Chuck Prophet's earlier solo work was likable enough: twangy, stripped-down roots rock that, released nowadays, would immediately get him pegged as yet one more exponent of alternative country, singer-songwriter division.(Think Tom Petty without the Byrds infatuation and recording budget.) The Hurting Business, though, rises head and torso above his four previous albums and includes Prophet's best work since his days as a kid guitar-slinger for the too-soon-gone Los Angeles band Green on Red.
The superiority of The Hurting Business can mostly be attributed to a shift in direction, away from Prophet's previous roots-rock recordings -- in the whitest sense of that term -- back to the broader conception of roots exhibited by Green on Red's best music, a vision that embraced not just the Stones and Hank Williams, but gospel, blues and soul, as well. With The Hurting Business, Prophet puts these R&B roots in the foreground by making sure that his evocative lyrics ride a groove; he then modernizes them with distressed turntable beats and looping DJ samples. Prophet isn't the first former folkie to get funky lately, but he stakes out his own territory. The Hurting Business is catchier and more accessible than similar recent recordings by Joe Henry and more traditionally song-driven than most Beck.
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Prophet's rediscovered soul provides a fitting soundscape for the album's corrosive sense of loss. A family beset by a tragedy of its own device finds itself on the local news, then abandoned -- "in rags, with a summer to kill" -- when its fifteen minutes are up; a loser wants to get lucky, and then we realize that Lucky's the guy who stole his girl ["Lucky" 237K aiff]; a man leaves us wondering if "I couldn't be happier" ["I Couldn't Be Happier" 248K aiff] isn't just about the most depressing thing someone could possibly say. Most powerful is "Dyin' All Young [267K aiff]," in which Prophet's newfound grooves console a grieving mother even as they push her to tears.