SoCal-born, NoCal-based Chuck Prophet may be the best rock-oriented singer/songwriter/guitarist you’ve never heard of. His new CD, No Other Love, on the appropriately named New West Records, is an audacious blend of classic and cutting edge styles: hip-hop beats, samples and scratches mingle with Roy Orbison/Chris Isaak neo-rockabilly, nocturnal surf music, ’60s psychedelic organ, mysterioso swamp rock, and hints of artists as diverse as Bob Dylan, Sly Stone, Bobbie Gentry, and Beck. What’s most amazing is that all of these sounds get along so well with one another inside of Prophet’s self-produced mix.
Prophet’s worn, slightly nasal baritone is sometimes up front in the mix, sometimes processed and distorted, sometimes dead earnest, sometimes heavily ironic on his vignettes of disconnected love, pain, resurrection and justice delayed, which seem to be geographically located in a mythic Southwest somewhere between Hollywood, Bakersfield, Sonoma and the moon.
Prophet is both funny and dead serious on the beat-heavy vamp “What Can You Tell Me”: “They say the heart is a wheel, she made my heart a meal” is pretty telling.
Beautiful “After the Rain” tiptoes in on electronic strings and surf guitar, Prophet’s unadorned voice is complemented poignantly by Stephanie Finch. The story is the antithesis of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” where the green grass behind the stadium is wet and heavy and uninviting in the wake of precipitation.
“I Bow Down and Pray to Every Woman I See” opens with a nod to Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billy Joe,” and slinks on a sinister syncopated groove through Prophet’s litany of failed romances:
- “Darby was my sister’s friend,
a fashion paranoid,
She wore a winter coat all summer long
and made a lot of noise
About conservites and demigods
and how we should be scared
We dropped LSD at Disneyland
She left me standing there”
Just a great song, a sardonic update on “88 Lines About 44 Women.”
“Run Primo Run” evokes mid ’60s newly-electricized Dylan. The title track is a lovely but stark ballad in waltz time. “Elouise” rocks on chunky Latin rhythms and a sturdy Farfisa. Gorgeous “Summertime Thing” forsakes irony for a wistful look at the lazy glories of summer through a series of lovingly drawn pointillist scenes. There’s more – it’s all mighty good. Maybe sheer force of talent will finally ram Prophet through the ice. Don’t hold your breath, but there is always hope.
Chuck Prophet was born in Whittier, moved to San Francisco and joined the great psychedelic/roots rock band Green On Red as guitarist in the early-’80s; he began his solo career in ’90 with a recording that cost $800 to make. No Other Love is his 6th album and second work of magic in a row following The Hurting Business, which is also highly recommended. Prophet has backed up Kelly Willis, the Flatlanders, Smash Mouth, Cake, and many others as session guitarist.