.
The general mood on Age of Miracles shows a certain gloomy likeness to Static Transmission, the 2003 album of another ex-paisley undergrounder, Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate). Both musicians have matured into independent, individualist musicians who almost never do what you expect them to do. With this release, Chuck Prophet continues the path he has chosen with The Hurting Business (2000) and No Other Love (2002), at the same time carefully trying to avoid repeating himself. The outcome is an album that is hard to fall in love with immediately, but that if you continue to play it nevertheless, suddenly seems to creep up behind you and hit you over the head with all its might and nastiness. This effect has a lot to do with the arrangement and the production that are "subliminally mean" rather than straightforward: something evil is hiding under the surface and you can't smell it right away.
The same is true for the lyrics.
Sometimes I feel so alive/ I wish I was dead, Prophet growls in the opener "Automatic Blues" against a backdrop of blazing horns. There is something terrifying in the air, something that you feel listening to Iggy Pop's The Idiot or Lou Reed's Berlin.
Lou Reed's presence is hovering throughout whole album including the title track, a sluggishly moving song with heavy string arrangement (Jason Borger) and female backing vocals (provided by Prophet's wife Stephanie Finch):
The night is gonna crush the day
Once it was the other way
We hope that you enjoy your stay
In the age of miracles.
Prophet is accompanied on pedal steel in "The Smallest Man in the World" and it sounds good, but it's a song with a weird lyrical twist underlined by Feldman's piano playing that seems to quote from Newman's "Little People" know what I mean? "Whatever he does, he's the smallest man in the world" and that is not good news.
"Just to See You Smile" continues in the Lou Reed groove, but this time with an almost Phil Spector-like orchestration complete with booming bass, glockenspiel and a whole girl choir. Prophet immediately wipes the smile off any listener's face with "West Memphis Moon," the tragic story of the West Memphis Three, three young men who were convicted for murder of three boys in 1994, one of them sentenced to death, even though the evidence was, to say the least, questionable.
There's a melancholy country feel about "You've Got Me Where you Want Me," a duet with Stephanie Finch co-written by Kim Richey. Richey also contributed to "Baby Pin a Rose on Me," which turns out to be about an abusive relationship:
You saw a light
I saw a freight train coming
I tried to tell you he was no damn good
You heard bells, I heard the hammer falling.
He ran you down like I said he would.
"A man's strength is on the insidebut you better be careful with this stuff," Prophet warns in "Heavy Duty," a weird and frightening song (co-written with D. (Dan?) Penn), that sounds like Depeche Mode in their darkest period battling it out with Doug Sahm.
The closer "Solid Gold" (again featuring Stephanie Finch on vocals) is another song reminiscent of Lou Reed's Berlin-period, with a very soulful, delicate string arrangement.
I wanna raise a toast to everyone
to my friends near and far
I wanna raise a toast to stand up men
Wherever you are
I wanna raise a toast to you my love
For putting up a fight
Then I'm gonna raise my glass again, for you and you alone
on this star- crossed night.
I drink to that. Not every song on Age of Miracles is equally convincing, but it is an album that will make you feel as if you have just been crushed by a truck. That's not a feeling you want to have every day, but sometimes it helps to make you enjoy every day life a little bit more.
This is the age when modern miracles are born
Inventive. Eclectic. Chic. Chuck Prophet's music, informed by the past and devised by the media age, is the soundtrack to a junk culture with a massive case of attention deficit disorder. It samples a variety of influences, including Hammond B3 soul, psychedelic rock, alt-country, melodic pop, old-school funk, dramatic blues and mild hip-hop, as it twists and turns into a sonic concoction that is as sardonic as it is adventurous.
But just because Prophet's puree sound is a place where Dr. Dre and Charlie Feathers coexist, don't assume he's just another tawdry sampler or a Beck wannabe who goes out of his way to mix and mismatch odd combinations of sounds for the sole purpose of being a musical mad scientist. To do so would underestimate his visionary abilities and just how relevant and enjoyable such genre-twisting music can be when placed in deft hands. Prophet might be the perverse guy who invites all kinds of people to the same party because he likes them all and wants to see what will happen when they hang together, but by the end of the night he hopes they transcend any preconceived barriers.
"I like to kick songs around, pick `em apart and rotate the tires," he says. "Sonically, I have fun with the songs and cast each one like it's a movie. You cast it with a group of characters that complement one another and turn it sideways and bend it beyond recognition until you come up with something."
Prophet's reputation as a creative maverick began during the 1980s when he was the guitar slinger for the cosmic cowboy band Red on Green. He further endeared himself to critics and a loyal grassroots following with a string of solo albums he began making in 1990. However, his career and his art took a dramatic turn when he dropped his twangy guitar and began incorporating hip-hop and production techniques into his music at the turn of the century with "The Hurting Business." Two years later, "No Other Love" spawned the top-5 radio hit "Summertime Thing," which landed him the opening slot on Lucinda Williams' summer tour and introduced his encyclopedic knowledge of popular music forms to fans across the country.
Since then, the San Francisco-based Prophet has added another gem to his growing body of work that is impossible to pigeonhole and ignore. The charismatic "Age of Miracles" is so void of gimmickry that it should serve as a guide to other artists on how to integrate synthesizers, beat boxes and programmers with drums, keys, bass and guitars in a hip, organic way.
"I'd like to think I'm getting better at what I'm doing," Prophet says.
The title track, for example, is a `70s Bob Dylan country-rock tune with funky wah-wah guitar riffs, sweeping strings and a spacey chorus sung by Prophet's wife, Stephanie Finch, that sounds like it was filtered through an early `80s Mattel video game. It stands in direct contrast to the album's opening industrial ditty, "Automatic Blues," not to mention "The Chronic"-style "You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)," which is loaded with Moog synths. And yet those tunes are worlds apart from the eerie tale of three slain civil rights activists on "West Memphis Moon" and the hypnotic "Monkey in the Middle," brilliantly augmented by Rick Holstrom's stinging blue guitar.
But while "Age of Miracles" spans Prophet's sonic palette, he says thematically it shares a general crankiness with technology designed to make our lives easier.
"I'm not against technology," he explains. "But I still stand in front of the microwave and say `hurry the fuck up.'"
Despite his disdain for today's disposable society, Prophet still embraces it.
"It's getting harder to make albums in the conventional way because in a sense they're like novels, and when peoples' attention spans shrink down to the time it takes to load their MP3 players, you have to learn how to dazzle them with a sonic event every four measures," he says. "But when you lean in and do the work there's all kinds of rewards."
Power of music keeps performer off streets
Chuck Prophet knows he sounds corny when talks about what music has done for him. But he says it anyway.
"(Music) kind of saved me," he said. "So much of who I am is wrapped up in it."
Prophet left Tucson, Ariz., Tuesday morning after a reunion show with his old band, Green on Red, who made records for eight years in the 80s. But while there, catching up with people who used to be part of the music scene, he saw what had happened to them over the past two decades.
So many of his friends looked zombified. Prophet used the phrase "dope fiend" to describe some.
"There's a whole lost generation," he said.
In 1990, he started off his solo singer/songwriter career playing Dylan-esque rock ?n' roll blended with blues and country. Investing himself in his music kept him off the streets.
"It kept me interested in what I was doing enough to have something to focus my energy on," said Prophet. "It helped me when I cleaned up."
Now his music brings him to the Lafayette Brew Company, where he's performing at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Prophet said the crowd can expect some "juvenile rock ?n' roll, some real tear-jerkers ... some ugly lies and some beautiful truths all wrapped up in a five piece band."
He added, "There's an overall sense of irony to what I do ... as well as some dead on, unflinching, straight up, blood-stained, diary kind of songs."
The show is presented by Friends of Bob. Singer/songwriter Sally Timms is also performing.
Richard Fudge, president of the group, said that Prophet is a show that he's personally excited to bring to Lafayette.
"If I were to list my top five favorite performers, Chuck Prophet would be in there," said Fudge. "It's exciting to bring somebody to town that you feel pretty sure people are going to be dazzled by."
Prophet said he looks forward to live shows because they are never static. And while he says there's more important things in the world than music, music makes him who he is, it connects him to people through his shows or albums, and Prophet recognizes this. His work in music has given him so much over his almost quarter decade career.
"I always found that whatever I put into music, I always got that much more back."
As an unlikely guitar hero, a subgenre co-inventor and a rock & roll cultist's Kool-Aid king, Chuck Prophet was the unacknowledged legislator behind LA's pseudo-Paisley Undergrounders Green On Red, who were the most terrifyingly talented band of the great roots-rock scare of the `80s. Now solo, Prophet splits the difference between post-modern blues pastiche and chicken-fried country soul, putting the "bomp" in the "bomb-shooby-dooby-bomp" with all of the greasy wah-wah pedals abandoned since Curtis Mayfield left the charts. His records sound like the ones Mayfield should have made with Bob Dylan; his rare Midwest dates sound like a must.
Chuck Prophet and The Mission Express: Sept. 13 -- Off Broadway
Combining jangly, country-style joie de vivre with carnivorous Memphis-soul intensity, the former Green On Red lynchpin remains an engaging performer with a winningly droll sense of humor. His songs can also hinge on wonderful sing-along pop gems or total freak-out hits.
He made his first blip on the roots-rock radar as the guitarist with Green on Red, an early `90s alt-country band that fell apart just as the genre was gaining traction. Seven solo albums later, the California-bred singer-songwriter has become a bit of a critic's darling; scoring the opening slot on Lucinda Williams' tour last year certainly helped his cause. Like John Hiatt and Ron Sexsmith, Prophet's one of those not-easy-to-categorize talents whose passion for sonic experimentation has him throwing all kinds of styles into the mix. His latest CD, Age of Miracles (New West), is grounded in the same country/folk soil as his other records, but with a distinctly quasi-psychedelic vibe. Here, Prophet melds literate pop-rock with country-roots realism, wah-wah guitars, blues riffs and sometimes sandpapery vocals. Wildly divergent, yes, but wonderfully so.
One of my favorite loopy local SF characters, not to mention fine and friendly songsmith of no small renown, has been Chuck Prophet. I've known him on and off for years, from bullshitting in under the influence in the dark backrooms of bars & under the flourescence at the local copy shops, to riding rollercoasters both real and imagined... Uh, I guess you could say, what a long strange trip it's been...
Read the whole article here:
High Sierra: Chuck Prophet
"I lost control on the Miracle Mile. She had big hair and an innocent smile." There's a quite a tale hinted at in just 15 words but that kind of short-handed storytelling is the hallmark of this truly gifted singer-songwriter. With a voice full of insinuations, the twang-tastic Chuck Prophet taught the early afternoon festivarians just "What Makes The Monkey Dance."
Plying his trade with white boy funk, country nods, pure sticky pop, handkerchief grabbin' ballads and straight out barroom rockin', Prophet offered up two sets in a single Friday at High Sierra that were so well played, so well constructed, that one felt satisfied on a cellular level. Every element worked from the arrangements to the melodies to the delivery. It seems simple enough but until you actually hear somebody lay it out so well you forget how nice it is to be serenaded by a pro.
Drawing heavily from his most recent albums, Age of Miracles and No Other Love, both majorly ace platters, the band was by turns sensitive and smart-ass. One factor that separates this from the herd is an experimental fringe that keeps things lively without ever feeling premeditated or artificial. They just like screwing around with their material. That's to be commended.
What Prophet delivered in both the early evening & afternoon performances was a ringing affirmation of all the promise many of us first heard when he strapped on a guitar with Green On Red in the 1980s. He's out there doing it on stages, honing his work to a fine point that pierces things with humor & sincerity. It's a lethal combination you gotta hear with your own ears.
Chuck Prophet: No Other Love & Age Of Miracles
I'm such an asshole - read: "Music Purist" - that it's not very often I get to put on a CD and find myself, happily, saying "Oh My God" over and over again (it's usually an incredulous "Jeesus! These guys SUCK!" like I wasn't already expecting it,...) but two Chuck Prophet albums, No Other Love and Age of Miracles , made just that alternate reality possible. Not only that: this asshole was getting a "hello" from a Major Fucking Artist - singing like fucking Tom Petty - and this asshole knew it.
Blues, Rock, Country, Pop, Ballads, Beats, Strings, Harps, Samples ("You mean, I can get my favorite little rainbow sprinkles, for only $2.79 a dozen?") you name it - Chuck Prophet does it all. He strikes just the right balance, between tender and tough, and his production stays clean as a whistle - while he's, continually, taking chances - from song to song, phrase to phrase, measure to measure, and note to note. It's an amazing thing to behold. An artist in full bloom.
Of course, nobody's perfect, and Mr. Prophet is no different. For a guy that, basically, sings love songs, he does, occasionally, wander into sonic areas he's got no business (and can't get out of, like on "You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp" and "What Makes The Monkey Dance") but, with such an accurate aim, he, probably, feels he can, naturally, go where he wants - and hopes you'll just go with him - let him drive, y'know? You should. It's an adventure, he's a professional: he'll get you back home, somehow.
"Storm Across The Sea" is probably the best example of what I like about this stuff (a guy, unpretentiously, telling us about his spitfire of a woman) it's got such a mature sound - with echoes of Petty's Heatbreakers, The Beatles, Gordon Lightfoot, Leonard Cohen, and dozens of other classic artists, wrapped up in it - but without copying any of `em. And he probably writes stuff like this in his sleep. I don't know. But I'll tell you what I do know:
If you're a young Pop Musician, you better hope you're good enough to write "Automatic Blues" when you grow up.
The unheralded Chuck, that is
With the recent fad for books dishing the French superiority complex, let's remember that no long list of transgressions is needed to prove our own cultural stupidity. Not when Chuck Prophet is a cult hero in Europe but just a rumor of a critics' fave in the United States. The San Francisco-based singer and guitarist doesn't seem too bent about the whole thing. "I'm just now getting the hang of it," he says of his relative notoriety overseas, "though sometimes it does seem like a long way to travel just to eat some smelly cheese."
What we've missed is not the mere aesthetic experience we'd expect Euros to appreciate, but rather a ton of heart and melody. Prophet's work since his 1990 solo debut is grounded in his singular approach to singer-songwriter classicism. Take the title track of 2002's No Other Love, a pit-in-your-stomach gorgeous silhouette of a ballad composed of little more than strings and Prophet's thick croon; or last year's roomy Age of Miracles, his seventh album, stuffed with literate pop-rock that manages to make use of a sampler as tunefully as it does guitar. This is music to rehabilitate the word "eclectic" from its abuse by interior decorators.
Prophet first eluded us back in ye olde 1980s, when his adolescent band Green on Red helped found LA's Paisley Underground scene. "I don't think about it much, but when I do, I have to quickly take my medication," he says of the band's decade-long run. "Some people considered Green on Red a group of juvenile buffoons—others considered us one of the greatest rock `n' roll bands in the world." Then there was "alt.country": in the late `90s, while we were we were pumping overrated Wilco, Prophet was busy putting out record after rootsy, rangy record. "How can I dis a scene that has heated debates over the best version of a Townes Van Zandt song?" the ever-philosophical tunesmith says. But Prophet doesn't deserve to have to be so good-humored in the face of indifference, and the Euros shouldn't get to gloat.
Prophet plays Friday night at the Starry Plough. Be there or be a dumb Yank.
Once during a live performance, Ryan Adams regaled the audience with a Bob Dylan tour story, introducing the story's original author, Chuck Prophet, as a "classic dude." Take Mr. Adams as you like, but that description fits Prophet perfectly. Not only does it suit the man, whose wry humor comes through in even the straightest of songs, but it also is exemplified in Prophet's seventh album, Age of Miracles, which even with its slick studio production manages to sound as classic as any classic rock. It's flat-out good music, much of which will likely sound as good years from now as it does today.
Many have long felt that the former Green on Red member has been slighted by the listening public. A generally well-reviewed artist who has steadily produced albums since his 1990 solo debut, Brother Aldo, Prophet remains in relative obscurity, despite that his sound is relatively accessible. The irony is that his albums are getting progressively better. He includes some quirky elements, such as some unusual instruments and the occasional incorporation of hip-hop-sounding beats, but he manages to pull it off with out it sounding like a shtick.
With a Clapton-esque nasal vocal delivery, Prophet croons pure pop romance in "Just to See You Smile" and "You've Got Me Where You Want Me." His quirky humor shines on the enigmatic character sketch in "Smallest Man in the World." Showing his versatility, he turns to the more sinister narrative of "West Memphis Moon," a dark, bluesy modern-day murder ballad. And he successfully explores the unrequited love a loyal friend and would-be lover in "Pin a Rose on Me": "It's the same old, sorry song and dance/ You're always good for one more chance/ You saw a light, I saw a freight train comin'/ I tried to tell you he was no damn good."
Though for someone with a reputation for guitar work, Prophet gives us little display of his prowess. He instead uses an unusual panoply of slickly layered instruments (Glockenspiel, frequently impressive pedal-steel guitar courtesy of Max Butler, harpsichord, Echoplex, and Moog), relying on electronic effects to carry his clever lyrics in this unassuming success.
Someone really should have told me about Chuck Prophet. I mean, anybody making music this fucking outstanding doesn't deserve to fly under anybody's radar, least of all mine. His music is practically perfect for my particular tastes: well-crafted songs composed by a songwriter (in the truest sense of the word), sung by a country singer (at heart) but produced with an ear to what's going on in the rest of the musical world as well. Over the course of his 2004 near-masterpiece, Age Of Miracles, Prophet comes off as a less willfully eclectic (and therefore more enjoyable) Beck, living with one foot a little bit deeper in country music than Mr. Hansen would probably consider cool. Actually, he's kind of like the guy I posted on yesterday in the way he takes the arms and legs of different styles and comes up with his own hideously beautiful beast. I think his press sheet sums it up best: "...a world where Dr. Dre and Charlie Feathers would both feel comfortable." That's brilliant man, that's exactly right.
I picked up Age Of Miracles as an impulse buy (read: I liked the cover art) about a week or so ago and I have not been able to stop listening or wishing I was listening to it since. I guess I had heard Prophet's name before, but I'm taking the pat on the back for introducing myself to his music. Good job bak, you really outdid yourself this time! Now turn to the people at home and let them hear what all the fuss is about. Listen people, you need to hear these songs:
Chuck Prophet - "Age Of Miracles"
Chuck Prophet - "Pin A Rose On Me"
Chuck Prophet - "West Memphis Moon"
Age Of Miracles is good enough to be a greatest hits album, except for the little fact that none of the songs can honestly be called hits and it's more cohesive than most compilations. Actually, it's better than most people's greatest hits albums. "Age Of Miracles" and "Pin A Rose On Me" are two of the best songs on the album, but I would've liked to post "You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp)" rather than "West Memphis Moon". "You Did" is a hell of a lot more fun and it features his best incorporation of samples and hip-hop elements, plus it's one of the songs on repeat in my head these days. Whatever, it doesn't matter, every song on the album is good and these are the songs that New West Records has kindly made available. Damn you New West, you really think I needed one more person's entire back catalogue to hunt down!?! Now how am I gonna eat this month?
Pay a visit to Chuck's website for more information and stuff, like tour dates. Man, I bet these songs are a blast live, but I don't think I can justify driving back to Denver for another show.
It's been 20 years since Chuck Prophet found himself lumped in with LA's neo-psychedelic "Paisley Underground" during his tenure with Green on Red. But since launching a solo career in 1990, Prophet has kept evolving as a songwriter and guitarist of formidable (albeit under-appreciated) gifts.
The Borderline's promoter, Barry Everitt, will sing Prophet's praises to anyone within earshot, including tonight's audience. Springing to the microphone before Prophet's band came back for some encores, Barry commended him as "one of the best fucking guitarists in existence".
This is true, and one of several good reasons for going to a Prophet show is the opportunity it affords to watch a master of the Telecaster in full spate. Prophet's playing is like an instant guide to 50 years of guitar-playing, from the twangy bottom-end tones of Dick Dale or Duane Eddy to rolling barrages of Neil Young-style chords or intricate, string-bending runs in the Clarence White mould. The trick has been to shape his playing into an indispensable part of the way he writes and performs, so the guitar is woven through the music like an inner voice supplying insights, asides and a running commentary.
Prophet's songwriting is similarly eclectic, though he adds an idiosyncratic spin so that the stuff coming out of the blender couldn't be anybody else but him. Chuck has a radio-friendly side to him, best expressed in the effervescent Summertime Thing, but he also likes to range through sprawling narratives that travel from urban chaos to desert wilderness.
Prophet's dirty-blonde hair and dark southern drawl render him susceptible to country-boy stereotyping, and the likes of Just to See You Smile can only be described as country rock. On the other hand, You Did rollicks along over a modified hip-hop beat while Prophet growls into a weird metallic-sounding microphone, and wonders "who put the wang in the wang-dang-doodle? You did!!!" He'll also defend to the death his right to borrow from Bob Dylan, who popped up in a cover version of Abandoned Love. Prophet called his new album Age of Miracles, and he had a point.
· At King Tut's, Glasgow, tonight. Then touring.
New Music review vol. 14
Chuck Prophet's a no-nonsense songsmith. "You shouldn't need an owners manual to get through an album" he declares. But don't think the San Francisco-based singer/songwriter guitar hotshot is uncomplicated. The songs on Homemade blood resonate like strong memories, which is no slight accomplishment.
Prophet makes loud pop music that explores the quiet edges of Humanity. that's where things turn weird and slowly begin to tilt or find their own skewed balance. His characters sleep in their cares: they burn with the pain of broken blood bonds: they can't even get one even break. They're repeatedly body-slammed by life, but won't stop loving it anyway. Sure a few are psychos and losers, but many like the narrators of `Ooh Wee' and `New Years Day' - are romantics longing for happiness while settling for the nearest approximation.
"I spend time by myself, wresting on the ground with songs all day," Prophet says of his modus operandi. "According to (deadbeat novelist) Charles Bukowski, you have to have faith, practice and luck to write. I try not to jerk too far away from any of those. And I try not to be elusive . That's gutless"
Prophet learned to pack his songs with intestinal fortitude during seven years playing lead guitar and co-writing in the west coast 80's psychedelic revival band Green On Red. So he rocks like crazy as he tells Homemade bloods ragged-luck stories. His battered Telecaster speaks the language of 90's grunge with a 60's acid drawl that makes the subteraneum homesick blues `Inside Track' ring like Dylan fronting the Velvet Underground in Jon Spencer's basement. His six string mannerisms, filigress along the lines of the dizzy pick-slides and sonic booms he tosses into `Credit' put as much character into his numbers as his flexible baritone voice.
In keeping with Prophet's' truth-in music-policy, "we recorded the record as if it was a play, nobody went in the control room. Everything was cut live, standing up for the most part. That's important to me. When you're all in one room you're involved. Art is divine, and that's the kind of situation that gets it out of ourselves and closer to God if you will."