Monday, March 5, 2012
Chuck Prophet – The Hurting Business
Even back then, I could tell.
There may not be many people around who remember Peter Accident and the Duck Revolution, but I do. Most importantly, I remember the spiky-haired, freakazoid guitarist, sliding across the stage on his knees at the High School Talent Show, shredding away on his Telecaster to some homemade punk song far in excess of the limited talents of the band around him.
That was Chuck Prophet. And even then, I could tell.
Walking through the halls of high school, it was apparent that Chuck wouldn’t be long for our small town. I don’t know if it was the Los Angeles vibe of his birthplace that just didn’t fit in with the small, semi-rural town in Northern California, or if it was something else. Some unexplained longing that seemed to permeate through his skin. His way of walking one step to the side of everybody else.
I wouldn’t say that Chuck and I hung in High School, but we were always right with each other. We shared that common acknowledgement of being outsiders in a place that didn’t really like outsiders. And we were-- two misfit, semi-loners who found their refuge, their escape. . . nay . . .their reason for existence, in music. For Chuck it was the burgeoning punk scenes of LA and San Francisco that fueled his passion. For me, it was the NWOBHM. But the specifics of the music didn’t matter. Punk or metal. When we passed each other in the hallways, we gave that knowing nod of outsider acknowledgment. We were always right with each other.
Peter Accident and Duck Revolution wasn’t destined to be long for this world, but it was just the first stop on Chuck’s lifelong musical journey. In 1982, I went to see REM at the Keystone in Berkeley on the Murmur tour, and there was my old classmate, Chuck, opening the show. Don’t remember what he played, or even if he was any good, I was just psyched to see my friend on stage, still tearing it up with the knee-sliding abandon as he did with the Ducks. Chuck saw me and invited me backstage where we hung and talked and I had the opportunity to be completely ignored by Michael Stipe (not in an offensive kind a way. He was in his hide-behind-my-long-bangs shy days).
And even then, I could tell.
And even then, I could tell. More waited ahead.
The end of Green on Red, didn’t spell the end of Chuck’s music. From his solo debut, Brother Aldo in 1990 through to his current release, the San Francisco-themed album, Temple Beautiful, Chuck has crafted a solo career that has made him a hugely respected purveyor of fine Americana. Blending his off-country roots with some raw, distorto-blues, and a Tom Petty-ish talk/speak/singing voice, overseas Chuck is seen as an American treasure. A roots icon on the order of John Hiatt, Ry Cooder, Tom Waits, or Ryan Adams. I’ve always thought it was strange that Europeans appreciate Americana roots music more than Americans do, but there it is. In Europe, Chuck is definitely appreciated.
Now, so far, this hasn’t been much of a record review, and in truth, at this point I could plug in any one of the titles of Chuck’s 12 albums. They’re all consistently good, and pretty much universally praised. But for now, The Hurting Business, released in 2000 is the one moving my mojo. Perhaps it’s the blending of dirty, raunchy blues, like the gritty “Shore Patrol,” that doesn’t shy away from a little turntable scratching, or the downtempo, near-trip hop beats-under-the-roots-vibe of the ironically melancholic “I Couldn’t Be Happier.” “Rise,” is a masterpiece of bluesy mood, distant menacing western atmosphere, with some effect-laden guitar. The combination of the downtrodden, but steady beat, and Chuck’s near-whispered vocal is so sultry it’s like sex captured on vinyl. Title track, “The Hurting Business,” crashes into the garage with a swirling farfisa organ and some crunchy guitar chords, as the whole things swings and sways with a mutated-blues-drawn surf-vibe.
“Apology” is a straight up roots ballad that speaks to the universal truth-- that of being wronged and wronging others. Consider this Chuck’s “Everybody Hurts,” that blends right into the turntablistic-punky blues of “Diamond Jim,” complete with Tom Waits-esque coffee can percussion. And don’t forget “It Won’t be Long,” a tenderly-aching ballad of the highest Tom Petty order.
And in the end, that’s the key. Chuck has such a deep wealth of songwriting talent that he can dig down and twist his soul to bring out whatever moves him. With The Hurting Business, it’s Chuck’s willingness to experiment with the form of the roots, bringing in that eccentric blend of hip hop/trip hop beats, blues, and grind that makes the album work. It’s never boring, always unpredictable, and a listen that never fails to satisfy.
Having collaborated with Warren Zevon, Lucinda Williams, Soloman Burke, Cake, The Silos, Alejandro Escovedo, Jackpot, and having had his songs covered by the likes of Boz Scaggs, Gordon Lightfoot and Kelly Willis amongst others, the world is starting to see that which those of us who'd witnessed the chaos of Peter Accident and the Duck Revolution always knew. And Europe touts.
Chuck Prophet is an American Treasure.
And there’s more to come.
I can tell.