Chuck Prophet’s quirky rock and roll
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., August 7, 2003) --- In his show before a small crowd at Club Helsinki last July, Chuck Prophet channeled the classic rock virtues of Tom Petty together with the showmanlike values of James Brown to make for a stunningly memorable show, one of the best of last year. Prophet, who returns to the scene of the crime at Helsinki (413-528-3394) on Sunday at 9, played two sets of utterly dynamic and entertaining rock ‘n’ roll that connected the dots between Johnny Cash rockabilly, 1960s garage-rock, Bob Dylan and The Band, Southern rock and Southern gothic pop, ‘70s soul and Blaxploitation funk, among a host of other influences. From his twangy, surf guitars to his soul preacher moves, Prophet was an iconoclast, and in form and in content – narratives about losers, drifters, con men and the like, drawn from his terrific album, “No Other Love” (New West) among others – his show could have been the soundtrack to a Quentin Tarantino film. The California rocker is a quirky original who has been associated in one way or another with musicians and bands including Ryan Adams, Lucinda Williams, Cake, Kim Richey and Kelly Willis. Here’s hoping for an instant replay or better.

Brilliant Mistakes

As heard on their terrific CD, “Dumb Luck” (Aunt Mimi’s), their piano-fueled pop might most immediately bring to mind the Ben Folds Five, but New York City’s Brilliant Mistakes dig deeper for their musical and lyrical roots, back at least as far as bands like Squeeze and Todd Rundgren. Plus, the group’s combination of guitar and keyboards and quirky sensibility brings to mind bands with similar twin-attack formats, like NRBQ, Scruffy the Cat and early Elvis Costello and the Attractions. The group performs tonight with Wheat at the Iron Horse (413-586-8686) in Northampton.

Steve Winwood

Steve Winwood strips down his sound to the bare essence on his latest CD, “About Time” (Wincraft), about as far away from the hot ‘60s soul of the Spencer Davis Group, the blues-, folk- and psychedelic-rock of band efforts like Traffic and Blind Faith, and the polished pop-soul of late-‘80s soul hits like “Back in the High Life” and “Roll With It,” as you can get. Winwood’s new album is basically a trio effort, with the English keyboardist on vocals and Hammond organ joined by a drummer and guitarist on songs that stretch out and groove in jam-band style. In fact, the result, which also dips into reggae, Latin and world music, is not so far from Traffic’s jazz- and funk-influenced sound. Winwood, who opened for the Dead earlier this summer, plays a rare solo gig at the Calvin Theatre in Northampton (413-586-8686) on Saturday at 8.

Backstage bits

A fond farewell to Fred Schane, who has left Great Barrington radio station WSBS to do the morning drive slot at WRNX in Springfield. In his time at WSBS, Schane has been the only DJ at a commercial radio station in Berkshire County to support local artists, giving them regular airtime on his “Sunday Live” show and featuring them with in-studio interviews. Springfield’s gain is the Berkshire music scene’s loss.

It’s no surprise to us that Amy Fairchild took the grand prize in this year’s sixth annual John Lennon Songwriting Competition. Fairchild’s album, “Mr. Heart,” was included on our list of the best albums of 2002, and her shows at Club Helsinki last summer were among the most memorable of the year. The pop-rock singer-songwriter, who got her start in the Pioneer Valley’s thriving original music scene in the 1990s, walked away with a check for $20,000 from Maxell for the Song of the Year award for “Falling Down.” Fairchild has also been nominated for two Boston Music Awards (for best female vocalist and best female singer-songwriter), and her song “Tuesday” also garnered the top prize in the country/folk category in Billboard Magazine’s songwriting contest. Glad to see the rest of the world catching on to what we’ve known for years – Fairchild is a phenomenal songwriter and performer.

Also worth checking out this weekend: The power-pop trio the Figgs, who first got together as a high-school band in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., celebrate their 15th anniversary together tonight at Club Helsinki in Great Barrington. Sitarist/songwriter Nana returns to the Dream Away Lodge in Becket tonight. The second- and third-generation folksingers in the Mammals keep alive the folk-protest tradition in their only Northeast appearance this summer at the Guthrie Center in Great Barrington on Friday night at 8. Inner Orchestra, the Pioneer Valley’s answer to Tower of Power, returns to the newly-reopened La Choza in Pittsfield on Saturday night.

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on August 7, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]

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