Is Chuck Prophet a storyteller who just happens to be a great musician? Or is he a talented songwriter and guitarist who also has a real gift for spinning tales? On 2017's Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins, his 12th studio album, Prophet has managed to strike an ideal balance between the two sides, delivering a tuneful and engaging set that's full of character sketches with a full complement of heart, soul, honesty, wit, and the details of a recognizable adult life. Prophet is capable of playfully imagining what it would be like to be the star of Nashville and Friday Night Lights ("If I Was Connie Britton"), then sharing the true story of a young man gunned down by the San Francisco police for no clear reason just a few tracks later ("Alex Nieto"). Both songs come off as smart, honest, and thoughtful despite their very different tone, and those adjectives apply to nearly every cut on this album. The current state of music is a recurring theme here, as evidenced by the title tune, "Bad Year for Rock and Roll," "We Got Up and Played," and "In the Mausoleum" (the latter an homage to the late Alan Vega of Suicide). But Prophet is just as interested in the lives of people in all sorts of trouble. A single mother and a gunman unexpectedly cross paths in "Killing Machine," the author ponders the objects of his affection in "Your Skin" and "Coming Out in Code," the peaks and valleys of romantic relationships are examined in "Open Up Your Heart," and the Son of God's consumer preferences get a rundown in "Jesus Was a Social Drinker." Prophet and his studio band (including Tubes drummer Prairie Prince and co-producers Brad Jones and Matt Winegar on various instruments) give the melodies a rich, wide-ranging sound, and Prophet has rarely been better as a vocalist, finding the right tone on every track. Along with having one of the best titles of recent memory, Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins confirms that more than 25 years after making his solo debut, Chuck Prophet remains one of America's strongest songwriters and recording artists, and he's in great form here.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming