chuck Prophet opening for the Old 97's at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Sunday (September 12), 9 pm. $15 advance. 416-532-1598, 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
When Chuck Prophet inadvertently scored a left-field Americana radio hit with his catchy tune Summertime Thing from 2002's No Other Love (New West), there was some concern that the former Green on Red guitarist might have found his true pop calling and decided to cash in his cult credentials for good.
But listening to Prophet's just-released Age Of Miracles (New West), on which he tries to rap his way through a cockeyed answer song to Who Put The Bomp? - appropriately called You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp) - it's apparent that some people are just destined to be outsiders.
Anyone can have a fluke hit, but it takes a real fringe artist to squander that rare moment in the spotlight. Soon the cash windfall will be blown and he or she will be back to weirdness as usual. For Prophet, that means assembling a seemingly unconnected cast of creative collaborators - anyone from Kim "Bette Davis Eyes" Carnes to Consolidated's Mark Pistel - and just letting the music happen. It's kind of like the Surreal Life approach to record-making.
"I read this interview with filmmaker David Mamet where he was saying how he likes to get together a cast of actors he's worked with before - even though they may not have worked with each other. That way, he doesn't need to pass around an owner's manual. They all know what's expected. Then he'll throw in a few blind dates. It seemed like a good idea.
"That's how I cast my recording sessions now. I'll call on some old friends so I know we'll understand each other, and then I'll bring in a couple of wild cards to fuck with shit and, you know, liven up the party a little bit."
Having certified eccentric Captain Beefheart alum Eric Drew Feldman come in and give things a tweak certainly didn't hurt.
It's interesting to note that over the course of his seven albums since going solo in 90, the frequency of Prophet's collaborations - particularly on songwriting - seems to have increased since he gave up alcohol. Prophet claims it's not at all a coincidence.
"Since I quit drinking and cleaned up my act, co-writing has replaced the social life I gave up. Some people are really private about writing songs and try to preserve the mystery and magic of it all, but there are others, like, say, Dan Penn, who believe it's easier for two people to perform the miracle. I can appreciate both ways of working, and there are advantages to each."
Prophet's partnership with Southern soul poet Penn - the man behind Dark End Of the Street, You Left The Water Running, Do Right Woman, Out Of Left Field and countless other timeless classics - led to the understatedly elegant A Heavy Duty, a highlight on Prophet's new disc.
"When I started going to Nashville to try my hand at Music Row songwriting, I got a gig at the Bluebird Cafe that I didn't realize was on the same night as the CMAs. Only three people showed up - the bartender, the sound man and Dan Penn. We've been writing together ever since.
"Somebody might call up Dan saying, 'We need you to write a song for Solomon Burke.' And then we'll start by just talking. He'll say, 'You know, Chuck, when Solomon gives you his word, he'll stick by it, he's a man of in-teg-ri-tay! The song we wrote for Solomon, I Need A Holiday, was recorded for Don't Give Up On Me, but unfortunately, it didn't make the cut."
They had better luck placing Penn's vocal take on A Heavy Duty on the second volume of the Country Got Soul (Casual) blue-eyed soul compilation.
"Someone from the Casual label called up Dan asking for a song, and he sent them a bunch. They wound up choosing A Heavy Duty, which is really just Dan playing guitar and singing and me doing everything else.
"We've got a load of songs recorded the same way. There's probably enough for an album if someone wanted to put it out. Hey, I'd buy it."
That makes two of us.