Chances are that Chuck Prophet is either one of your favorite musicians, or you don’t know him at all. Through the 1980s, he was member of the edgy West Coast roots band Green on Red. A solo artist since 1990, he’s a musical omnivore who may remind you of iconoclasts from Alex Chilton to Delbert McClinton, with an internal jukebox, a panoramic passion for pop culture, and a gift for storytelling who creates his own alternative musical universe.
Temple Beautiful is a tribute to longtime hometownSan Francisco. The title song, rich in power chords and handclaps, draws on both ’70s Mott the Hoople and ’80s Kinks, and remembers what it can about days of excess at a dive bar and club. “The Left Hand and the Right” is about the fratricidal Mitchell Brothers, who built aSan Francisco porn empire, while also tossing in a casual allusion to musical brothers-at-arms from the Everlys to the Davies. “Castro Halloween” laments the passing of an annual bacchanal that ended when the celebration was marred by fatal shootings.
Like Springsteen and Paul Simon, Prophet is drawn to early rock motifs. “White Night, Big City” has a compelling doo-wop call-and-response section that may remind you of Shangri-Las “Give Him A Great Big Kiss,” despite the fact that the song tells the dark tale of the riots that reverberated after homophobic city councilman Dan White was acquitted for assassinating the iconic gay politician Harvey Milk.
“I Felt Like Jesus” also mixes and matches events, real or imagined: In one verse Prophet is reminiscing in his own doo-woppish way about the self-destructive joyride of bottom-rung clubs, then in the next, he pulls back for perspective: “I saw a dragon once coming out of the Broadway tunnel.” A shoutout to John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China, or just a candid observation? This isn’t the San Francisco of 1960s love and Haight: It’s more about love and hate, and redemption, as played out in the Coney Island of Chuck Prophet’s mind.