Chuck Prophet, Temple Beautiful. San Francisco continues its muse-like ways on Chuck Prophet's sweeping semi-masterpiece. He takes to the city's streets and alleys for inspiration, finding between the ominous fog and glorious sunshine a heart-grabbing beauty that will not be denied. The musician earned his name in the mid-'80s with early Paisley Underground groundbreakers Green on Red in Los Angeles, but has always found his soulful center in San Francisco.
It's intriguing when an artist takes to a city as a breathing partner. Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground triumphantly mined Manhattan during that brief run at immortality, and their final studio album, Loaded, still kills as a monument to the Big Apple. Temple Beautiful has that same aura, just a continent away. The album opener "Play That Song Again" is a mad rush of joy, like jumping on the Powell Street cable car all the way down to Market Street, then taking a walk on the wild side through the Tenderloin and strolling up Haight to good old Golden Gate Park. "Castro Halloween" is just like it sounds, when that topsy-turvy part of the city blasts off for Mars on October 31. Next stop, no doubt: Alcatraz Prison and beyond.
Chuck Prophet's voice is a grabber. He lives in the land of melancholy, but doesn't let sadness usurp any of his power. The love that runs through everything he sings might be slightly buried, but once it comes out it never goes away. The angular guitars that have become Prophet's trademark push the music right up those steep hills to California Street, all the way to Nob Hill. From there the the view looks like it's from the center of the universe, which it just might be. No one has quite captured San Francisco like this since Ron Nagle's epic Bad Rice album in 1970. It's a relief to find out that "61 Clay" is still there and "Frank's Store" is always open.
Lyle Lovett, Release Me. Now that this long tall Texan is moving on from a quarter century with label Curb Records, he decided to round up some cool cover songs, add a few judicious originals, and kick everything off with a swinging instrumental to celebrate his newfound freedom. It's like a little victory parade, with some sweet surprises along with a few fine fastballs.
"Release Me," with guest vocalist k.d. lang as wondrous as expected, begs the question why these two don't make a whole album together. The standard "Baby, It's Cold Outside," featuring Kat Edmonson taking the female side, adds some sassiness to one of the sassiest songs ever. When Lyle Lovett appeared on the national radar in 1986, on first hearing his song "God Will," many mistook him for Jesse Winchester. That's how good he was. Doing Winchester's "Isn't That So" now is like a smart tip of the Stetson to an early inspiration. Here's a oddball idea: Lovett remakes Winchester's self-titled debut album start to finish. Every single song has become a classic, from "Biloxi" to "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" to "Black Dog," and to hear them again with Lovett's sure spin could provide some super fresh air to one of the great debuts of all time.
Back to reality, the three new originals on Release Me prove that Lyle Lovett quickly became a writer of the highest quality, someone whose songs stood up to those he revered. The idea of following Townes Van Zandt's "White Freightliner Blues" with Martin Luther's "Keep Us Steadfast" show he has learned the lessons of country music well: heaven and hell are adjacent neighborhoods and it's only a short walk from the church hall to the honky-tonk. No telling where this man goes next, but it's bound to be a road worth walking with him.
Glen Campbell, Meet Glen Campbell. The comeback of Glen Campbell really started a few years ago when this way-eclectic album came out. His Alzheimer's diagnosis hadn't been publicly revealed, and by the sheer diversity of the playlist alone it felt like one of America's musical legends was back in business. He was performing songs by Tom Petty, Foo Fighters, Jackson Browne, U2, Paul Westerberg, the Velvet Underground, U2, and Green Day, among others, and doing them all brilliantly. There was clearly no stopping the Rhinestone Cowboy.
When the recent Ghost on the Canvas came out last year the musician's memory was obviously slipping and it seemed like so much of the coverage was on that tragedy. That didn't stop Glen Campbell from touring and doing his damnedest to stay vital. His Grammy performance stole the entire evening, showing one and all what being a professional is all about. Not one to miss a solid opportunity, Capitol Records has reissue Meet Glen Campbell with five bonus tracks: remixes of "Gentle on My Mind" and "Galveston," joined by live versions of "Wichita Lineman," "Rhinestone Cowboy," and "All I Want Is You."
It might seem a bit soon to be coming out with this reissue, but then again, it is Campbell's time in the sun and who should spoil that? From those early years as a jaw-dropping studio guitarist, a guest stint in the Beach Boys, and quick ascendancy to the very top of show business complete with his own television variety show, this is someone who seemed fearless. Maybe he knew he had the real goods on guitar and found fame to be such a natural fit he could wear it well. For now, it's enough to know that Glen Campbell is still among us, making some of the best and most adventurous music of his life. And that's enough.