Temple Beautiful is former Green On Red guitarist Chuck Prophet’s twelfth solo outing, and his first since his tour playing The Clash classic London Calling in 2011. I mention that because the spirit of The Clash seems to have infected his musical outlook on this album, and made for one of his best recordings to date.
The first three tracks are amongst the best songs he has written and as good an opening section as on any album I’ve heard this year. ‘Play That Song Again’ is all chunky guitar riffs and a hugely catchy chorus, ‘Castro Halloween’ adds a new colour to his musical palette sounding like The Posies or a bluesier Teenage Fanclub. The title track ‘Temple Beautiful’ has the most obvious Clash sound, punky riffs and sax, think Tom Petty playing ‘Brand New Cadillac’.
Tom Petty and Bob Dylan are two names that come to mind when you hear Prophet’s have spoken drawling singing voice, an acquired taste but sounding more natural here than on some of his earlier recordings.
Things slow down a little from this point on in the album, and in general we are in familiar Chuck Prophet territory as he plays a range of blues influenced country rockers and ballads. This isn’t a particularly original album musically, Prophet wears his love of classic rock and roll sounds on his sleeve, but I struggle to think of another artist who is playing music like this any better than him.
The album is rooted in San Francisco, recorded there with local musicians and a range of local characters in the lyrics. Most of the references went straight over my head, but that doesn’t make Prophet’s warm story filled lyrics any less interesting. He has always been a good lyricist, but his clear passion for the subjects here seems to have lifted his lyrics up to another level and make this a very rich album that rewards subsequent listens.
The arrangements of the songs are great, and Prophet has assembled a high quality band that matches his own guitar playing, ‘I felt Like Jesus’ is a good demonstration of this with guitar, piano, drums and bass all fighting for space. The production is superb and producer Brad Jones is unfussy enough to let the rootsier and rougher elements of the playing stand out whilst still giving the album a big clear sound.
Prophet is a superb guitar player, and the playing here is typically excellent throughout, a range of guitar styles ring out and the riffs are big and complex. One disappointment, and something that has been true on most of his solo albums, is Prophet’s seeming reluctance to really let rip. Anyone who was lucky enough to see him play with Green On Red will remember the excellence of his extended guitar solos, and his desire to tear it up at any opportunity. We get moments of guitar pyrotechnics, the end of ‘Who Shot John’ and the excellent last section of ‘Willie Mays Is Up At Bat’ (a Thin Lizzy style dual guitar solo no less) but when the guitar playing is this good you want to hear more.
By Dorian Rogers