Yep Roc Records/Southbound
Will history remember Chuck Prophet as some sort of Marshall Crenshaw-type? Sure, probably, but that’s about as useful – and worth worrying about – as determining what is and isn’t power-pop. Prophet makes great music – and he’s been consistent. That the world – in its larger sense – hasn’t caught on just makes it all the more precious for those of us who do know about Chuck and what he does.
It started with his time as a member of Green on Red (great band) and now a baker’s dozen of solo albums, all running from good to great – hints of Beck in the voice from time to time (If I Was A Baby) and Tom Petty in the run of the music (Ford Econoline) but Chuck’s got his own thing going on. Currently – and it continues here, with Night Surfer, he’s serving his muse best by weighing in on the jangle, whether it be the Robert Plant-like twitch of Felony Galmour or the roots-rock balladry of Tell Me Anything (Turn to Gold). Night Surfer is that rare album where the playing is spot-on right across the board, every track – so too is the writing. A bunch of future-classics, if only when played at a gig to the faithful – but it’s that sort of career high that might make someone (relatively) new to Prophet’s work wonder if this is a compilation, a collection of a decade’s worth of best ideas, rather than simply a dozen new songs, the first in a couple of years.
Underrated is a bit of an ugly, frustrating term – it does apply here, even if the artist wouldn’t want it and the fans might want to shout from the rooftops that they’ve always known, even if in a small circle, how great their guy is.
Night Surfer feels like Crenshaw hooking up with Alex Chilton (Laughing On The Inside, Lonely Desolation), it feels like Tom Petty and Bob Dylan working together in earnest rather than those past follies (Truth Will Out), it feels like Beck and Robert Plant connecting over country music (Love Is The Only Thing) but far more importantly – and impressively – it feels like everything from Green On Red’s Gas Food Lodging through solo highlights such as The Age of Miracles and Temple Beautiful continuing on, culminating in this latest batch of the best songs that not enough people will hear.
That just makes them more special for those of us already hooked and/or prepared to discover.
Night Surfer doesn’t have anything approaching a dud-track, it’s close to perfect, seamless, almost his very best; the only reason I can’t quite call this his best album is because his discography is an embarrassment of riches.