Chuck Prophet / Temple Beautiful (YepRoc)

 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..


Views: 2103

Comment by Guy Neal Williams on January 30, 2012 at 7:06am

Good job, Hal.  You managed to keep him from telling any overt lies -- no mean feat.

Comment by Jack on January 30, 2012 at 2:11pm

Hal, completely agree that Chuck's been on a roll with his own records, Alejandro's and I'd throw in his work with Kelly Willis too.  Thought I started reading this piece yesterday and that it included a song by song discussion with Chuck?

Comment by Guy Neal Williams on January 30, 2012 at 2:27pm

Jack, drop me a line:  I'll explain why Hal's piece changed overnight.

Comment by Hal Bogerd on January 30, 2012 at 3:28pm

Jack: Yeah, Kelly's "Translated From Love" (2007?) should have been included. Did Chuck do anything else with Kelly?

Comment by TenLayers on January 30, 2012 at 3:33pm

That bus tour sounds hella right.

Comment by Guy Neal Williams on January 30, 2012 at 4:14pm

Hal: Chuck's done a ton of stuff with Kelly, writing -- producing, playing. He brought in Jules Shear to help last time out with her. Also, I responded to Kyla's question about why your piece changed so suddenly. I really sort of wish you'd have told him to go piss up a rope. He wouldn't have had any way to deny that the words were his and you came by them fair and square.  He already knew exactly where you got that material. We damn sure don't agree about everything, but this pissy attitude is rubbing me wrong.


's question

Comment by Rudyjeep on February 1, 2012 at 6:51am

Can't wait to get the album.  A Chuck release is a big deal in my house!  Thanks for the review Hal. 

Comment by Hal Bogerd on February 1, 2012 at 7:36am


I can't imagine this won't be one of my favorite albums of the year. Great stuff!

Comment by Rudyjeep on February 1, 2012 at 10:48am

I agree Hal.  And can a tour of the East Coast be far behind?  He will be with the Jayhawks in Europe in late Feb/Early March.  Hopefully he schedules some dates where we can catch him when he comes back. 

Comment by Jack on February 1, 2012 at 11:55am

I still remember hearing The Hurting Business at a listening station in Borders when the record came out, bought it on the spot, had me hook, line and sinker. Hadn't heard of him before. I don't have his first few solo records but do have Homemade Blood and everything after except the Waylon record (note to self) and while I'm not big on Homemade, the rest are all really, really good, vibrant records.  Getting back to The Hurting Business, it came out around the time frigging Wilco, with Jay Bennett aboard, started experimenting with a wider variety of sounds and influences and was deservedly getting accolades for renewed creativity. I thought then and now that The Hurting Business alone should've overshadowed Wilco's records at the time because Chuck's songwriting and arrangements were in my mind far more creative and cohesive to anything Wilco was doing back then (the only era of Wilco I really enjoy involved Jay Bennett), or since for that matter. 


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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.