On Age Of Miracles (AOM), Chuck Prophet spins the dial yet again, emerging with 11 self-penned or co-written slabs of rock n’ roll wonder that allow soul, rock, pop, funk, blues and hip-hop to intermingle, remarkably, without shedding their distinct bite or identity. But Chuck doesn’t function merely as a puree-ing blender; he’s more like the slightly perverse guy who invites ALL kinds of people to the same party -- in part because he really likes them all, but also to see what’ll happen when they hang together. And, sparks do fly ... speaking of flying, Chuck’s already storied career took a serious up-turn with his last album, 2002’s widely revered No Other Love. That album sported the Top 5 radio hit “Summertime Thing.” When Lucinda Williams heard the album, she completely flipped and offered Chuck the opening slot for her summer tour. Watching her night after night had a profound impact on the man, “It was like goin’ to school every night. Or Church. Or both!”
Chuck provided virtually all of the wondrous guitars on AOM (his 7th solo disc and 2nd for New West) adding distinctive flourishes on keys, bass and assorted treatments. The sterling keyboard work was primarily handled by Jason Borger (who also arranged the strings on five tracks) and Stephanie Finch, Chuck’s long-suffering wife & band member. The shifts in locations and musical direction led to a variety of rhythm sections, which, if anyone’s counting, included four bassists, five drummers, a beatbox and a programmer.
Influences? Chuck ponders, “All roads lead to Dylan I suppose, beyond that, if I mention one influence I’d have to leave out a hundred. One definite influence on this record is my increasingly acute awareness that we’re living in the modern age. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not about to throw my laptop into the river any day soon. I’d probably end up developing some kind of a tic without it. There’s just no time. No time to daydream, even less time to think. Fast food express lines, meth-paced TV, medications marketed to woman who ‘have no time for yeast infections’ (as if the rest of us have the time). Genetically cloning the family pet, prescription miracle drugs, mad cows, madder scientists… watch those carbs! The psychosis! On second thought, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
His process? – “When I catch an inspirational virus, I try to inflict it on my closest conspirators and come up with a batch of songs. Then assemble a group of talented, intense, fierce, difficult, even perverted people, many of whom I’ve worked with before and a few I’ll probably never work with again. Lock ’em in a studio in Tucson, try a different cast in Nashville, San Francisco, or the neighbor’s apartment next door when he’s out of the country for weeks at a time... you get the idea.”
Chuck had completed roughly two-thirds of the album when he hit a wall. “My self criticism (once my closest and most reliable friend) gave way to a struggle with my self esteem and mental health. So … I took a little break from the record to get some … ah … perspective. I found there were some ‘food groups’ under-represented on the record,” Chuck admits, “so I looked around under the couch and pulled out the dusty shoe-box of cassettes. At about that same time, I bumped into Eric Drew Feldman (P.J. Harvey, Polyphonic Spree, Captain Beefheart) and I immediately enlisted him to oversee/co-produce. Because, even with all the new technology, it’s still impossible to be on both sides of the glass at the same time – Jim Dickinson taught me that.” Feldman brought a welcome set of ears to the sessions, adding driving piano to “Smallest Man In The World” and typically otherworldly Moog performances to “Automatic Blues” and “West Memphis Moon.” “Eric has an appreciation for capturing the spirit of a group performance,” Chuck adds. “And when I’d suggest we turn up a mistake before we discard it, Eric understood. We spontaneously combusted the last part of the record in a day.”
As with his previous ventures, Prophet’s musical adventurousness continues to be reflected in his thematic diversity-- “We’ve got songs about miracles--the ones that come from above and beyond--midgets, mothers, marriage and miscarriages of justice… and that’s just the ‘M’s! All seriousness aside, what can I say? You try not to repeat yourself; you try to keep yourself entertained while making these things, what the heck... I made a new record, it’s called Age Of Miracles and I think we may have gotten it right this time, who knows?”
Chuck Prophet has managed to establish himself as a singular, maverick creative force since his days as a ‘take-no-prisoners guitarslinger’ with Green On Red (whose country-meets-folk-meets-too-many-drugs Americana was one of the early warning signals of the alt-country scare to come). Eclectic to the point of challenging the stylistic range/tolerance of some very hip scenesters, Chuck Prophet taps into all manner of popular music forms -- via his near-encyclopedic knowledge of same -- to create a growing body of work that continues to propel the music forward while hooking a proudly opposable thumb into the murky primordial swirl that spawns all tunes cool.