Chuck Prophet

The Hurting Business

"Banjo" Fred Starner and the Hobo Minstrels Cat & Cream in Hales Annex of Oberlin College, 180 West Lorain Street, in Oberlin 8 p.m., Sunday February 13



Chuck Prophet
The Hurting Business

Back in the '80s, Chuck Prophet was the creative spark plug that gearjammed Green on Red from psychedelic Velvet Underground cultists to rootsy Americana progenitors, in a move that was just slightly ahead of its time. With the demise of Green on Red, Prophet pursued a solo career following a similar path and got little recognition for his efforts, as most of his albums were not even available domestically.

For his fifth solo album in the past decade, the aptly titled The Hurting Business, Prophet reinvents himself while leaving his madness perfectly in place, resulting in one of the most astonishing albums of this very new year. Prophet combines his rootsy traditionalism with a varied array of sonic manipulations and foundational shifts, creating a hybrid that suggests the same sort of magnificent style adjustment that made Tom Waits's The Mule Variations, Beck's Midnight Vultures, and Joe Henry's Fuse so fresh and vital.

With The Hurting Business, Prophet combines the weary jangle of Tom Petty with a blazing experimentalism that includes scratching from DJ Rise ("Shore Patrol" and the gorgeous "Dyin' All Young"). Prophet offers a dense and evocative guitar sound that runs the gamut from Glen Campbell ("Apology") to Karl Wallinger ("Lucky") and Freedy Johnston ("God's Arms"). "Diamond Jim" offers a '60s-meets-'90s mutant pop/blues romp complete with Farfisa and authentic guitar, while "It Won't Be Long" sports a rootsy lounge pop that is as specifically Southern Californian as David Baerwald's mournful love odes.

Prophet has scattered a few flashes of brilliance within the standard greatness of The Hurting Business, and these moments define the work as one of the finest examples of pushing the roots envelope. In a career that has regularly left the majority of the pack far behind, Chuck Prophet has once again surpassed the current crop of American songwriters to create a benchmark for others to follow. Maybe this time they will. -- Baker

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