PRESS

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fresh, vibrant, and essential.
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Americana UK

You can’t keep a good man down

Holed up in a studio in a Mexico City ravaged by earthquakes and firmly in the grip of a swine flu epidemic, Chuck Prophet could be forgiven for playing it safe, keeping his head down and taking it a tad easy. Yet, this is the same Prophet who let loose for eight years with Green On Red when barely a fresh-faced kid out of high school, the same Prophet whose incendiary guitar playing leaves jaws dropped wherever he plays, and the same Prophet whose whole career thus far has been a journey down the B-roads of the American dream. No, `Let Freedom Ring,' far from being safe is hard hitting and dangerous.

Eleven tracks knocked out as live in just over eight days this is an album that is a fresh, vibrant, and essential. From the opening `Sonny Liston's Blues,' a loose, lithe boogie channelling into the mind of one of America's troubled mythical sporting giants. A man on the fringes of the accepted, misinterpreted and mythologized by the mainstream, Liston was a man from the other side of the tracks unable to be truly appreciated, resorting instead to drugs and drink. It's a sad indictment that the `dream' only ever seemingly works for the chosen few. It's an air of unjust resignation that blows through the album like a freak gale. The title track kicks along like a Stones cover, and Prophet lets loose some blistering guitar work alongside the equally fluid band of Ernest `Boom' Carter, Tom Ayres, and Rusty Miller. At the controls Greg Leisz just lets them get on with it -- plug it in, play, record. Simple.

Whilst `American Man' -- "folded like a page / from the book of the damned/ I'm your American Man" -- is ballsy and unforgiving, there is little respite for the immigrant father (`Barely Exist') whose escape from "dying on a cattle farm, a face without a name, no two ways about it" comes at the expense of his son. A side swipe at the lunacy of Wall St (`Hot Talk') -- "Were gonna see how Wall Street takes the news / when Wall St finds New York City's gone" -- is prime-time Prophet, a social observer who judgments are subtle yet brutal.

Nine albums in and this is the best yet. Here's to the next nine.

[ LINK ]

by Del Day on November 11, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Springsteen has better hair

Village Voice

On the Haunting Songs of Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet's ¡Let Freedom Ring! is a Born in the U.S.A. for our time. Not that the Californian troubadour and self-described "hustler" behind this 25th-anniversary update of Bruce Springsteen's ode to the irony of the American Dream deliberately set out to cop the Boss's monumental mojo, but the similarities between the two records are uncanny. Both are concept albums of sorts that manifest patriotism through disenchantment, and both rely heavily on marginalized characters to expose socioeconomic woe.

"I've been saying they're political songs for non-political people," Prophet explains over the phone from his San Francisco home. "But what I really mean is that I'm not a particularly political person, but the characters in these songs are all living in a kind of anxious time."

¡LFR!`s title track—a nod not to the Liberty Bell but to the NYSE—exemplifies that anxiety through retirement-plan decimation. The buoyant, power-pop music deceptively suggests a feel-good anthem, but once the lyrics unfold, a Social Darwinistic tale is told, of Bernie Madoffs leeching off Average Joes—"The hawk cripples the dove," as Prophet puts it—who reduce their victims to blind-drunk poor boys. Elsewhere, "Barely Exist" continues the Springsteen parallel, with Prophet replacing the Boss's struggling blue-collar worker with a struggling Mexican immigrant. Over a fragile beat and sparse guitar notes, he sums up the day laborer's plight: "You gotta be strong/But when you got asbestos in your Kool-Aid for breakfast/There's no good way to look alive."

"I think we go too far out of our way to define ourselves by our borders," Prophet says. "Hundreds of people die every year trying to get into this country, just for the opportunity to clean our toilets and change our babies' diapers, and if it's somebody who's just trying to provide for their family, how can you criminalize that? And, really, isn't that the least of our problems right about now?"

The beauty of ¡LFR! lies in its raw, no-frills approach. Lightning-rod guitars spark a combustible rhythm section. Songs of radio-friendly length emerge from only a couple of live takes. Down-tempo and uptempo numbers play well in the same sandbox. Witty lyrics with rich imagery—it's hard to shake "By the time her shoes wore out/She was giving blood" from "What Can a Mother Do"—demonstrate a mastery of language, like the rock `n' roll equivalent of folkie Todd Snider as delivered through Tom Petty's voice were it even more reliant on stoner/surfer cadences. Other gems include "Sonny Liston's Blues," a riff on the monstrous former boxing champ's loss to Muhammad Ali as symbolic of good over evil (replete with air-guitar-inspiring passages on a Gretsch that Prophet says was "strung up heavy"), and "Where the Hell Is Henry?," a 2'17" identity-theft gut punch about a con artist masquerading as a Kennedy.

Prophet recorded ¡LFR!—his ninth solo album in a career better known for its songwriting and producing contributions to the oeuvres of Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis, and Warren Zevon, among others—in Mexico City, in a state-of-the-art (circa 1957) studio. The conditions were less than ideal (swine-flu mania, earthquakes, drug wars on the periphery), but Prophet says the duress made a band out of the ragtag crew. "One thing I could never have predicted is that in Mexico City, the power goes out, like, five times a day," he says. "And, of course, every time it would go out, it would be in the middle of a completely magical sort of Marquee Moon moment. And so every take you hear on the record, there's, like, triumph at the end of it."

Chuck Prophet plays the 92Y Tribeca November 27

[ LINK ]

by Michael Hoinski on November 10, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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There's actually drool running down the front of my shirt

SF Gate

S.F. songwriter Chuck Prophet looks back

Chuck Prophet isn't in a reflective mood today. It's early Wednesday morning and the San Francisco singer-songwriter has just returned from a hectic European tour in support of his latest album, "Let Freedom Ring." In just a few days, he'll launch the American leg.

"I don't know why you want to talk to me, I'm totally brain dead," he says by way of greeting. "I've gotten about three hours of sleep in the past 72 hours. There's actually drool running down the front of my shirt."

The former Green on Red front man, who plays at the Great American Music Hall next Sunday, is nearly two decades into his celebrated solo career and still taking huge risks. "Let Freedom Ring" was recorded in Mexico City with co-producer Greg Leisz this year just as the swine flu pandemic hit.

"Our timing couldn't have been worse," Prophet says. "Within three days of arriving, the city shut down. So we put on our blue masks and got to work."

The musician and the members of his band - including his wife, Stephanie Finch; guitarist Tom Ayres; bassist Rusty Miller; and drummer Ernest "Boom" Carter - were able to avoid the H1N1 virus but not the ensuing paranoia, giving his roots and rock tunes added edge.

"It was definitely an adventure," he says. "But it was recorded under such duress, it made a band out of us."

We asked Prophet, who has released more than a dozen full-length albums on his own and with his former outfit, to reminisce about his recording sessions.

Green on Red, "Gas Food Lodging" (1985)

"I just got my first passport and all we wanted to do was make a record and go out and play our songs. We met our producer Paul Cutler through a mutual friend, who was a pot dealer and worked five days and nights. It was totally effortless. We had a van and the label gave us a gas card. Those were good times."

Green on Red, "The Killer Inside Me" (1987)

"That was the record that split the band. It was bombastic and humorless. I remember on that tour we played in Athens, Greece, and Dan Stuart attacked somebody in the audience with his guitar and broke it. So we got a note from a doctor and canceled our final gig at the Astoria in London. It was something I never felt good about, so three years ago, when we had our reunion tour, we rescheduled that gig, and anybody who was supposed to be at that original gig could get in for free."

Chuck Prophet, "Brother Aldo" (1990)

"I just had my kite up, and the wind changed direction at the right time. It just kind of happened that myself and Stephanie and a bunch of other local songwriters were all sort of in bands that had gone out of business or collapsed or folded. We started a poker night at the Albion, and there was a healthy competition among us. We would play a gig one weekend and come back the next week and do the songs differently. But people ended up stealing each other's girlfriends and guitars, so it was scene that didn't last long."

Chuck Prophet, "Feast of Hearts" (1995)

"It's the record that cost the most and made the least. If I stand back and squint, it's got some pretty good songs. But it's where I just hit a wall. It was probably the first record where I worked with an outside producer (Steve Berlin), and we never really got in a groove. He just worked out of one side of his brain - I'm not sure what side, but it was the opposite of mine."

Chuck Prophet, "No Other Love" (2002)

"That was when we seriously started to think more about the States. Stephanie said I needed to dumb it down a little bit, so I wrote `Summertime Thing' using the first three chords everybody learns on guitar. We were on tour with Lucinda Williams, and I was at a salad bar and heard it coming out of a speaker. It was a very strange feeling. From there it started getting some airplay and climbing past people like Sheryl Crow, the Wallflowers and Springsteen on the adult alternative charts. Heart later recorded `No Other Love.' That record has more than paid the utility bills."

Chuck Prophet, "Age of Miracles" (2004)

"It was a fun record to make. I recorded it in a lot of different places. That song `You Did' has been in `True Blood.' It's just got a bunch of weird stuff on it - songs about marriage, miscarriages of justice and midgets. And that's just the M's."

Chuck Prophet, "Dreaming Waylon's Dreams" (2007)

"It's not an official record. One weekend. we got locked in the studio, and I was bragging how I could recite Waylon Jennings' `Dreaming My Dreams' record by memory. So we started with one song, and by the end of the weekend we recorded the whole album. My friend, who was on tour with a bunch of new country acts, told me he bought it and put it on the tour bus and a fight broke out."

Chuck Prophet, "Let Freedom Ring" (2009)

"I found a studio in Mexico that was state of the art for 1958. In today's economy, that had it's appeal. In terms of perspective, I was writing that album just as the bottom was falling out of the wet sack of the American dream. We didn't really go for mariachi horns, but we were hoping to feed off the energy there. It's a city that hustles and bustles and vibrates beneath your feet. I thought, `With these songs, why not?' " {sbox}

Chuck Prophet: 8 p.m. next Sun. Great American Music Hall, 859 O'Farrell St., San Francisco. $15. (415) 885-0750, http://www.gamh.com.

To hear Chuck Prophet's music, go to

chuckprophet.com.

Follow Aidin Vaziri at twitter.com/MusicSF. E-mail Aidin Vaziri at .

[ LINK ]

by Aidin Vaziri on November 3, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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full of passion and conviction, living only in the moment

No Depression

¡Let Freedom Ring!

The title's punctuation pays tribute to this album's exotic recording-locale of Mexico City—right when a major earthquake struck, no less. Though the geography is an intriguing side-story, it doesn't necessarily reveal itself the music; this isn't Chuck's mariachi record, in case you were worried. Musically, ¡Let Freedom Ring! is pretty much vintage Prophet songwriterly rock `n' roll, very much in keeping with his body of work, even as he gets a little bit older and wiser each time out. There's a lot of juxtaposition between rough `n' tumble and sweet `n' soulful, sometimes in the same song: On "Sonny Liston's Blues" and "Barely Exist" especially, the verses contrast vastly with the choruses, but in a manner that's exquisitely complementary. The latter tune in particular is deeply affecting, its hard-bitten half-spoken stanzas melting away into a minimalist wave of heartbreak: "When you barely exist, who's gonna miss you when you're gone?"There is, probably, a stronger touch of the political, particularly on the title track, a new American anthem for the post-9/11 world, toasting the triumphs of freedom even while the country is crumbling all around us—"As the rivers rise up over the banks, and there's nowhere a poor boy can hide." Such sentiment pairs pointedly with "Hot Talk" and its apocalyptic inquisition: "We're gonna see how Wall Street takes the news when Wall Street finds New York City's gone." Still, this record is ultimately more personal than political. "Love Won't Keep Us Apart" is as elusive as its title, swooning over a romance turned inside-out and upside-down, but ultimately unavoidable. And the final track, "Leave The Window Open", revels in the world's little mystical beauties as Prophet delivers one of his finest-ever vocal performances, full of passion and conviction, living only in the moment.

[ LINK ]

by Peter Blackstock on November 3, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Is this the best Chuck Prophet album ever? Sure, why not? They all get to wear that medal for a while.

Cleveland Scene

so far ahead of sonic trends that he can barely see them in his rearview mirror

Chuck Prophet has always been so far ahead of sonic trends that he can barely see them in his rearview mirror. From the visionary country-rock architecture of Green on Red in the `80s to his wide-ranging solo career, Prophet has been creatively restless, reinventing himself like a rootsy David Bowie and applying his own stamp to whatever direction he pursues. His last album, 2007's Soap and Water, was yet another demonstration of his ability to find new inspiration within Stonesian parameters while wearing all of the hats he's sported since 2000's roots-and-turntables marvel, The Hurting Business. His latest, ¡Let Freedom Ring!, broadens the focus even more while honing in on the specifics of each individual song, perhaps influenced by his work on Alejandro Escovedo's Real Animal last year.

"You and Me Baby (Holding On)" is the sound of Bob Dylan guided by the Velvet Underground rather than Woody Guthrie, while "American Man" is the Stones posing as SoCal rockers at their swaggering, staggering best and featuring some of Prophet's most incisively political, Dylanesque lyrics ("American Man, up on the mound/With an orange alert and a new wave sound"). Recorded in Mexico City at the height of the swine flu epidemic and in the middle of an earthquake and brownouts in a studio that hasn't been upgraded since the Eisenhower administration, Prophet poured the negative energy into this amazing set of songs written in and about the economic, political and emotional maelstrom we find ourselves in at the moment. Is this the best Chuck Prophet album ever? Sure, why not? They all get to wear that medal for a while. — Brian Baker

[ LINK ]

by Brian Baker on October 30, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Let Freedom Ring is the album Green Day wish they could have recorded
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Pop Matters

Let Freedom Ring

Thinking inside the box has never been Chuck Prophet's strongest point, and that's a good thing. The last few years have found Prophet hipping the traditional-leaning Kelly Willis on tunes by Adam Green and Iggy Pop, and adding some razor sharp bite to Alejandro Escovedo's latter-day career revival. Prophet's latest release, Let Freedom Ring, is a bit of a mixture of Willis' Translated from Love and Escovedo's Real Animal. It's got the surprising element of hearing a well-established artist take on some surprising new textures of the former, and the reignited spark of snarling punk energy of the latter. What Let Freedom Ring has in spades—and perhaps what was missing from the two previously mentioned releases—is a real thematic coherence, in both the narrative of the album and in the overall production.

The title of the album should be enough to give away the material on the record, but that's a bit misleading. Prophet's latest release isn't a finger to the American government (that wouldn't make sense for Prophet, now that Bush is gone), nor is it a call to arms for bi-partisanship or a hymnal to President Obama (looking at you, Mr. Springsteen). The fact that Prophet holed up in Mexico City for the recording of the album should lend some subtext, and Prophet himself said the record was a collection of "political songs for non-political people". In other words, it's the album that Green Day probably wanted to make with their 21st Century Breakdown. That is, an album that speaks to the masses of disenfranchised people who felt the Bush Administration let them down, even if they couldn't exactly articulate that emotion in anything other than rage and questions that remained unanswered.

Of course, Prophet isn't a populist, per se. He's not going for John Mellencamp territory, though Freedom's highest points rival Mellencamp's populism at its zenith. And Prophet isn't trying to be a political spokesperson—he's a musician and he knows it, but he always knows that real music has the power to move masses, and he grabs that idea and heads to the hills with it on Freedom. Themes of depression, hope, faith and determination pop up all over Freedom and give the album a real scope of focus. There's not an obvious narrative to follow (not in the American Idiot or Allison Moorer's The Duel way), but the repeating imagery and ideas lend Prophet a thematic heft.

"Sonny Liston's Blues" kicks off the album with a riff lifted from Keith Richards's songbook, while Prophet weaves his tale of a middle-class man facing his last few hours before the supposed justice system ends his life. The opening track recalls Esccovedo's tune "Paradise", in both the sad, fleeting-but-daring vocal performance and the spot-on lyrics, detailing the simplicity of a relationship the narrator can't seem to give up ("What I'm trying to tell you / Is how much I loved you / How much I loved you in that dress / And the way the light bounced off your hair"). A similar theme of lost loved ones follows in "What Can a Mother Do", which features a lovely harmony vocal and stellar fiddle part from former Nickel Creek member Sara Watkins. The song is a country shuffle that compliments the way Prophet closes his syllables during the verses. "What Can a Mother Do" is sentimental and well written, without ever coming off as saccharine or trying to milk out a certain emotion from the audience. In that sense, it makes a nice partner to Bruce Robison's "Traveling Soldier".

It speaks to the breadth of Prophet's talent that he can so easily move from a traditional-leaning number like "What Can a Mother Do" to a more punk-leaning up-tempo number like the ferocious "Where the Hell Is Henry", which features the terrific couplet "Henry worked the room like a Kennedy, son / He'll make you feel like family before he's done" that manages to be both sarcastic and genuinely respectful with its backhanded compliment. Prophet's most overtly political moment comes from the title track, which opens up with "Let there be darkness, let there be light as the hawk cripples the dove" and rips apart the idea of the free market: "Let there be markets, let `em run wild as the sisters of mercy just laugh".

Prophet is able to successfully channel the fear, anger, and worry many citizens faced and continue to face during the turmoil American is currently in without ever sounding like he's trying to do so. The difference between Prophet's album and Green Day's album is that Prophet doesn't try to be the voice of a movement; he's just a guy writing songs that reflect the emotion of a large group of people, making him the less-apparent heir to the likes of Dylan and Guthrie.

It also speaks to the talents of Prophet as a songwriter and producer that not one song is wasted or mishandled. From the soulful "You and Me Baby (Holding On)" to the slow burning "Barely Exists", not a single note is misplaced. Prophet and co-producer Greg Leisz have found ways to take individual elements—like Watkins's first-rate fiddle work or James DePrato's smoldering guitar lines—and add them to the coherence of the album's overall sound without calling too much attention to them or taking focus away from Prophet's phenomenal batch of songs. And what a batch of songs; Prophet has used his keen eye for detail to incorporate a swipe at corporate America ("American Man / With a gun in his brain / On a blood-stained sheet / In the Macy's parade") on "American Man" and then turn around and use the imagery produced by the American media ("Now that kid might grow up to play symphony or be the next LeBron James") on "Barely Exists" to further broaden his message. He also manages to use a childish rhyme like "Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Jack he got his candlestick" without sounding immature on "Good Time Crowd".

Between his top-notch previous albums and his work with other artists, Chuck Prophet had already developed a superior artistic cache before Let Freedom Ring, but this is hands down his best work. Freedom is the album Green Day wish they could have recorded, and is a contender for one of 2009's best albums.

[ LINK ]

by Cody Miller on October 30, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Prophet has told the ugly truth about our imperial ills and made it impossible for us not to sing along.

New Times Miami

heyday of the Stones, but also vintage Cheap Trick.

Chuck Prophet

Let Freedom Ring (Yep Roc)

You've got to hand it to Chuck Prophet. While the rest of the world was panicking about the swine flu outbreak, the San Francisco-based songwriter was holed up in a sound studio in Mexico City, recording what ranks as the most staggering rock record of 2009. From the blistering opening chords of "Sonny Liston's Blues" to the plaintive refrain of "Leave the Window Open," Prophet has produced a suite of songs whose exuberance will call to mind not just the mid-`70s heyday of the Stones, but also vintage Cheap Trick.

Prophet's voice is pure Southern California drawl, and his Stratocaster seems never to have met a lick it couldn't shred. But what stands out here is Prophet's ability to survey the moral landscape of America, as the nation faces up to the brutal economic hangover of the go-go Bush years. "Let there be markets, let them run wild," he sings, on the rousing title track, "as the sisters of mercy just laugh/All the lost brothers can drink themselves blind/While good fortune breaks hard work in half." Not even the shimmering chorus can blunt the sting of that sort of truth. What's most remarkable about this album is that Prophet has told the ugly truth about our imperial ills and made it impossible for us not to sing along.—Steve Almond

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by Steve Almond on October 28, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Ray Davies quality to both Prophet’s voice and delive

Lime Wire

Let Freedom Ring

After some 25 years of Americana-soaked sonic adventures, first with his band Green on Red and then as a solo singer-songwriter, Chuck Prophet should get a dollar every time anyone anywhere uses the term "roots rock." On Let Freedom Ring, Prophet proves that it's possible to work up a piston-pumping batch of tunes that incorporate touches of blues, soul, country, and rock while still maintaining a sharp lyrical pen. Many of the songs here walk the line between detail-oriented narrative and imagistic musing, while Prophet's deadpan delivery drives the whole thing home. The title track finds him taking on a tone (both vocally and lyrically) somewhere between Dave Alvin and James McMurtry, but often there's a vague Ray Davies quality to both Prophet's voice and delivery, suggesting that perhaps his storytelling abilities come from somewhere outside the usual Americana toolkit. If you're in the market for an unpretentious, organic-sounding album of roots-rocking tracks that completely avoid the genre's usual tropes, you might be inclined to Let Freedom Ring.

[ LINK ]

by Jim Allen on October 27, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Prophet's stories ring true
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Hartford Courant

Storyteller with a sharp eye for detail and a deft sense of character

It sounds like a collection of disasters that could befall a character from one of his songs: When Chuck Prophet went to Mexico City to make this record, he encountered a pandemic, an earthquake, and an antiquated studio. But with the grit and resilience that have typified his work since his days in Green on Red, Prophet soldiered through. The result is "Let Freedom Ring!,"another solid collection of his sturdy, rootsy rock `n' roll.

Prophet is a storyteller with a sharp eye for detail and a deft sense of character. His ninth solo album nods to Bob Dylan ("Hot Talk," "You and Me Baby"), Randy Newman ("Barely Exist"), and John Mellencamp ("American Man"), with a bit of Texas roadhouse blues thrown in ("Where the Hell Is Henry?"). It doesn't delve quite as deeply as "The Hurting Business" or "Soap & Water," but as always, Prophet's stories ring true.

[ LINK ]

by Steve Klinge on October 27, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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get well or die.

Lonesome Onry and Mean:

Chuck Prophet's ¡Let Freedom Ring! Doesn't Disappoint

Lonesome Onry and Mean: Chuck Prophet's ¡Let Freedom Ring! Doesn't Disappoint

By William Michael Smith in Lonesome Onry and MeanTue., Oct. 13 2009 @ 12:30PM

"American man in the laundry pile/ With the rain check claims and the skateboard child" - Chuck Prophet, "American Man"

We admit to being full-fledged, card-carrying members of the Chuck Prophet Party, but it still took Lonesome, Onry and Mean longer than usual to get the ears and head wrapped around Prophet's chaotic new Yep Roc Records album ¡Let Freedom Ring! The album may have the widest stylistic scope Prophet has ever laid down, although CP is known up front for going all over the rock and roll map in search artistic fuel.

But, as always happens with Prophet's records, the separate parts of the thing eventually come together, the wholeness of the disparate parts reveal themselves and, one day riding down the freeway with the stereo blasting, the brain says to the body, "What an album."

¡Let Freedom Ring! features some of Prophet's most introspective lyrical work to date. "You and Me Baby (Holding On)" finds Prophet dredging up the deepest parts of his conscience and finding something universal and timely there: "Marriage on the skids and the folks ain't doing well, we're holding on/ Seems like maybe half the people we know got the same sad story to tell, holding on."

Recorded in Mexico City during the flu epidemic and the world economic meltdown, ¡Let Freedom Ring! is a troublingly accurate musical painting of our confusing and uncertain times, and once again it finds Prophet on top of his game, mashing together sounds remembered from Donna Summer with those of Phil Spector, Beach Boys' sounds with Alex Chilton. It all comes swarming out like a swine flu leaving the hog farm, something strong, virulent and ferocious with no antidote but to listen your way through it and get well or die.

[ LINK ]

by William Michael Smith on October 14, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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...it's booming. It rocks, it bustles, it's a hell-hole and it's paradise

Spinner

Chuck Prophet Faced Swine Flu Fears in Mexico City

Music is universal, we know that much. But when Chuck Prophet rolled up his sleeves for his newest album, `Let Freedom Ring!,' he decided to travel outside of America and cut the tracks in Mexico City. A few days into the process, swine flu started to spread—both as a virus and as a media hot topic—with Mexico City at the epicenter.

"I should say that Mexico City is an ancient and ailing metropolis, but at the same time it's booming. It rocks, it bustles, it's a hell-hole and it's paradise," Prophet tells Spinner. "Yes, it's also the capital of the second or third world, our own urban future—almost sci-fi. It's not the place you want to be when the black plague comes down."

Neither Prophet nor anyone in his band or crew caught the illness but they did seem to be afflicted, at points, by another viral scare—hype. "If you turn up the heat on the hype high enough, everyone starts feeling a little off," says Prophet. "You can't help but to take your own pulse every 10 minutes."

That kind of nervous energy can fuel an entire album. So with co-producer Greg Leisz (Wilco, John Fogerty) behind the knobs, Prophet braved exposure to H1N1 for the sake of art. "The amazing thing about Mexico City is that beyond the bustle, the grime and the chaos, everything gets done," he says. "There are commuter train lines that bring half a million people in and out of the city every day. Think about it. So I think ultimately that all the extraneous BS we went through just to get to the studio everyday and to get a take when the power didn't go out brought us all together and made a band out of us."

That may be so, but Yep Roc Records will still release `Let Freedom Ring!' as a Chuck Prophet solo album when it drops on Oct. 27.

[ LINK ]

by Benjy Eisen on October 7, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

I try to be nice to my wife, cook myself a decent meal every once in a while and still hope to find a guitar that will stay in tune. That's about it.

Nottingham.UK Thursday, September 17, 2009

PHILOSOPHY Chuck Prophet loves music, the 'healthiest addiction' he has ever had, for its own sake.

WHEN Chuck Prophet joined Green On Red as a teenager, he had no ambitions to be a rock `n' roll star. "I grew up in a small town in California and I didn't even know anyone who'd been in a band or in a recording studio," he says.

"I didn't get into music to buy my parents a yacht."

Three decades later, music is all he's known.

"It's the healthiest addiction I've ever had. And I've had a few."

More of that later.

With Green On Red, he recorded eight albums until leaving to pursue a solo career. That was 20 years ago.

At the end of next month, he'll be releasing his eleventh solo effort Let Freedom Ring.

"I didn't think I was going to do another one. But I wrote a batch of three or four songs, stood back and thought `these songs may be going somewhere I've not been before'.

"Once I knew the direction the album was going in it was easy."

The album was partly inspired by Mexico City, where it was recorded. "It's only a three-hour flight from the west coast but might as well be the other side of the moon. It's a magically inspiring city full of opposites and extremes: friendly folks/corrupt cops, endless beauty/grime.

"With the ink barely dry on a shoe-box full of songs we rolled tape -- and with the punches -- for eight days while enduring poorly-timed blackouts, shakedowns by the Policia and a 6.4 earthquake.

"What really sticks in my mind was eating little tacos around a picnic table and smiling like idiots after plugging the guitars straight into the amps and blowing the roof off that tiny bamboo-lined room."

Music is his passion and way of life these days.

"Since I got clean from drugs and alcohol around eight years ago, my social life has revolved around making music with my friends."

For the show at The Maze next week he'll be with The Mission Express: Stephie Finch, Kevin White, Todd Roper and James Deprato.

Prophet has collaborated with a number of other songwriters but he has no preference whether he writes alone or with a partner.

What does he believe makes a good song?

"Nobody knows really. For me, I have my own values like honesty, but you need to be lucky too. It's a very mysterious thing. People can learn the craft of songwriting and learn how to go from a verse to a chorus but I don't know what it is about someone like Smokey Robinson that makes it different.

"Someone like Leonard Cohen pours things from beaker to beaker over time and creates a master painting, but then a band like Art Brut can come out with their first album and every song is great. And I have no idea how they did it."

As befits a man who is involved with music for music's sake, Prophet's take on success is pretty simple:

"I try to be nice to my wife, cook myself a decent meal every once in a while and still hope to find a guitar that will stay in tune. That's about it."

[ LINK ]

by Staff on September 17, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews

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beautifully realised slice of soulful rock ’n roll and exquisite song writing

The Times (UK)

beautifully realised slice of soulful rock ’n roll and exquisite song writing

Not an everyday occurrence, admittedly, but Prophet remains the only performer I've ever heard quietly slag off his audience to a fellow band member just minutes before going onstage to play for them. ("Look at all these f***ing sheep", he drawled to Green on Red partner Dan Stuart. Trent Poly, 1989. I was there. It happened. Makes me smile to this day.) Since the band fell apart not long after, Prophet has done well with his particular blend of spit and sawdust blues rock, releasing albums regularly and playing and writing for the likes of Aimee Mann, Jonathan Richman and Lucinda Williams. `!Let Freedom Ring!' was recorded in Mexico City last year. Prophet's smart liner notes tell the story, the album pieced together in just 8 days with the help of blackouts, police corruption and an earthquake. ("With the paint barely dry on a shoebox full of songs and the telescope pointed backwards, we rolled tape and with the punches ...")

`!Let Freedom Ring!' is a beautifully realised slice of soulful rock 'n roll and exquisite song writing. As always, the guitar playing is exemplary, breathtakingly good on the soaring title track where his double tracked solo is an unholy marriage of Keith Richards and Tom Verlaine. `Sonny Liston's Blues' kicks in the door with that trademark Telecaster snapping off all over the place. `You and Me Baby (Holding On)' is a beautiful ode to growing old and growing apart. `American Man' is wry with its politics, from the same mould as Springsteen's `Glory Days'. `Hot Talk' struts like early 70s Stones and the breathless delivery carries lyrics poignant and true. `Leave the Window Open' is the most heartbreaking take on `Me and you against the world, babe,' I've heard in quite a while. The mix of bluesy balladry and bar band rocking is smartly placed throughout. 

A work of honest, soulful endeavour, `!Let Freedom Ring!' is a timely reminder that, amidst the recent clamour for anyone who's managed to buy a plaid shirt and go without a shave for a few weeks, there were those who stood above the scene long before the scene existed. If you subscribe to `Uncut' and are comfortable using the word `Americana' in polite conversation, I'm offering you a risk-free recommendation.

[ LINK ]

by Gary K on September 13, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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****

UNCUT

sheer joy of wreaking havoc

Chuck Prophet ****

Posterity may eventually wake up to the fact that former Green on Red man CP was not only an authentic guitar ace but also an underated autuer. Meanwhile, this is yet another eminently listenable addition to his canon. Recorded in Mexico City, the 11 songs here are a kind of autopsy of the American Dream, delivered in a mix of country, blues and rock flavours. The title track, rife with caustic throwaways like, "let there be markets, let'em run wild" is a riot of raunch and slide guitar licks, where "Where the Hell is Henry?" embodies the sheer joy of wreaking havoc on a telecaster.

by Adam Sweeting on September 13, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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sparky songwriter worthy of greater attention

Q Magazine

sparky songwriter worthy of greater attention

Two decades into his solo career, Chuck Prophet still tends to be defined by his time spent with LA-based roustabouts Green on Red, Which must be galling because he's a sparky songwriter worthy of greater attention. A snarling Sonny Liston's Blues and American Man's tongue-in-cheek Tom Petty-isms help bring ¡Let Freedom Ring! well up to par.

by Peter Kane on September 12, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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life lessons with a personal touch
***

Daily Mirror

Let Freedom Ring

Following his part in fellow roots rocker Alejandro Escovedo's cracking Real Animal, the Green On Red man designs a fine blend of rebel bar rock, soft country musings and songs that resolve life lessons with a personal touch.

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by GAVIN MARTIN on September 12, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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an energized shot across the bows of the American dream

The Skinny

an energized shot across the bows of the American dream

Cult longevity can often be as much a curse as it is a blessing. While the existence of an audience means an artist can continue to make his or her presence felt, opportunities for gleaning new listeners tend to be scant. That doesn't mean that the product has to be irrelevant -- something former Green on Red man Chuck Prophet proves to mighty effect on this incendiary new offering. Recorded with luminaries such as Kelley Stoltz and former E Street Band drummer Ernest `Boom' Carter in Mexico City at the height of the swine-flu panic, Let Freedom Ring is an energised shot across the bows of the American dream. Prophet's playing and singing burns with righteous ire throughout from the Clash-like Telecaster thrusts of opener Sonny Liston's Blues to the disgusted denouement of the title track where he laments the fact that `the hawk always cripples the dove'. Lovers of unfettered rock and roll and impassioned and politicised songwriting chops will find much to cherish.

[ LINK ]

by Duncan Forgan on August 26, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under CD Reviews (¡Let Freedom Ring!)

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Solo: it can be crushing when you suck

Cleveland Scene

Sharp-dressed Man

Sharp-dressed Man How Chuck Prophet Learned To Dress For Success By Brian Baker Singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet's reticence in the wake of his excellent 2007 album Soap and Water isn't unusual. "It's appallingly unfashionable to make records that hold together as an album, but I keep doing them - it's like hitting your dick with a hammer," says Prophet with a laugh. "People I talk to in the business say, `Chuck, we really commend you for that. You go, man.' I still think that way, and I was pretty encouraged by the album I collaborated on with Alejandro [Escovedo] last year. That's how I go about making a record, from the outside in or from the inside out. If I can get three or four songs that take me somewhere I haven't been, then that's enough to keep me going." Prophet got more than just a warm, fuzzy feeling from his work on Escovedo's Real Animal last year. Escovedo advised Prophet to be more aggressive with promoters when setting his asking price for gigs. Prophet left their meeting with more than advice. "We're sitting in his kitchen and with musicians, it always goes right to the business," recalls Prophet. "Al's like, `How's your agent doing for you?' And I'm like, `I'm doing OK.' And he goes, `Seriously, what do you get paid like in Chicago?' `I don't know. I don't want to talk about it.' Eventually I told him, and he was like, `Bro, bro, bro, you gotta be doing better than that.' He got up and went upstairs, and I heard him walking around, and I'm thinking, `What the fuck is he doing up there?' He finally comes down 10 minutes later with three suits on hangers. He goes, `Here, bro, take these with you. Sharpen up your act a little bit. Your fees will go up.' I started dressing nicer and they went up." As for a new album, Prophet seems to have three or four songs to get him going, so a new full-length in 2009 is a possibility. He's beginning to frame it up mentally. "When I got into music, I signed up for the adventure," he jokes. "Maybe I'll go to Mexico City and make an emo record. I haven't really formed it in my mind, but I'm kind of working on an uninhibited, quasi-political record for non-political people like myself. We're living in an anxious time, and I think it's a good time to let the world in a little bit." Prophet will likely debut at least a couple of new songs on his current tour, and based on his description, they seem like worthy additions to his already impressive catalog. "They're a little less boy/girl and more reflective of the times we're living in," says Prophet. "I've got a song called `Paying My Respects to the Train' which might surface. I've got another one called `Jesus Was a Social Drinker' that I like to play solo. I've got a song called `Let Freedom Ring' which is a fun new song I'm excited about, so there's a cluster of things." For his appearance at the Beachland Tavern this week, Prophet will fly solo and acoustic, which allows him the freedom to perform songs that don't normally wind up in his set list. It also forces him to rethink songs that are typically muscled through by his touring band. "`Singer-songwriter' is a ghetto," says Prophet. "People stand back and squint, and we're indistinguishable from one another. It's rough out there. But it gives me an opportunity to try out new songs and different kinds of songs, like some of the more narrative, storytelling stuff that I don't have to get above the band. To be perfectly honest, it's not why I got into music - to play solo. I prefer to have a drummer to lean back on and get ahead and behind the beat and spar like that. But playing solo has its own thing. It's freer in a way. But it can be crushing when you suck."

[ LINK ]

by Brian Baker on January 15, 2009 COMMENTS • Filed under Interviews (Soap And Water)

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Soap And Water

Soap and Water is the latest album from Chuck Prophet. It's a burst of unrestrained creativity from a man who enjoys confounding people's expectations. "When I get some kind of inspirational virus, I follow it through to its conclusion. The virus starts with two or three songs that take me someplace I haven't been. It's like writing a play; the songs are characters, inhabited by their own needs or whatever. This time there's probably more devil-may-care spirit to it. It's more spontaneous, less introspective. I sang a lot of it live and the musicians played it on the floor, live." 

The twelve tunes on Soap and Water run the gamut from lavishly arranged tunes featuring a string section and Nashville's Methodist Church Children's Choir to minimal late night meditations caught on the fly in one take. 

Prophet recorded the album in San Francisco at Closer Studios and Nashville at Alex the Great with co-producer Brad Jones (Yo La Tengo, Josh Rouse, Dolly Parton) who helped keep Prophet on point. Prophet explains, "When I produce myself, I inevitably get to a place where I wake up in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat with bats coming out of my head. It was nice to work with someone who had my back. Brad was able, in his own gentle way, to keep me between lanes.

"The musicians involved are all friends. We approached this record differently. We gave all the musicians and engineers a stake in the masters. I think the traditional system doesn't work anymore. These talented, difficult people all played their hearts out. You can hear it."

Soap and Water kicks off with "Freckle Song," "I set out to write a one-chord classic like `Electric Avenue' by Eddy Grant, but when we got into the studio I wussed out and came up with a chord change for the bridge to play my guitar over." The lyrics? "When I say `Let me please help you out of that dress, before you catch a cold,' it makes me laugh now. It's all so very suave. Like Gregory Peck or someone. That's the beauty of songwriting, you get to be whoever you want to be."

"Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)" is a kind of electro-punk blues produced with digital keyboard, drum machine and a couple guitars plugged directly into the board. "I love guys like Alan Vega, Alex Chilton, Mink DeVille...guys who've been able to take classic Brill Building pop and deconstruct it."

"Every time you blink, every time you rest your eyes, there's another new crop of tragedies off the bus," Prophet laughs about the inspiration for "Small Town Girl." With a simple choogin' Bo Diddley guitar, heartrending female vocal from his wife Stephanie Finch, percussion tapped out on the top of a guitar case and Stygian guitar and organ accents. Prophet delivers this tale of innocence, in a gentle, mournful tone. 

"Let's Do Something Wrong" starts out quiet and meditative. Prophet's half-spoken, half-sung vocal with lyrics repeating like a sick mantra ("Let's do something wrong, let's do something stupid") accented by his sparse, single-coil guitar and a marching drumbeat. The bridge ramps up into full bi-polar glory with Prophet pleading at the top of his lungs, "I always did the right thing, what did it get me?" Prophet's closing solo weaves through a rush of strings and a mocking children's chorus.

The album also includes the surrealistic poetry of "A Woman's Voice"; "Would You Love Me?," a folk ballad full of eerie sounds; "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat," a stuttering bit of Southern rock cha-cha; "Downtime," an off the cuff in the studio ode to the pleasures of isolation; and the title track, a gloves-off, back-and-forth duet with his wife Stephanie.

The album closes quietly with "Happy Ending," a breezy meditation on loss and limitation that slowly builds to a climax with a hint of hope and a glimmer of light. Prophet's quiet finger-picking and weary vocal portray the uncertainty one feels when a relationship comes to an ambivalent conclusion. 

Chuck Prophet was born and raised in Whittier, California, President Richard M. Nixon's hometown. "If you shook a tree in my neighborhood, five guitar players would fall out," Prophet recalls. "My sister had a lot of records, Stones, Bowie; the music was magical to me. Everyone I knew had picked up a guitar at some point. It was natural to start playing, but I never thought of it as a vocation."

"I moved up to San Francisco to go to college, majoring in financial aid. I saw the Dead Kennedys at the Mabuhay Gardens (the legendary punk venue) and all the early Slash Records bands like Rank and File." Prophet soon hooked up with Green on Red, a groundbreaking, hard to pigeonhole band that would act as a catalyst for the Paisley Underground and alt-country sounds of subsequent years. "Green on Red were the first band I'd met with a van and a gas card, so I joined up. It was summer, I figured I'd get in the van and go back to school in the fall."

That summer vacation turned into eight years and as many albums with Green on Red - a band many people, including Prophet himself, are still trying to make sense of - burning through more than one major label deal. "Some people thought we were the saviors of rock `n' roll; other people thought we were pathetic knuckleheads. I think they're both right. It was like being in a motorcycle gang; we lived out all the excesses."

When Green on Red disintegrated, Prophet launched a solo career with Brother Aldo (1990), an album that fused his love of blues, rock, Waylon Jennings and Richard and Linda Thompson. His jagged guitar lines, gritty baritone and stellar songwriting soon made him a cult figure in Europe, while stateside he won fans like Lucinda Williams, Stephen King, Ryan Adams, songwriting legend Dan Penn (a song they co-wrote, "I Need A Holiday" was covered by the mighty Solomon Burke) and Kim Richey with whom he co-wrote Cyndi Thompson's Top 40 hit "I'm Gone." 

A video and film enthusiast, Prophet along with Teddi Bennet makes his own no-budget videos and is always ready to collaborate as musician, producer or sideman to other projects. He's done sessions with Warren Zevon and Cake and produced Kelly Willis's latest Rykodisc album, Translated from Love, co-writing some of that album's songs as well. He's also writing and editing Road Song for the San Francisco Chronicle's book division. "I'm putting together a collection with lots of pictures and ephemera that will explain how you can go from city to city and maintain some sort of sanity. Or not. The road brings out the best and worst in people so I thought I'd ask other road warriors to let me edit their diaries.

For the rest of the year, Prophet will be on the road himself, doing what he does best. "I must be one of the last musicians that still enjoys touring," Prophet says. "When people see us live they're going to get involved. We wiggle and we wobble but we don't fall down."

November 12, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Press Releases (Soap And Water)

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North Shore News

Riding the riff to its logical conclusion

Chuck Prophet finds more than one way to make music

 

"He came to San Francisco and we spent about a year writing—a lot of talking, a lot of laying around listening to Mott the Hoople records in the dark and long, long naps but eventually we wrote an album's worth of material and recorded it around Christmas."

The 13 songs on Real Animal document Escovedo's life and times with a narrative flourish. Ideas went back and forth to get the right approach, says Prophet. "Often times Alejandro would tell me a story and I would say something like, `Well it would be great to capture some of that Chelsea Hotel mythology in a song. You get a riff and you ride on the back of it and you just kind of follow it through to its logical conclusion."

The album was produced by Tony Visconti giving Prophet a chance to watch firsthand the man responsible for some of David Bowie and T. Rex's early successes. "Tony has a real gift for using a fine brush," he says. "When we were tracking it was one thing to get the groove together but later when it came to the strings and things like that I could really see Tony's gift for getting in there. He's been doing it for a long time. We used to watch him put his hands on the faders and kind of massage the console. He can take a seemingly uninspired mix and with just a few moves make it sound like a record. He's like a master painter in that respect."

Soap and Water takes a similar storytelling approach but that's where the similarities end. "For me it's really liberating to try and make records that work outside of the singer/songwriter box," says Prophet. "There's probably enough songs out there about people's coffee getting cold. For me, if I can pick a character and breathe life into him and capture the way they talk that's a lot of fun for me. But there must be some of me in there as well, even if some of these characters I don't really like that much."

Traditionally Prophet and his band have played more in Europe than in the U.S. but North American audiences are starting to come around. When Prophet is asked where they most like to perform he responds: "I think the British audiences are some of my favourite audiences. We spent so many years just ignoring North America hoping it would go away. We toured in Europe and it didn't go away. Seattle, Minneapolis and Austin, Texas were some of the early beachheads—we've got a place in our hearts for those towns."

Working with Warren Zevon:

"He used to drink so much Mountain Dew halfway through the day he would get these migraines. He could really be a contentious guy, almost in a perverse way—so funny and so smart you didn't want to miss anything. I did a lot of sitting around but I tell people it was the best internship I ever had."

Writing with Escovedo:

"We wrote a song called Nun's Song where we talk about our first groups and just the thrill of being in a band. Al started playing the 96 Tears riff on his guitar and I just started shouting and screaming until I was hoarse and I recorded it all on a handheld cassette. We listened to it back and took the best parts, typed it out and that was it."

[ LINK ]

by John Goodman on July 10, 2008 COMMENTS • Filed under Artist Profiles (Real Animal)

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