Given that San Francisco singer/songwriter and guitar slinger Chuck Prophet describes a fresh flow of new song ideas as an "inspirational virus," it's easy to picture the cat practically glowing with fever during the conception and creation of Soap and Water. A truly distinctive record-maker with no peer who immediately leaps to mind, Prophet pilots his signature cut, paste, and pulverize approach to unprecedented heights on the dozen-song collection, his first album in three years and Yep Roc debut.
Some familiar elements are in place--the eclectic arrangements, snaky Telecaster riffs, attitude-drenched baritone vocals, and fragmented storylines from society's margins--but Prophet never tosses exactly the same pitch twice. Just when you think you know what's coming next he'll whiff your ass big-time.
Soap and Water leads off with the hedonistic, one-chord grunt 'n' stomp of "Freckle Song" and rides out triumphant and graceful on an uncharacteristically earnest note with "Happy Ending." In between, Prophet shepherds his usual cast of wackos, wise guys, and walking wounded through a veritable road map of off-road Americana destinations you won't find in the AAA travel guide.
"Would You Love Me," "Naked Ray," and "Small Town Girl" (with Prophet's wife, Stephanie Finch, sharing the vocals) blend the ethereal and the profane to hypnotic effect. "Doubter Out of Jesus (All Over You)," "I Can Feel Your Heartbeat," and the title track throb with urban swagger and sass to spare. Country, folk, rock, R&B, spaghetti surf, electro-beats, and a children's church choir shouldn't coexist so cozily, but Prophet makes it all sound right as rain.
All told there's barely a slack track, and one slight underachiever, the abbreviated Chicago shuffle "Downtime," would probably breathe fiery new life if John Hammond ever got his teeth into it. Frankly, it's hard as hell to pick favorites. Just about wherever you drop the figurative needle on this bad boy there's a jolt and a flash of something feisty and fresh. Move in close enough to catch the virus. • Mike Thomas