The unheralded Chuck, that is
With the recent fad for books dishing the French superiority complex, let's remember that no long list of transgressions is needed to prove our own cultural stupidity. Not when Chuck Prophet is a cult hero in Europe but just a rumor of a critics' fave in the United States. The San Francisco-based singer and guitarist doesn't seem too bent about the whole thing. "I'm just now getting the hang of it," he says of his relative notoriety overseas, "though sometimes it does seem like a long way to travel just to eat some smelly cheese."
What we've missed is not the mere aesthetic experience we'd expect Euros to appreciate, but rather a ton of heart and melody. Prophet's work since his 1990 solo debut is grounded in his singular approach to singer-songwriter classicism. Take the title track of 2002's No Other Love, a pit-in-your-stomach gorgeous silhouette of a ballad composed of little more than strings and Prophet's thick croon; or last year's roomy Age of Miracles, his seventh album, stuffed with literate pop-rock that manages to make use of a sampler as tunefully as it does guitar. This is music to rehabilitate the word "eclectic" from its abuse by interior decorators.
Prophet first eluded us back in ye olde 1980s, when his adolescent band Green on Red helped found LA's Paisley Underground scene. "I don't think about it much, but when I do, I have to quickly take my medication," he says of the band's decade-long run. "Some people considered Green on Red a group of juvenile buffoons—others considered us one of the greatest rock `n' roll bands in the world." Then there was "alt.country": in the late `90s, while we were we were pumping overrated Wilco, Prophet was busy putting out record after rootsy, rangy record. "How can I dis a scene that has heated debates over the best version of a Townes Van Zandt song?" the ever-philosophical tunesmith says. But Prophet doesn't deserve to have to be so good-humored in the face of indifference, and the Euros shouldn't get to gloat.
Prophet plays Friday night at the Starry Plough. Be there or be a dumb Yank.