Once during a live performance, Ryan Adams regaled the audience with a Bob Dylan tour story, introducing the story’s original author, Chuck Prophet, as a “classic dude.” Take Mr. Adams as you like, but that description fits Prophet perfectly. Not only does it suit the man, whose wry humor comes through in even the straightest of songs, but it also is exemplified in Prophet’s seventh album, Age of Miracles, which even with its slick studio production manages to sound as classic as any classic rock. It’s flat-out good music, much of which will likely sound as good years from now as it does today.
Many have long felt that the former Green on Red member has been slighted by the listening public. A generally well-reviewed artist who has steadily produced albums since his 1990 solo debut, Brother Aldo, Prophet remains in relative obscurity, despite that his sound is relatively accessible. The irony is that his albums are getting progressively better. He includes some quirky elements, such as some unusual instruments and the occasional incorporation of hip-hop-sounding beats, but he manages to pull it off with out it sounding like a shtick. This isn’t to say Age of Miracles is without faults. There are some forgettable tracks, such as “Monkey in the Middle” and the cleverly conceived but imperfectly executed “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp),” an updated take on the dubious Viscounts classic tune, “Who Put the Bomp.”
These chinks, however, are overshadowed by the successes. With a Clapton-esque nasal vocal delivery, Prophet croons pure pop romance in “Just to See You Smile” and “You’ve Got Me Where You Want Me.” His quirky humor shines on the enigmatic character sketch in “Smallest Man in the World.” Showing his versatility, he turns to the more sinister narrative of “West Memphis Moon,” a dark, bluesy modern-day murder ballad. And he successfully explores the unrequited love a loyal friend and would-be lover in “Pin a Rose on Me”: “It’s the same old, sorry song and dance/ You’re always good for one more chance/ You saw a light, I saw a freight train comin’/ I tried to tell you he was no damn good.”
Though for someone with a reputation for guitar work, Prophet gives us little display of his prowess. He instead uses an unusual panoply of slickly layered instruments (Glockenspiel, frequently impressive pedal-steel guitar courtesy of Max Butler, harpsichord, Echoplex, and Moog), relying on electronic effects to carry his clever lyrics in this unassuming success.