For his fifth solo album in the past decade, the aptly titled The Hurting Business, Prophet reinvents himself while leaving his madness perfectly in place, resulting in one of the most astonishing albums of this very new year. Prophet combines his rootsy traditionalism with a varied array of sonic manipulations and foundational shifts, creating a hybrid that suggests the same sort of magnificent style adjustment that made Tom Waits's The Mule Variations, Beck's Midnight Vultures, and Joe Henry's Fuse so fresh and vital.
With The Hurting Business, Prophet combines the weary jangle of Tom Petty with a blazing experimentalism that includes scratching from DJ Rise ("Shore Patrol" and the gorgeous "Dyin' All Young"). Prophet offers a dense and evocative guitar sound that runs the gamut from Glen Campbell ("Apology") to Karl Wallinger ("Lucky") and Freedy Johnston ("God's Arms"). "Diamond Jim" offers a '60s-meets-'90s mutant pop/blues romp complete with Farfisa and authentic guitar, while "It Won't Be Long" sports a rootsy lounge pop that is as specifically Southern Californian as David Baerwald's mournful love odes.
Prophet has scattered a few flashes of brilliance within the standard greatness of The Hurting Business, and these moments define the work as one of the finest examples of pushing the roots envelope. In a career that has regularly left the majority of the pack far behind, Chuck Prophet has once again surpassed the current crop of American songwriters to create a benchmark for others to follow. Maybe this time they will. -- Baker