Somewhere, somebody must have kicked Chuck Prophet around some. Stung, perhaps, by the frequent insinuation that he's just “a poor man's Tom Petty,” the San Francisco roots rocker recently retooled his sound to show greater melodic depth and a stronger command of modern recording techniques. Sure, on his new album, No Other Love, the Petty-isms persist — with dirty Southern-rock riffs and a faint wisp of Dylan in the air — but now Prophet, a remarkably skillful guitarist, has deepened his production mix, thickening the arrangements into a rich tapestry.
On his sixth solo album, the one-time Green on Red member proudly wears his influences on his sleeve, braving the inevitable criticism of sounding derivative in order to grab the big brass ring of classic rock. Clearly, Prophet likes to write music that's fun to perform, and hence, fun to listen to. His riffs have a rough, dopey artlessness worthy of oldies like “96 Tears” and “Louie Louie,” but this simplicity is deceptive. His songs are dense patchworks of retro sounds, with the whole more than the sum of its parts. Backwoods twangs and bar-band licks rise out of silky string arrangements as soulful keyboards deliver punchy melodies and the drummer bangs away with an old-school touch.
For years, Prophet has been one of those off-the-radar American artists who have a large following in Europe but can't get the time of day here in the States. It's possible that No Other Love will change all that. The slinky single, “Summertime Thing,” is already getting regular airplay on KFOG, which may bode well for a hometown hero looking to break out of his regional market. A few songs like “What Makes the Monkey Dance” meander irritatingly, but dreamy power ballads such as “After the Rain” and “That's How Much I Need Your Love” have a radio-friendly memorability that could help them cross over.
Although these tunes have hooks aplenty, this is a decidedly rhythm-heavy album. When the Prophet band finds a groove it likes, it stays there, topping the beat with hypnotic fills while flaunting its command of various rock styles. One fly in the ointment may be Prophet's pseudo-street-wise, neo-boho persona, which is too Tom Waits-y by half. Still, with potential hits like the spazzy white-boy funk number “Elouise” lurking amongst the well-crafted pop tunes, we may be hearing a lot more of Prophet's barfly routine in days to come.