It's not surprising that singer/songwriter/hotshot guitarist Chuck Prophet has seemingly topped out at the status of cult favorite, although it speaks nothing of his abilities. Prophet is a fine craftsman of songs that are alternately twangy and jangly, has an appealingly deadpan vocal delivery to match his wry lyrical observations, and owns the fretboard of his Fender Telecaster. He draws his influences from other underground heroes, and the echoes of everyone from Alex Chilton to Peter Case to Steve Wynn could be heard throughout his performance Saturday night at Iota.
Like Case and Wynn, Prophet got his start with a largely forgotten '80s college radio band (in this case Green on Red), and a hint of swirling pop remains in his work, providing a nice counter to the mostly blues- and jazz-tinged roots rock.
In most songs, including covers of Iggy Pop's "I'm Bored" and Bob Dylan's "From a Buick 6," Prophet ripped off searing solos that showed power, dexterity and finesse, ones that drew applause when he let that final note ring, even though the song wasn't over yet. The only drawback to these impressive displays of ax-handling was the frequent appearance of his "Oh, man, even I can't believe how supremely I am wailing away right now!" face.
Some of the nuances from Prophet's excellent recent album "Soap and Water" were lost in the live setting. On record, "Doubter of Jesus (All Over You)" is a spooky song featuring mechanized drumbeats and backing vocals from a boys' choir. On Saturday it was simply a straightforward rocker that built up an impressive head of steam. Prophet's wife, Stephanie Finch, seemed tentative for much the evening; her usually sweet harmonies failed to make much of an impression. But when she stepped away from her keyboard and took lead vocal duties late in the set, it was an obvious highlight.
-- David Malitz
Annapolis Symphony Orchestra
Music reminiscent of Norway, the Czech Republic and Annapolis filled Maryland Hall on Saturday night as the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra celebrated the city's 300th anniversary.
What does Annapolis sound like? Composer Dan Visconti called on sacred and secular music of Anne Arundel County and sea chanteys of Chesapeake fishermen to create "The Breadth of Breaking Waves." The work was affecting and uncluttered. A primitive, mystical quality colored and offset thundering crashes and glittery chime sounds that, if showy and familiar, did evoke waves hitting surf and sun glistening on water. Visconti is one of four finalists in the orchestra's competition for composers age 35 or younger. Audience members will help select the winner by completing surveys.
No written response was necessary to gauge the reaction to pianist Jon Nakamatsu, who received a standing ovation for Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's driving, folk-inflected Concerto for Piano. Nakamatsu met its formidable fingerwork demands with confidence and brought a liquid tone to rhapsodic, undulating passages. The orchestra was a bit tentative on entrances, but responded emphatically to Nakamatsu's intensity.
Dvorak's Seventh Symphony showed the orchestra at its best. Although some solos faltered, the ensemble was tight, with a sense of the piece's Brahmsian romanticism and also its sweetness and capriciousness. Conductor Jos¿-Luis Novo smoothed over shorter, more playful motifs that imbue the piece with personality, but maintained motion, direction and a stately energy.