I admit to losing touch with Chuck Prophet after the demise of Green on Red and through the string of albums he made through the '90s and into the new millennium. But I became reacquainted through 2009's Let Freedom Ring!, which became one of my favourite albums of that year.
I don't think the follow-up, Temple Beautiful, quite matches that more politically charged record. But it comes damn close and shows that Prophet is in the midst of a career renaissance at age 48.
Temple Beautiful has been described as Prophet's "ode to San Francisco," the city he's called home for most of the past 30 years. He launched the album with a bus tour around the city that highlighted some of the haunts alluded to in his songs, and the report I read made it sound like a magical night.
Steph Finch, Prophet's longtime life and musical partner, adds harmonies and keyboards to a number of tracks. The rest of the musicians augment the songs terrifically, including the saxophonist who comes in on the excellent "Little Girl Little Boy." But it's Prophet's guitar, voice and songs that take Temple Beautiful to the next level above "pretty good rock-and-roll record."
"Castro Halloween" and "Willie Mays is Up at Bat" (on which I'd love to see Prophet collaborate on stage with The Baseball Project) are the most obvious nods to San Francisco, at least to those of us unfortunate enough not to have been there yet.
I'm sure that the Cyril referred to in "Who Shot John" is San Fran native Cyril Jordan, the founder and guitarist for garage rock greats The Flamin' Groovies. The end of "I Felt Like Jesus" is reminiscent of what you'd hear from Prophet's friend and transplanted San Franciscan (and one of my musical idols), Jonathan Richman. Prophet borrows from one of Richman's more obvious influences by adding somewhat of a doo-wop element to the vintage pop-and-roll sound on "White Night, Big City."
The two slower songs on the record, the strings-infused "Museum of Broken Hearts" and the closing "Emperor Norton in the Last Year of His Life (1880)," fall a bit short of the other 10 numbers. But that's probably just because I like Prophet most when he's rocking.
I've never seen Prophet perform, but will catch at least one set at next month's South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. He would have been high on my list of must-see acts anyway, but the songs on Temple Beautiful cemented it.