AGE OF MIRACLES (New West) Chuck Prophet
Age of Miracles begins with an electronic whoosh that launches instantly into rampaging rock guitars heralding another Chuck Prophet record. Of late that means a unique Sam the Sham meets Eminem amalgam that will tickle your ears as it moves your heart and booty.
Last years single, "Summertime Thing," and New Wests stellar promotion of the record that spawned it, No Other Love (see our review), helped push Prophet above American radar for the first time in his solo career. But the former Green On Red member had been recognized by some of us as something of a national treasure from the debut of Brother Aldo--one of the first great Americana records, before the term was ever coined.
The new millennium saw Chuck getting hip to the new breed boogaloo with The Hurting Business, where he began to incorporate hip-hop grooves and production techniques into his already solidly rooted songwriting and singing. That the San Francisco based Prophet is able to do this without a hint of gimmickry is a tribute to his firm grounding in all the music that matters from Dylan to Dan Penn.
Age of Miracles sports fewer beatbox rhythms but continues to integrate organic synthesizers and modern production techniques. Prophet understands that for all their art, our roots forebearers--people like Jimmy Reed, Buck Owens, and Loretta Lynn--were making pop music, trying to have hits. Thus the melodic, dare I say it, jauntiness of "Just To See You Smile," and the title cut, as well as the romanticism of "You Got Me Where You Want Me," are firmly in the tradition of Reeds "Bright Lights Big City" and Owens "Loves Gonna Live Here Again."
What prevents Prophets tunes from ever getting cloying, and holds all the disparate elements of his music together, is the fact that he is one of a dying breed of true characters--he talks it like he walks it, as any interview you read will confirm. As for his stellar guitar playing, well, the soloing prowess showcased on Brother Aldo has taken a back seat on his records for some time. You will just have to see him live. Michael Ross