Music News

Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet
The Hurting Business

Rapping and scratching on an album released by HighTone? HighTone? The torchbearer for all roots music? What's going on here? No, it's not a hip-hop album, but it is something remarkable. Call it roots music with soul. And it may be only January, but it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that The Hurting Business will have a place on plenty of Top 10 lists for 2000. Let's just hope the disc isn't ignored by everyone in America who isn't a press schmuck, because unfortunately the solo career of the former Green on Red guitar player (like that of his former bandmate, Chris Cacavas) has so far been neglected everywhere besides Europe.

This, Prophet's fifth solo release, reveals a talent fully realized, both in performance and songwriting. His fretwork was used to great effect on Kelly Willis' last album, What I Deserve, and also on recent works by Cake, John Wesley Harding, the Silos, Bob Neuwirth, and others. But it's on his own material that his guitar shines the most. Without reducing himself to wankerish gimmicks, Prophet elicits some startling tones from his instrument. He doesn't even need to put his guitar front and center all the time. Sometimes he lets an organ take the starring role. Or a pedal steel, or a mellotron (an instrument rarely used as well as it is here), or even rapping and scratching.

His playing always serves the song. And these are great songs, both lyrically and musically surprising. He blends country, hip-hop, rock, folk, blues, and soul in a way that's never less than natural. Unlike the talented and still overrated Beck, Prophet never descends into self-conscious pastiche, and it never seems like he's trying to deliver a musical history lesson to those who suffer from attention deficit disorder. He does still manage to catch you off guard. Songs often play against their titles, turning clichés inside out. "Lucky" starts out like you might suspect -- "Well, I'd like to get Lucky" -- and then turns a corner: "I'd like to get Lucky/Get my fingers around his throat/ So if you see Lucky/Tell him that I asked if he can float." And once he's made you believe that he's just a caustic bastard, he launches into the sweet-but-never-schmaltzy number, "God's Arms," and does so with enough authenticity that he never seems derivative. With The Hurting Business, Prophet has produced an album that grows only richer with repeated plays. -- Sabrina Kaleta

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Sabrina Kaleta