James McMurtry, Chuck Prophet will blow back the fronds
Both provocative roots-rock musicians known for their powerful songwriting, superb guitar-playing, trademark vocals, and high-energy live shows, James McMurtry and Chuck Prophet each usually perform fronting electric bands — but on Friday, Oct. 18, The Palms Playhouse in Winters will present these two headliners in an extraordinary one-night-only double bill featuring both musicians performing solo and acoustic. Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $25.
San Francisco’s Chuck Prophet, who will start the evening, is a restlessly adventurous musician who dives into genres as varied as alt rock, jangly swamp pop, revved up soul and punk-infused blues and surfaces with palpably evocative songs. While much of his catalogue draws on styles of previous decades — a certain angularity is reminiscent of both The Kinks and early Elvis Costello, for example — Prophet’s music avoids coming off as retro or derivative and instead feels fresh, more than a little edgy, and fundamentally exciting.
This sense of newness and discovery is all the more remarkable given that Prophet has been playing professionally for 30 years. After guitar-slinging in Green on Red in the 1980s and early ’90s and in addition to his countless cross-genre collaborations, Prophet has released twelve acclaimed solo albums since 1990, including 2012’s “Temple Beautiful.”
Prophet’s stage presence is quite literally dynamic, with Prophet beating time with his legs, leaning into and rearing back during guitar solos, and nimbly switching between two vocal mics (one of which creates a fuzzed bullhorn effect). From the propulsive rock of “Sonny Liston’s Blues” to laid-back “Summertime Thing” and the layered pop noir of “Doubter Out of Jesus” to the slyly playful “You Did (Bomp Shooby Dooby Bomp),” an enthusiastic immediacy flows through Prophet’s music to his listeners and somehow creates the euphoric sense of being part of an underground scene that’s about to break through.
Playing second on Friday is Austin, Texas-based songwriter and musician James McMurtry who, over the last two decades, has built a well-deserved reputation for blistering live shows and albums featuring astute songs brought to life through superb musicianship.
The power of McMurtry’s music begins with his songcraft. Son of Pulitzer Prize and Academy Award-winning writer Larry McMurtry (“Lonesome Dove,” “Terms of Endearment”), James McMurtry’s lyrics leave no doubt that he too has an inborn talent for turning keen observations into riveting character studies and uncompromising social and political commentary. With songs ranging from the shimmering near-delicacy of “St. Mary of The Woods” to the ragingly anthemic “We Can’t Make It Here” to the oft-covered southern rocker “Choctaw Bingo” (complete with an extended family-worth of dissolute characters), McMurtry is a songwriter of both breadth and depth, winning him such praise as Stephen King’s (writing in Entertainment Weekly) “[t]he simple fact is that James McMurtry may be the truest, fiercest songwriter of his generation.”
Compelling lyrics are only part of the recipe for gripping songs, and McMurtry’s ten albums (including the Americana Album of the Year winner “Childish Things”) and years of successful touring show he has the ear for melody, harmony, and rhythm to bring the lyrics to life. What’s more, he has the guitar and vocal talents to fully deliver each song both in the recording studio and on stage.
McMurtry’s live performances are blow-your-hair-back powerful. With his finely crafted songs as the building blocks McMurtry adds in his searing and soaring guitar and gruffly resonant vocals to consistently deliver cracklingly vital performances.
Prophet and McMurtry aren’t usually mentioned in the same breath, and the exquisitely rare chance to see them co-headline a show paints their intersections and divergences into delicious relief. While Prophet’s music revels in urban grit and McMurtry’s carries an arid patina of windblown dust, both men deliver hugely exhilarating live performances. While McMurtry’s social and political stance is unabashedly forthright and Prophet’s commentary is more oblique, both are populists with an affinity for the underdog and those at the fringes. Both men are formidably talented guitarists, and performing solo acoustic (instead of their more usual format of fronting an electric band) highlights their prodigious instrumental skills. Friday’s concert has all the makings of a show that will be discussed and savored for years to come.
Tickets for Friday’s James McMurtry and Chuck Prophet co-bill at The Palms Playhouse (13 Main Street in Winters, California) are available at Pacific Ace Hardware in Winters, Armadillo Music in Davis, Watermelon Music in Woodland, and at the door if not sold out. For more information, visit palmsplayhouse.com, jamesmcmurtry.com and chuckprophet.com.
James McMurtry’s tour schedule: Chuck Prophet’s tour schedule: Wed Oct 16—Treehouse Café, Bainbridge Island, WA Fri Oct 18—The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA (co-bill with James McMurtry) Thur Oct 17—Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA Sat Oct 19—Vines on the Maycrest, Paso Robles, CA Fri Oct 18—The Palms Playhouse, Winters, CA (co-bill with Chuck Prophet) Wed Oct 23—Mississippi Studios, Portland, OR Sat Oct 19—Hopmonk Tavern, Novato, CA Thur Oct 24—Fremont Abbey, Seattle, WA Sun Oct 20—The Center for the Arts, Grass Valley, CA Fri Oct 25—Green Frog Café Acoustic Tavern, Bellingham, WA Fri Oct 25—Gypsy Lounge, Austin, TX Sat Oct 26—Sam Bond’s Garage, Eugene, OR