Like many American songwriters unheralded at home, Chuck Prophet, founding member of '80s Americana band Green on Red, is a hit in Europe. The English music press, notably Select, dubbed Prophet a hero, the missing link between sliced bread and Gram Parsons. With last year's The Hurting Business (song and album title, he says, taken from a Mike Tyson quote), Prophet augmented a basic guitar, bass and drums lineup with seasick organs, loopy percussion and, on a couple of songs, a record-scratching DJ. Prophet describes one song aptly as "J.J. Cale locked in the research department of Mattel Toys," but the songs' incisive humor and shady characters still came through, and the music has an urgency that promises the already reliable Prophet will tear up the stage.
Tim Easton is a good bet to secure the John Prine end of that spectrum. His latest release, The Truth About Us, is full of wise, blunt and hopeful songs, such as "Half a Day," a half-bitter grumble about a woman who arrives (and leaves) half a day before he's due to get home. Although there are a few moments when it seems as if Easton's "doing" Prine (or Vic Chesnutt, on the gotta-be-Chesnutt "Bad Florida"), most of the album avoids sheer mimicry. Wilco drummer Ken Coomer, bassist John Stirrat and multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett provide able, versatile musical backing, freed temporarily from the subtle pressures of just being Wilco. The Truth About Us is smart without being ironic, the kind of record anyone with a battered heart (or guitar) can love.