Chuck Prophet is a good songwriter and a decent singer, but the best moments of his live sets are when his mouth is shut. That's when Prophet is uncoiling his guitar solos—kinetic, crackling and always inventive, wading up from the swamp of Neil Young's "Tonight's the Night" and heading for the open country. There were plenty of those skin-tingling passages at Iota on Saturday night, the songs sounding far more alive than they have on his last few recordings.
"Age of Miracles," Prophet's seventh and latest solo album—he initially made his mark as guitarist for grizzled psychedelic cowboys Green on Red—serves up his usual omelet of fractured Memphis soul, country (he was alt before alt-country was cool) and Dylanesque romps. Playing off the steel and rhythm guitars of Tom Heyman and the keyboards and vocals of wife Stephanie Finch, Prophet, whose own voice bears more than a passing resemblance to Tom Petty's, dunked new songs ("Just to See You Smile," "Solid Gold," "Automatic Blues") in an agreeably gritty bath.
The 90-minute set's highlights were live-wire solos woven into songs with offbeat hooks: "You Did" (a shakin' retelling of Barry Mann's "Who Put the Bomp"), a wonderful cover of Tyla Gang's early Stiff single "Styrofoam" and the stomping, fuzzed-over hoodoo of "Shore Patrol." When Prophet put solos and songs together with that kind of raucous, bar-band energy, his home-brewed country-soul tasted spellbindingly good.