Temple Beautiful (YepRoc, release date 2/7/12) is a rock and roll concept album that delivers a twelve track homage to San Francisco as seen through the eyes of adopted son and singer/songwriter Chuck Prophet. Chuck describes his latest recording as "made in San Francisco by San Franciscans about San Francisco" but he's not serving up Rice-A-Roni or riding cable cars and you won't find most of Temple Beautiful in your California history books. Yeah, pre-steroid era hero Willie Mays, martyr for gay rights Mayor Harvey Milk and the devastation of AIDS on the city appear in song but more often than not Chuck honors the quirky fringe even as he sings of the "heart of the heart of the city."
The colorful cast of characters includes San Francisco eccentrics Emperor Norton and the Red Man to the porn producing Mitchell Brothers of Behind The Green Door fame and the silicone enhanced exotic dancer Carol Doda who shocked San Francisco in the 1960's when she "showed us everything she had and then she showed us all a little more" as America's first topless and then first bottomless dancer. With a tip of the hat to Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City", "White Night, Big City" is Prophet's tribute to Harvey Milk who was assassinated by "a little man in a fit of rage." Prophet adds a call and response and doo wops to "White Night" that makes you wonder if Chuck's considered transforming Temple Beautiful into musical theatre for his beloved city. "The Hand Left Hand and the Right Hand" begins with the Mitchell Brothers and then references one or more pairs of feuding musical brothers who have not (yet) committed fratricide as Jim Mitchell did when he shot and killed brother Artie.
On the upbeat vaguely Wrong 'Em Boy0-ish "Little Girl, Little Boy" Stephanie Finch sings a duet with Chuck on the most playful track on the disc. You'd expect Chuck might have spent some time in bars during his time in the city and two of his former favorite hangouts are highlighted. The Albion Bar and Temple Beautiful (the bar was previously the Peoples Temple of Jim Jones infamy which is both cool and creepy) are paid tribute as Chuck recalls the clubs and concerts of his youth. No history of San Francisco would be complete without a mention of Castro Street: a street that symbolized both liberation and excess with its annual Halloween party. Little Steven named "Temple Beautiful" his "Coolest Song in the World" on an Underground Garage broadcast. Enough said. What can I add to that?
In this age of MP3 files, Spotify and nonexistent or unread liner notes casual fans may be unaware that Chuck co-wrote and played guitar on all of Alejandro Escovedo's Real Animal (2008) as well as co-writing half the songs on Street Songs of Love (2010). Add his political solo disc Let Freedom Ring (2009) and this year's more personal Temple Beautiful and I can't think of a more productive songwriter of quality tunes over the past three years. If you're a fan of complete albums, big guitar and great lyrics you need a copy of Temple Beautiful. The only thing I don't like about Temple Beautiful is that I won't be in San Francisco on February 7th to take Chuck's Temple Beautiful San Francisco Bus Tour!
Thank you to Guy Williams Neal who took offense at my description of him in a previous Chuck Prophet review on No Depression but still introduced me to Chuck.
And in case you missed it..