Homemade Blood (1997).
Forgive the lengthy post, but this masterpiece warrants it. The album that not only provides the yardstick for Chuck Prophet's own work, but which could do the same job for any and every album that falls into that enigmatic Americana bracket. Chuck's rehab album found him returning to the parental home to get himself straightened out. The result, artistically, is summed up in the title of the album: it's blood-red raw, heart on sleeve stuff; it sure ain't pretty, but it's starkly, often scarily beautiful.
Track by track:
"Credit": ("just last week a little card came in the mail, it was gold and thin as Kate Moss")... the best riff Keef never wrote, witty, self-deprecating lyric, and some terrific strangled guitar solos. The perfect encore.
"You Been Gone": ("the fair-haired boy is bald as a peach and the reprobate's got a sermon to preach"): one of those effortlessly catchy songs Chuck comes up with for every album, great backing vocals from Stephanie Finch on the chorus.
"Inside Track": ("the money-sniffing dog's barking up a child's skirt/The energizer bunny's lyin face down in the dirt"). The closest Chuck has come, IMHO, to his idol Dylan's stream of consciousness, whacked out, 65-66 lyrical style ("Laid up with a fever I'm on fire from head to toe/Before my heart bursts into flame there's something you should know..."). Great phased guitar, and a great rock'n'roll scream (around 2.20) makes this one a highlight on an album that has no lowlights.
"Ooh Wee": ("I was nine years old in 73, strung out Ritalin and colour TV"): one of those funky, swampy numbers with a jaw-dropping guitar solo around 2.41 -- 3.16. Not sure how autobiographical this one is, but, especially around the solo, it sounds ripped straight from the heart.
"New Year's Day": ("you gave me everything I wanted, now all I want's a substitute"): just one of the greatest songs Chuck's ever written. Heartbreaking lyric, haunting slide guitar, beautiful harmonizing from Stephie, and perfectly poised between hope and despair ("don't cry, it's new year's day again...").
"22 Fillmore": ("take a picture, take the whole f***ing roll...") crazed rifferama built around a maddening, obsessive, repetitive lyric. Not a favourite of mine, but a regular showstopper.
"Homemade Blood": ("pretty soon I'll be drinking, I can feel my own heart sinking, down into a sea of homemade blood: homemade blood, cheap red wine..."): appropriately spooky, treated vocal for a spooky song. Comes alive on stage more than it does on the album, with Chuck regularly letting fly with squalling solos. The one on record is fine, but really just provides a blueprint for the concerts.
"Whole Lot More": ("where the dark hall leads to a room full of doors..."): a sweet love song set on a bouncy rhythm and catchy riff. Not exactly filler, and a nice way to pass four and a half minutes.
"Textbook Case": ("he was a textbook case, but he could not read at all"): not quite as manic as 22 Fillmore, but just as crazed; an insistent, ascending riff, slashed open with fierce guitar and another desperate vocal.
"Kmart Family Portrait": ("Down to the mailbox, stand around and stare / Up into the kitchen, ain't nothing cooking there / On to the bedroom, stare at the mirror on the wall. / Well, the mirror cracked a grin and said, there's nobody here at all"): stone cold genius. Muted rhythm track, isolated vocal, a lone electric guitar. The writer of Longshot Lullaby, dissecting others' desperation and pain, looks in the mirror and stares into the abyss ("you turn your head, blink your eye, and there's nobody there at all..."). Halfway through, the gorgeous melody opens into a piercing, weeping solo. And it's a first take. Stunning.
"Til You Came Along": ("looking out for trouble, I could never find enough/ Til you came along"): see "Whole Lot More". My reading of these songs is to understand them as dedications to Stephanie Finch, sticking with Chuck through thick and thin. The lit side of the road to counterpoint the album's dangerous shadows.
"The Parting Song": ("Rider won't you pass me by now, rider won't you stop for me..."): I may be way off, but it sounds to me like the equivalent of Keats's "half in love with easeful death". I guess addiction makes you walk that fine line. Whatever: it signs the album off with an appropriate sense of unease and unresolved-ness, as the repeated chorus ("you could be a friend to me, you could be my enemy") and climb-the-wall guitar fade into a gathering, foggy gloom.
Homemade Blood was the end of an era for Chuck Prophet, it seems to me. From here, he would experiment far more freely with technology and other musical styles (notably loops and rhythm tracks), while keeping them in orbit around his rock, blues and country roots. Guitarwise, he would start to take his foot off the pedal board, a cause of some distress for his ardent fans. I'm sure he's written better songs in the past ten years, but, as a coherent work, I'm not sure he's yet surpassed Homemade Blood.
***** out of 5 stars.