There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
I once ate in an “American” restaurant outside Manchester, England. Elvis was on the walls, umbrella drinks were on the bar, and nachos were on the menu. I laughed at it then, especially after my fourth Cape Codder, but I’ve since realized that folks on the right side of the Atlantic know our cliches—and their underlying truths—better than we know them ourselves. Back in the mid-’80s, before Americana became a genre simultaneously overly broad (You play a guitar? Welcome to the team!) and in danger of weakening its core (how many alt-country heroes are just a drawl and a flag tattoo from Charlie Daniels?), the Europeans saw the Paisley Underground’s Green on Red as the quintessential American band. Green on Red’s vocalist, Dan Stuart, took Mick Jagger’s ersatz-Dixie snarl and threw it back at him, with fuzzed-up guitars and trippy keyboards to back him up. But it was Green on Red guitarist Chuck Prophet who ultimately realized the sound of a land of tempest-tossed genres. On his sixth solo album, No Other Love, Prophet takes roots rock out of the countryside and back into the studio, and the result is an album as alive as any live project. Aided by mixers Jim Waters and Mark Pistel, Prophet is unafraid to bring in disparate elements—Jason Borger hits the eclectica exacta by playing Farfisa and arranging a string section—but he also knows when to hold back. Sure, Prophet’s a guitar god, but he never overpowers the songs. And the songs are 11 little gems. The best among them, “Storm Across the Sea,” combines a bluesy chorus, a crazy-woman lyric that’s both hilarious and chilling (“She broke my heart when she pawned my ring/Then she stole it back. What will tomorrow bring?”), that string section, a little wah-wah guitar, and a beat that’s too lazy to hiphop but is considering the possibility. “Run Primo Run” is almost as eclectic, opening with a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” acoustic riff and then adding rockabilly guitar, garage-y keyboards, and soulful brass—all accompanying a sharply detailed look at an outlaw “staring down his past.” The title track, by contrast, is practically stripped bare, a wide-eyed, dreamy guitar waltz augmented by restrained percussion and glossy strings. There’s nothing countryfied about it, but it evokes the open spaces of America in a way that must bring a tear to British eyes. —Pamela Murray Winters