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Chuck Prophet - Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins (Yep Roc) 4.5 out of 5 stars
Rock & Roll Resurrection
Chuck Prophet returned to where it all started, Hyde Street Studios. In the early '80s, his high school band paid $5 an hour to practice in one of the rooms upstairs. Fast forward some 35 years later, and Studio A produces another landmark recording. An album Prophet calls “California Noir”.
Where 2012's Temple Beautiful was an open love letter to San Francisco, 2017’s Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins delves into the darker side of "The City by the Bay".
One died on July 18, 1966, aged 23, under mysterious circumstances while the other, a student, died on March 21, 2014, aged 28, shot by four of SFPD's blue boys. Prophet pays homage to both men, Bobby Fuller and Alex Nieto, along with David Bowie and Alan Vega, on his fourteenth release.
On March 25, 2016, Chuck posted online “I know you’ve listened to me rant about twitter and how I believe we’re a city under siege in many ways by tech weirdo man-children and billionaires or whatever. But still, I never dreamed I would be in the middle of a war. A real culture war.” The protest song “Alex Nieto” co-written with klipschutz (who also co-wrote seven other songs on the disc) had been recorded the day before, the video debuting on SoundCloud the following day.
The year had already gotten off to a rough start with the passing of David Bowie, dying two days after his 69th birthday on January 10. Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane would follow in the same month. Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire would follow in February. “The Fifth Beatle”, George Martin and Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer in March. This pattern continued throughout 2016 with the loss of such greats as Prince, Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell. It would be another ten months before Chuck Prophet would sing about the rock ‘n’ roll chameleon, the artist/sculptor and the voice behind “I Fought The Law”.
Prophet is backed by The Mission Express, featuring James DePrato (guitars), Kevin White (bass), Vicente Rodriguez (drums) and Stephanie Finch (vocals). Additional musicians appearing on the album include Prairie Prince (drums), Matt Winegar (keyboards, bass, vocals, guitar), Jim Hoke (woodwinds), Brad Jones (bass, harmonica, keyboards) and Paul Revelli (drums).
The album opens up with the title track “Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins” where Chuck sings “I hear the record crackle, the needle skips and jumps/Bobby Fuller died for your sins”, setting the tone for what is one fantastic album. “Together we stand, divided we fall”. It’s all or nothing for the singer/songwriter and the poet behind this disc.
Chuck continues to fly just like he did with “No Other Love”, but this time he’s got a co-pilot on the beautiful “Open Up Your Heart”. The arrangement of strings work well with Prophet’s soft voice singing “Come on, darling/When you gonna open your heart for me/Open up your heart for me” and again with “The trees are gonna bend like skeletons/Reach out and touch the ground/I’d make it happen in a minute, girl/If you’d only turn around.”
Paris might have the famous Père Lachaise cemetery, the eternal home to such unlikely bedfellows as Molière, Chopin, Proust, Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison, but on this side of the North Atlantic, Prophet, klipschutz and DePrato’s own wall-of-noise emerges from “In The Mausoleum (for Alan Vega)”, as Chuck sings “We got one foot on the altar, one in the grave/You got me where you want me, girl”. It’s like going back in time to the Mercer Arts Center in the wake of the success of The New York Dolls where Vega and Rev were ahead of their time or being at a dance party and seeing those towering bouffant hair-dos for the first time.
All is not so "noir" in California. There is no rear window on the Mission Express. Sunshine radiates on "Rider or the Train", a melodic track where the opening Peter Gunn-like guitar riff is the "all aboard" signal for Chuck. “You’re in my heart, ma/You’re in my dreams/You’re in my mind when I go to sleep/I fold my hands and I drift away”. The subdued harmonica two-thirds into the song is telling of the beauty and adventure, that you are only a train ride away. And yes, we know who the harmonica player is, the rider and the dreamer.
“Post-War Cinematic Dead Man Blues” would be one great title for a film noir. For now it will remain a musical journey into fear, especially when you are down in those tunnels and crawling beneath the sewers. This song will have you repeating “I’ve got the post-war cinematic dead man blues” for a long time.
“Bad Year For Rock And Roll” celebrates the musical legacy of so many. Chuck sings “There’s so many things I would rather forget.” and his voice is perfect on the second and last verse of the song.
Now I’m all dressed up
In my mohair suit
Watching Peter Sellers
Thinking of you
I’m wondering where it’s all gonna end
When Chuck Prophet releases a new album, it’s never a bad year for rock and roll. There’s no need to wonder where it’s all gonna end.