Since Chuck Prophet released the bleak masterpiece Homemade Blood in 1997, bringing down the curtain on the alt-country and roots-rock stage of his solo career, his music has come to encompass a dizzying array of styles. Multigenre hybrids like 1999's The Hurting Business and 2002's No Other Love nodded to influences as diverse as Bobbie Gentry, Dr. Octagon, Chuck Berry, and Maxine Brown. On Age of Miracles (New West), which comes out this week, Prophet indulges an affection for sweeping pop-soul and funky spaced-out blues. While his lyrics have always been indebted to two-fisted noir proponents like Warren Zevon and cockeyed southern storytellers like Dan Penn, on Miracles their more subtle qualities--wry humor and a keen understanding of women--yield the most satisfying results, as on the cool kiss-off "Pin a Rose on Me" and the supple surrender "You Got Me Where You Want Me." Elsewhere, Prophet's laconic baritone gives contemplative tunes like "Solid Gold" and the title track a craggy warmth that few--besides perhaps Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits--could hope to match. Headliners and labelmates the Old 97's reunited in 2003 after a lengthy hiatus to accommodate the solo pursuits of singer Rhett Miller. At times the group's new album, Drag It Up, fights to find a middle ground between the surging cowpunk of 1997's Too Far to Care and the melodic pop of 2001's Satellite Rides. Out of that struggle emerge a handful of tracks--notably "Won't Be Home"--that locate the essence of the band's appeal in the crackling tension between Miller's lovelorn lyrics and bassist Murry Hammond's heartbreak harmonies on one hand and Ken Bethea's spiky guitar and drummer Philip Peeples's dogged train beat on the other. Grey de Lisle opens. $21, 18+. Thursday, September 9, 8 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield; 773-472-0449 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Frank Swider.