Chuck Prophet has always been so far ahead of sonic trends that he can barely see them in his rearview mirror. From the visionary country-rock architecture of Green on Red in the '80s to his wide-ranging solo career, Prophet has been creatively restless, reinventing himself like a rootsy David Bowie and applying his own stamp to whatever direction he pursues. His last album, 2007's Soap and Water, was yet another demonstration of his ability to find new inspiration within Stonesian parameters while wearing all of the hats he's sported since 2000's roots-and-turntables marvel, The Hurting Business. His latest, ¡Let Freedom Ring!, broadens the focus even more while honing in on the specifics of each individual song, perhaps influenced by his work on Alejandro Escovedo's Real Animal last year.
"You and Me Baby (Holding On)" is the sound of Bob Dylan guided by the Velvet Underground rather than Woody Guthrie, while "American Man" is the Stones posing as SoCal rockers at their swaggering, staggering best and featuring some of Prophet's most incisively political, Dylanesque lyrics ("American Man, up on the mound/With an orange alert and a new wave sound"). Recorded in Mexico City at the height of the swine flu epidemic and in the middle of an earthquake and brownouts in a studio that hasn't been upgraded since the Eisenhower administration, Prophet poured the negative energy into this amazing set of songs written in and about the economic, political and emotional maelstrom we find ourselves in at the moment. Is this the best Chuck Prophet album ever? Sure, why not? They all get to wear that medal for a while. — Brian Baker