Green On Red man’s ode to San Francisco
Temple Beautiful – Yep Roc
Green On Red man’s ode to San Francisco
The city by the bay, a radical outpost and rich source of urban myth and legend, provides a fine springboard for the ever buoyant Prophet here. Titled after the long-since defunct punk rock club where he earned his stripes, Temple Beautiful provides a home for the many musical genres Chuck has explored since then.
With songs combining wry world weariness, affectionate homage and emotional depth, the singularly sumptuous production makes Museum of Broken Hearts’ valediction for the AIDS epidemic a standout, but the pleasures are abundant.
The title track manages to combine Stones in the honky tonk groove with a crafty Ramones tribute and Willie Mays Is Up To Bat is what The Replacements might have sounded like, had they been able to stay together and get into a Dylan influenced late period. A heroic all round smash and grab raise on rebel rock across the generations. Well played, Sir.
Spirited homage to the City by the Bay; Flamin’ Groovie Roy pitches in.
Spirited homage to the City by the Bay; Flamin’ Groovie Roy pitches in.
After dabbling in everything from swamp-pop to hip-hop – not to mention his verbatim London Calling tour – renaissance-rocker Prophet literally brings it all back home on Temple Beautiful, a dozen beautifully melodic, razor-sharp guitar-pop elegies to his ’Frisco roots. Mythological in scope, soulful in execution – tracking everything from the city’s vaunted musical history to baseball star Willie Mays and madman/murderer Jim Jones, it’s a feast of contextual songwriting and sizzling guitar. The piercing “Castro Halloween” and the NY Dolls-style rave-up title cut jump out first, but the whole lot is first rate.
a witty, gritty style that simply goes unmatched
San Francisco singer/songwriter/producer Chuck Prophet makes a mighty follow-up to 2009's Let Freedom Ring! With Temple Beautiful, his 12th studio album. Well-known as a co-founder of Paisley Underground head honchos Green On Red, Prophet lives up to his last name with a witty, gritty style that simply goes unmatched. TB, named after a long-defunct punk rock club, is packed with Prophet's unmistakeable style, and features special guests such as Red Man, Dan White, Flamin' Groovies vocalist Roy Loney, and a passel of highly talented soul mates. TB kicks off with the driving, fiery rocker “”Play That Song Again,”- a number that causes the listener do just that. “Castro Halloween” weeps and bleeds out a memorable, rough ballad- all bells and whistles intact. “ The title cut is a catchy hand-clapper with Chuck's trademark “shooby doo wahs” and a memorable tale of unrequited love. “Museum Of Broken Hearts” slows the pace and shares his deepest fantasies, “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat” recalls a personal tale of the past over slithering slide guitar, while “I Felt Like Jesus” is an urban toe-tapper of the highest order. “Who Shot John” recalls Johnny Cash- a musical journey through crime, hard times, and righteous rhythms. “Little Girl, Little Boy”is an upbeat duet with Chuck's partner Stephanie Finch, and slams out like a '50's jukebox standard- replete with bouncy piano, danceable decadence, and revved-up horns. “White Night, Big City” collects all of the album's highlights to perfection, and the disc closes with the mystical, spiritual slice of lust and loneliness that is “Emperor Norton In The Last Year Of His Life (1880)” which neatly ties the whole affair together; bow and all. A must-have for fans, and an effort that should be heard globally. Sublime.
by Tom Hallett on February 20, 2012 • Filed under CD Reviews
Temple Beautiful paints a vivid, romantic picture of the San Francisco demimonde
Chuck Prophet’s 12th solo album is a love letter to San Francisco (though only the most well-informed locals will catch every reference). Not only does the longtime Bay Area resident pepper his tunes with classic local characters like Mission district oddball Red Man and self-proclaimed world leader Emperor Norton I, but he also sets each story-song amid the city’s lost cultural landmarks. Characters wander through the Albion bar, fall in love at the Temple nightclub, commune with carnival attraction Laffing Sal, and teeter atop high heels at the Castro Halloween Parade. Meanwhile, his band – which includes such local luminaries as the Flamin’ Groovies’ Roy Loney, the Tubes’ Prairie Prince, and Prophet’s wife, Stephanie Finch – wraps Prophet’s Tom Petty-esque vocals in an anachronistic style of rock that fits the songs as snugly as fishnet stockings. The title tune evokes the rough-and-rowdy strut of Mott the Hoople, with its honking sax, plinky piano, and chugging guitars, while the serrated riffs of “Play That Song Again” recall Prophet’s work in the ’80s Paisley Underground scene with Green on Red. The occasional luridness of the material may give the stiffs at the Chamber of Commerce pause, but Temple Beautiful paints a vivid, romantic picture of the San Francisco demimonde.
Not since Lou Reed paid homage to the city and era that forged him with New York has there been a song cycle dedicated to a place and reality that offers the core immediacy with the thump, churn and ferocity of Chuck Prophet’s Temple Beautiful. It’s a stripped-down rock ‘n’ roll record where the drums pump and echo, guitars slash and buzz, horns squawk like geese with rhythm, and the former wunderkind of progressive cosmic cowboys Green On Red bristles with an intensity that makes great rock burn.
More than anything—even the punk aggression, the unadorned arrangements that slice to the core, the voice that tears through layers of guitars, bass and drums—there’s a far-flung Americana at work. Named for Jim Jones’ San Francisco-based temple, the title track is all marching band pound-down, while the strummy electric guitar-basted “Castro Halloween” evokes the sweetness of Alex Chilton’s power-pop and the promise of holidays burning off to leave the wistfulness of what is. The post-Western “I Felt Like Jesus” is equal parts Clint Eastwood and Azetec Radio, xylophone flourishes popping around the melody.
Noir machismo that’s so pulp West Coast pushes the flat rock of “Who Shot John,” and the Paisley Underground scene of LA in the ’80s sweeps through the character sketch “He Came From So Far Away,” ethereal background vocals falling in sheets and whispering the details of an illusionary life that may or may not be what is presented.
It is the details that make Prophet explode. Loping through a strtaight-forward midtempo— lacerated with bits of twangy guitar—of “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat,” it’s an afternoon painted vividly, a conflict torqued and bravado bristling in the seemingly ordinary moment. Not quite Bukowski, the tale has a beat poetry sensibility that honors San Francisco’s City Lights Bookstore, and enough rising and falling “ohhhhOOOhhhoooHHHohOH” chorus to make Legionnaires of us all.
That is Prophet’s vexation: maintaining the innocence in the knowing. “Little Girl, Little Boy”—featuring wife Stephanie Finch—is pure ’50s swoon via Ramones nostalgia to keep it from Sha-Na-Na-ery. Even more retrofit is “White Night, Big City” that scrapes Blondie-esque punk doowop for its essence.
Still, it’s Lou Reed who keeps flickering. With the pounding, half-barked “Play That Song Again,” it’s a more likable “Sweet Jane”/”Walk On The Wild Side” hybrid, also suggesting Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal, which Prophet co-wrote—and the slow-mourn blues of “Emperor Norton” that is an unsentimental caution, Prophet channels Reed’s pervasive urban edge without overwhelming his own voice.
Chuck Prophet's 'Beautiful' Homage To San Francisco
Chuck Prophet's new album, Temple Beautiful, takes its name from a former synagogue that hosted punk-rock shows in the late '70s and early '80s; it was next door to the temple overseen by cult leader Jim Jones. That may sound like a grim or black-humored reference point around which to erect an album, but with Prophet, grimness, humor, fact and fiction mingle freely. Before anything else, he's a guitar player with a melodically nasal voice whose phrasing favors the whimsical and the querulous.
Over the course of this album, Prophet takes you on a tour of San Francisco as he's lived and dreamed it, watching Castro Street Halloween parades, the famous local stripper Carol Doda and the San Francisco Giants-era Willie Mays. Prophet says his album is filled with "Google-free" facts and non-facts to suit the mythology he wants to create about the city he's so fond of.
One of the ways Prophet achieves tension and release in his songs is by contrasting the content of the lyrics with the tone of the music. Take, for example, "White Night, Big City," about the 1978 murder of San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk and the riots that followed the trial of Milk's killer, Dan White. Prophet frames his version of that narrative with a song that has a jaunty melody, a refrain featuring doo-wop harmonies and openhearted compassion. The result is music whose ironies aren't cheap ones.
Ultimately, you can listen to Temple Beautiful for the superficial catchiness of its tunes, Prophet's slashed guitar chords and his searching, keening vocals and have a good time. And if you want to, you can listen more closely to what he's getting at on this album, and experience the album as one man's alternative history of three decades of West Coast culture and politics. All that, plus a few awfully good songs about having your heart broken.
Little Stephen’s Underground Garage
The title track from Chuck Prophet's upcoming release, "Temple Beautiful", has been selected as one of Little Steven's "Coolest Songs In The World" on his radio program Underground Garage. Underground Garage is syndicated on over 100 radio stations nationwide. Click here for an affiliate near you.
Nobody harneses the distinctive sound of a Fender Telecaster quite like Chuck Prophet and, as the opening chords of ‘Play That Song Again’ ring out with an undeniable twang, Prophet starts Temple Beautiful with a statement of intent from the off. His most focused and concise work in years, Prophet’s twelfth studio album is ultimately an open love letter to San Francisco – filled with gut wrenching guitar licks (‘Castro Halloween’ / ‘Who Shot John’), classic Dylan-esque phrasing (‘Play That Song Again’) and gorgeous analogue production (‘He Came From So Far Away’) – Temple Beautiful harks back to the raw pomp and swagger of 1997′s Homemade Blood and sheds the daliances with synths and samples that have perhaps crowded the past few releases. A return to form, some would say.
Temple Beautiful (YepRoc, release date 2/7/12) is a rock and roll concept album that delivers a twelve track homage to San Francisco as seen through the eyes of adopted son and singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet. Chuck describes his latest recording as "made in San Francisco by San Franciscans about San Francisco" but he's not serving up Rice-A-Roni or riding cable cars and you won't find most of Temple Beautiful in your California history books. Yeah, pre-steroid era hero Willie Mays, martyr for gay rights Mayor Harvey Milk and the devastation of AIDS on the city appear in song but more often than not Chuck honors the quirky fringe even as he sings of the "heart of the heart of the city."
The colorful cast of characters includes San Francisco eccentrics Emperor Norton and the Red Man to the porn producing Mitchell Brothers of Behind The Green Door fame and the silicone enhanced exotic dancer Carol Doda who shocked San Francisco in the 1960's when she "showed us everything she had and then she showed us all a little more" as America's first topless and then first bottomless dancer. With a tip of the hat to Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City", "White Night, Big City" is Prophet's tribute to Harvey Milk who was assassinated by "a little man in a fit of rage." Prophet adds a call and response and doo wops to "White Night" that makes you wonder if Chuck's considered transforming Temple Beautiful into musical theatre for his beloved city. "The Hand Left Hand and the Right Hand" begins with the Mitchell Brothers and then references one or more pairs of feuding musical brothers who have not (yet) committed fratricide as Jim Mitchell did when he shot and killed brother Artie.
On the upbeat vaguely Wrong 'Em Boy0-ish "Little Girl, Little Boy" Stephanie Finch sings a duet with Chuck on the most playful track on the disc. You'd expect Chuck might have spent some time in bars during his time in the city and two of his former favorite hangouts are highlighted. The Albion Bar and Temple Beautiful (the bar was previously the Peoples Temple of Jim Jones infamy which is both cool and creepy) are paid tribute as Chuck recalls the clubs and concerts of his youth. No history of San Francisco would be complete without a mention of Castro Street: a street that symbolized both liberation and excess with its annual Halloween party. Little Steven named "Temple Beautiful" his "Coolest Song in the World" on an Underground Garage broadcast. Enough said. What can I add to that?
In this age of MP3 files, Spotify and nonexistent or unread liner notes casual fans may be unaware that Chuck co-wrote and played guitar on all of Alejandro Escovedo's Real Animal (2008) as well as co-writing half the songs on Street Songs of Love (2010). Add his political solo disc Let Freedom Ring (2009) and this year's more personal Temple Beautiful and I can't think of a more productive songwriter of quality tunes over the past three years. If you're a fan of complete albums, big guitar and great lyrics you need a copy of Temple Beautiful. The only thing I don't like about Temple Beautiful is that I won't be in San Francisco on February 7th to take Chuck's Temple Beautiful San Francisco Bus Tour!
Chuck Prophet loves San Francisco. It's the sort of love that knows every crack in the sidewalk, that celebrates the glory days of shuttered clubs, that never ceases to treasure the weird and the mundane alike.
There's more than a twinge of nostalgia in the title song "Temple Beautiful," an ode to the old Geary Boulevard club where Prophet saw so many influential bands. But it's hardly an album buried in the past.
What makes Temple Beautiful such a vibrant tribute to San Francisco is the raucous thrill that Prophet brings to the songwriting and performance. On the heels of 2009's excellent ¡Let Freedom Ring!,an angry and disillusioned state-of-the-nation political album,Temple Beautiful bristles with the boisterous urgency of a Friday night.
As a listener, it helps to be someone who's walked through the Castro, the Haight and the Mission and can identify with San Francisco's uniquely intoxicating effect. But Prophet and his band deliver the songs with the universal appeal of tight and swaggering rock 'n' roll. There's a bit of blues, a bit of psychedelic rock and some surging power pop.
Opener "Play That Song Again" sets the tone with its churning guitar chords and "oh oh oh" chorus. "Willie Mays Is Up at Bat" celebrates the iconic centerfielder and how the city's fans halted everything to watch Mays hit.
Prophet makes San Francisco come to life in all its enduring, freaky glory, a city of unhinged expression that holds in permanent thrall those lucky enough to get it.
El Mundo / La Luna (SP)
The American Dream falling down in ugly chunks
Many people considered Let Freedom Ring! your best album, do you agree?
I wanted a sound, a feel. We went to Mexico City. The studio was small. Not enough room to cuss a cat in there, so we crammed our little four piece in and cranked it up loud enough to hear across the border. Live in the studio, Live'R Than You'll Ever Be. The truth is, it was a struggle. Power outages, fried hard drives, the return of the Black Plague, earthquakes. The American Dream falling down in ugly chunks. It was perfect. Dumb luck, yeah, but it was perfect. It's an American record. Imaginary. We started with the Swine Flu and we ended up with Michael Jackson dead.
She was unwanted in 17 state
Chuck Prophet first came to semi-prominence in the mid-'80s when he joined countrified California rockers Green On Red, and has since pursued a varied career as a singer-songwriter, session man, and producer (Kelly Willis'sTranslated From Love, for instance). His ninth solo album, ¡Let Freedom Ring!, is bar-band rock of a high order: smart, loud, funny, simple, pissed off, but also sentimental in that last-call sort of way. It's also attuned to Great Recession anxiety and passionately pro-underdog (a typical line: "She was unwanted in 17 states"), most notably on the Randy Newman-meets-Tom Verlaine ballad "You and Me Baby (Holding On)," whose backing harmonies and soaring bridge get me every time. With the Mad Ripple. (Photo by Kelly Stoltz)
Fri., Oct. 15, 8 p.m., 2010
Chuck Prophet Let Freedom Ring (Yep Roc)
Let Freedom Ring (Yep Roc)
By Todd LazarskiAt the heart of hugely underrated singer-songwriter Chuck Prophet’s sound there’s always been a kind of tug-of-war among disparate eras. In turns Petty-esque, Springsteen-like and generally rife with Stones swagger, there’s also an undeniably coy, modern indie slant. Sure there’s “Born to Run”-style driving guitars, and even some “shoobie-doo-wop” backing vocals, but, hey, LeBron James gets name-checked too. In fact, Prophet’s latest sounds a bit like Franz Ferdinand after an all-night bout of Studs Terkel: old-timey, good times rock, but with a conscience.
Prophet empathizes with the downtrodden (“What Can a Mother Do”), apologetically pokes fun at his roots (“American Man”) and seems generally earnest in hopes of a renewal in the Americana from whence he borrows so much of his sound. From jangly country rockers to straight KLH-style distortion, what mostly comes out is a from-the-hip, nostalgic take on the American ennui that was 2009.
The songwriting peaks may be clearest on the introspective tracks—“Leave the Window Open,” or the lovely “Love Won’t Keep Us Apart”—but as a whole the album feels like something more. It’s a sensible, rollicking, perhaps important look at the hard times of the moment.
Chuck Prophet – Let Freedom Ring
Chuck Prophet – Let Freedom Ring
Chuck Prophet – Let Freedom Ring (Yep Roc)
Chuck Prophet began his musical journey as Dan Stuart’s foil in Green on Red, an often tremendous band that mixed scabrous garage, Dylan-Velvets poesy, and American roots in cool ways. ‘Let Freedom Ring” is a good representation of the best in Prophet’s solo career. Prophet is a sharp, never pretentious, lyricist. The songs on his new record ‘Let Freedom Ring” illuminate the current American predicament, wryly capturing the woes of the workaday and the marginalized.
Prophet uses his modest baritone effectively, sounding like Tom Petty after too many drinks and too much sun. A first-rate guitar player, he has much in common with Mike Campbell, Keith Richards, even Richard Thompson. Some of Prophet’s records court Americana’s banal reserve, but “Let Freedom Ring,’ recorded in a funky analogue studio in Mexico City, rocks loose and profits from it. Chuck Prophet isn’t reinventing the wheel. He rarely strays from a sound that would engage a savvy Dylan, Petty or Stones fan. With a really good record like “Let Freedom Ring,” he makes worthy company for such icons.
!Let Freedom Ring!
Chuck Prophet’s old band, Green On Red, enjoyed a cult following in the ’80s and early ’90s, and the same can be said of the solo career he’s maintained since 1990. The San Francisco songwriter may not have tons of fans, but the ones who continue to follow his eclectic path were rewarded with 2007’s Soap And Water and the recent Let Freedom Ring, an album title that's meant to be taken with a grain of salt, given its protest-as-patriotism lyrics.
January 8, 2010 • Filed under CD Reviews
If it sounds country, then that's what it is, you know — its a country song. – Kris Kristofferson
Posted on | January 5, 2010 | No Comments
1. Chuck Prophet is not a country singer, doesn’t claim to be. In fact, his new record, Let Freedom Ring!, is more of a tribute to the birth of rock and roll than anything, with its shades of Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent. However, it doesn’t necessarily take a country singer to sing a country song, as he proves on the second track, “What Can A Mother Do?”. Prophet has called these “political songs for non-political people”, and his gentle treatment of loss here strikes a chord. This is not a song about people from the country, but a song for people from America’s rural areas, which gives it all the qualification it needs.
2. Chuck recorded Let Freedom Ring! in Mexico City with Greg Leisz (who produced Dave Alvin’s King of California) at the helm. He sought help from original E Street drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter and, on this song, ex-Nickel Creek fiddler Sara Watkins. Her lilting vocals and swooning fiddle give its shuffling rhythm a nice drawl. Prophet speaks of an “only child”, who was “born to run” (pun intended, as drummer Carter gave that song its signature heft). “Unwanted in seventeen states”, the child wanders around the country while Prophet wonders about her parents, whose baby is “never coming home”. He moves on to tell the story of a youngest child, who scrapped for everything he could get growing up. By the time he enlisted, Prophet notes, he was “three times a dad”. The chorus implies his death, and Prophet’s subtle mention of his occupation makes clear his feelings on war.
3. Prophet finishes by noting the presence of “Jesus on the billboard” and how we have pounded our fists at the sky in vain, asking for some relief from this world. Finishing with the now loaded chorus, he shrugs his shoulders, and the song enjoys one last bit of music before fading away. This is not an overtly political song, as Chuck shows that the parents of runaways and fallen soldiers go through the same thing. Loss is one thing that makes us human, and this simple jaunt carries that simple message, with just enough sugar to make it go down eas
January 6, 2010 • Filed under CD Reviews
AP Wire Service
Best of 2009 Overlooked CD's
" Let Freedom Ring!"
Chuck Prophet (Yep Roc)
Chuck Prophet chose a studio in Mexico City to record his ninth studio album, and even from a distance, the situation on the home front looked grim.
" Let Freedom Ring!" portrays a land of orange alerts and car alarms with blood on the sheets and asbestos in the Kool-Aid. The river's rising, stores disappear and dreams don't extend beyond Saturday night. "Who's going to miss you when you're gone?" Prophet asks.
Depressing stuff. As an antidote, Prophet offers stabs of guitars to propel a defiant Stones-style strut, and gradually the mood improves.
Past the halfway mark, Prophet turns his attention to a nightclub dialogue and pairs it with a dance beat on "Hot Talk." Two songs later, the backing vocalists are singing "Shoo-be-doo-wah" on "Good Time Crowd." The final song is "Leave the Window Open," which finds Prophet engaged in pillow talk, with no mention of car alarms.
-Steven Wine, AP
Best of 2009 by Anthony DeCurtis
Chuck Prophet has been making terrific records since he started out with the raw-and-ready L.A. band Green on Red nearly a quarter century ago. Let Freedom Ring is the latest in that long line, and it takes a place of pride. The title tells you that, once again, this album centers on Prophet’s favorite subject: America. He recorded the album amid the quotidian chaos of Mexico City, but guess what: One side of the border turns out to be not that much different from the other. If it’s chaos you’re after, Prophet understands that you need look no further than the local news. In his own good-humored, ramshackle way, Prophet earns his last name.
¡Let Freedom Ring!
As America continues to pillage itself, simply holding on now qualifies as hoping for the best. With his richest album in a long career, Chuck Prophet manages to capture that cruel truth while avoiding traps on both sides, steering clear of falsely dressed-up, teeth-whitened optimism and the simmering anger of knee-jerk cynicism. By looking at the stagnating disillusion from the outside, Prophet's ¡Let Freedom Ring! is the album for our times, weaving together the failures of this American dream with its fraying cords of hope — what Bruce Springsteen captured so well during the dismal Reagan years (and failed so miserably at repeating on this year's Working On A Dream).
Recorded in the spring amid swine-flu panic and an earthquake in Mexico City, on equipment Prophet describes as "state-of-the-art, for 1958," the record is no-frills, timeless rock 'n' roll, urgent and sharp, but also soothing like an after-work beer. The title track is a barroom rocker, with Prophet singing, Let there be darkness, let there be light, as the hawk cripples the dove over a joyous slide-guitar riff. "American Man" is garage-rock-infused with a little Tom Petty drawl, catchy "ooh-wee-ooh" backup vocals and more excellent licks from the former Green on Red guitarist.
In recording what he calls "a political album for nonpolitical people," Prophet bypasses slogans and battle cries for the simpler truths: that even staring down the gun barrels of Wall Street's robber barons and Washington's warmongers, redemption is no further than friends, family, love, and good times. Life is only so long, Prophet sings on the album closer. Don't let it rub you raw. (Yep Roc)
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
Chuck Prophet has been releasing solo albums for two decades, but little in his past prepares the listener for this powerhouse song cycle. Particularly since that past has often relegated Prophet to the role of catalyst, midwife or sidekick, submerging his artistic identity within someone else’s.
Recently he served as most valuable player on Alejandro Escovedo’s Real Animal, co-writing all the songs on an album that served as Escovedo’s musical memoir. Before that, he collaborated with Kelly Willis on Translated from Love, where he produced and played guitar as well as sharing writing credit with her on half the material. Even in Green on Red, the 1980s band that first earned Prophet some attention, he was overshadowed by founding frontman Dan Stuart.
At the point in a veteran journeyman’s career where one doesn’t expect surprises, he has delivered a knockout, a “State of the Union” album that combines self-assured swagger and bittersweet vulnerability in equal measure. It’s a musical meditation on a particular time, and a particular country. And that country is this one, though, as the punctuation of the title suggests, Prophet and band (including former Springsteen drummer Ernest “Boom” Carter) recorded the project in Mexico City, during a time of drug wars, swine flu and even an earthquake.
With co-producer Greg Leisz (the guitarist who has so often played the MVP role that Prophet has for others), the band entered what that songwriter describes as “a state of the art studio (for 1958 or so).” There’s an immediacy to the interplay that transcends technological limitations and a perspective on the American condition reflected from the vantage of another culture. Not only does distance lend perspective, but sometimes you need to shake things up to see things straight.
The flurry of guitar jabs that open the album with “Sonny Liston’s Blues” shows the music coming out swinging from the outset, though the song’s tender interlude suggests the emotional extremes the music will continue to encompass. It’s a love song of sorts, sung “in ways I just cannot express,” to a woman who has fingered the fallen champ in a lineup--mistakenly he claims. Such a jumble of emotion, such an ellipsis of detail, such a storytelling richness from the perspective of a narrator who describes himself as “a man of few words.” Such brute force. Such open heart.
The title cut and “American Man” suggest the album’s all-American anthemic sweep, yet this America sounds most like Los Angeles, where the gap between the fantasy and the reality runs particularly deep. You can hear echoes of Tom Petty, Joe Henry and particularly Randy Newman in Prophet’s phrasing--three artists who came to L.A. from somewhere else, yet have come to musically embody the city in distinct but interrelated ways.
Like theirs, Prophet’s music has both a hard-edged irony and a soulful empathy, a way of inhabiting characters from the inside out. Take the title track, where the Stonesish riffing and rhythmic propulsion suggest a patriotic fist pumper, but the social Darwinism of the lyrics deflates such jingoism: “Let there be markets, let ‘em run wild, as the sisters of mercy just laugh. All the lost brothers can drink themselves blind, while good fortune breaks hard work in half.”
These are songs of lost brothers and sisters, of lives lived in the margins, in the shadows. Where the uptempo songs that sound heroic on the surface often mask a darker thematic underbelly, the warmth of the album’s balladry frequently carries a sucker punch. “What Can a Mother Do” has the sweetness of a country melody, punctuated by fiddle and vocal harmony from Sara Watkins (Nickel Creek), yet the turn of a phrase about a young girl “unwanted in seventeen states” belies the music’s carefree spirit.
Similarly, the waltz of sad perseverance in “You and Me Baby (Holding On)” and the unflinching tenderness of “Barely Exist” (which would have fit just fine on Escovedo’s album) hit even harder than the uptempo fare, while more raucous rockers such as “Where the Hell is Henry,” “Hot Talk” and the retro/New Wave “Good Time Crowd” have a jittery urgency, a brittleness beneath the power riffing. There’s a tension throughout between the literary command of the lyrics and the electric crackle of the arrangements, as if the album took a lifetime to write and a couple hours to record.
Ultimately, it’s a work that demands to be heard as a whole rather than a selection of cuts to download. And it ends on the perfect note of grace with “Leave the Window Open,” a nighttime benediction after a long day’s journey. “Life is only so long,” sings Prophet. “Don’t let it rub you raw.” Words to live by.