When record stores still existed, they were not just the place to buy music, they were one of the few places to discover new albums (besides friends’ houses and cars). Radio gave us new songs (and sometimes full-album previews at midnight), but you could walk into a record store and end up taking home something you’d never heard before you’d wandered in.
So now you just walked in and we’re playing a great new album called Temple Beautiful by Chuck Prophet.
Who? Longtime music fanatics might know of him from his days in the band Green On Red and his critically acclaimed solo catalog. But he’s far from a household name and, at age 48 and without controversy (or tits), he’s not exactly generating lots of pop-culture buzz. You can read up on him at AllMusic or Wikipedia if you’re so inclined, I won’t waste time rehashing his career.
Temple Beautiful, described by Prophet as “made in San Francisco by San Franciscans, about San Francisco,” comes off as a west-coast version of Lou Reed’s New York album: gritty and full of character and characters. Prophet calls it “an unsentimental (though loving) tour of San Francisco. My effort to tap into the history, the weirdness, the energy and spontaneity that brought me here in the first place.” Thus the comparison’s to Reed’s New York are obvious, but there are other more subtle references. Track 2 of Temple Beautiful is “Castro Halloween,” featuring “men in skirts and heels marching on…” while New York featured “Halloween Parade,” an ode to the impact of AIDS, in that same second song slot. And on the boisterous title track, the shout of “2 guitars, bass, and drums” sounds like a nod to the closing line of Reed’s liner notes for New York: “Can’t beat 2 guitars, bass, drums.”
Certain tracks are reminiscent of the sound and quality of Tom Petty’s finer works, but Prophet probably has more in common with Petty’s right-hand man guitarist Mike Campbell, as there are plenty of riffs and hooks to go along with Prophet’s at-times fierce guitar work. Similarly, instead of sounding like Bruce Springsteen he manages to invoke the garage-band authenticity and pop sensibilities of Bruce’s sidekick Steven Van Zandt. And at times, the album sounds not like Dylan, but more like his son Jakob, most of all on the Wallflowers-type grooves of “Willie Mays Is Up at Bat” and “He Came From So Far Away (Red Man Speaks).”
Prophet, far from the legendary status of Reed, Petty, or Springsteen, comes off as a relative unknown (despite this being his 12th solo album) and it gives this album a likable underdog quality. And while parts of this record have been called “Dylanesque,” and rightfully so, it has more in common with the best albums by other medium-well known underdogs like Graham Parker, John Hiatt, or even Steve Earle, Ray Davies, Warren Zevon, or Paul Westerberg.
Occasional harmonica blasts and tambourines keep the sound organic, but Chuck’s guitar and songwriting are the show here. Catchy and rocking in some spots, brooding and poetic in others, Temple Beautiful is very much an album for album lovers. A cohesive collection of songs greater than the sum of their parts. There’s a natural analog vibe, a timeless sound, and just the right pacing and length to be appreciated as a complete work of art.
Temple Beautiful takes its name from a now-defunct San Francisco rock club, but the sweaty crowds and life-affirming music could be booming out of any little stage in the country. And this out-of-the-blue stunner of an album throws me back to the record stores (also almost all now defunct), where we first found the Great American Novel in musical form and to the dirty bars where we’d later blast them out. While Prophet might not quite be Kerouac with a guitar, it’s nice to know that in 2012, after so many of our beautiful temples are long gone, we can still discover yet another Great American Rock Album.
CLICK HERE to listen to the whole album streaming free.
Visit Chuck’s official site.