When it came time to record a new album, Chuck Prophet packed up his guitars and headed south of the border for a Mexico City studio that was state-of-the-art circa 1958.
The result: "?Let Freedom Ring!" is one of the most honest snapshots of troubled times to reach listeners in 2009.
From the stark opening riff of "Sonny Liston's Blues" (admittedly a rip-off of The Clash's "London Calling" intro without the morse code) to the striving strum and hum of "Leave the Window Open," it's chock full of heartache, despair and the occasional breath of hope.
The Village Voice called it "a 'Born in the U.S.A.' for our time." No Depression christened it "a new American anthem for the post-9/11 world."
The San Francisco folk-rocker with the Tom Petty drawl and the wry sense of humor (2010 resolution: "Start smoking again and stop working out" ), Prophet keeps telling everybody "they're political songs for non-political people."
Two decades after he split with Green on Red, the wide-eyed dreamer who fled Whittier for San Francisco is firmly entrenched as one of the most observant and honest songwriter's songwriter plying the trade today.
Maybe it's because he finally got his "breakthrough hit" out of the way back in 2002 with "Summertime Thing." Or maybe it's because he kicked drugs and alcohol 11 years ago. Or his storied collaborations with Alejandro Escovedo, Cake, Warren Zevon, Jonathan Richman and Lucinda Williams.
Or maybe it's the way he pauses midway through the interview to ponder, "I know I don't have a job, but I'd have to think about whether or not I'm actually making a living."
There's something about Chuck Prophet that begs to be studied.
Before the 46-year-old survivor takes the stage with his wife, keyboardist Stephanie Finch, and the rest of the Mission Express at the Mystic Theatre on Jan. 22, he took time out to talk.