It's hard to imagine a band racking up over two million streams without the help of a full-length record to anchor them. That was the case for Dallas soul group Prophets and Outlaws, who up until now have managed to garner a loyal fan base by putting out five EPs, playing over 100 shows a year and getting frequent air play on regional radio. That’s all changing this weekend, as the group is set to release its first 12-track record, Dreamer, which debuted this past Friday.
Founding members Matt Boggs (lead vocals), James Guckenheimer (drums) and Steven Guckenheimer (guitar) found camaraderie in their love of music while classmates at a Jesuit high school. The Guckenheimers share a musical pedigree through their father, who toured with The Four Seasons back in the '60s. Younger brother Steven, like most aspiring guitarists, latched on to classic rock and blues while James leaned toward R&B and soul. Boggs brought in '90s country influences, and pretty soon the trio were swapping playlists while cruising their home streets in Richardson. After graduation, the guys started gigging around town for fun, and in 2011, Prophets and Outlaws came to be with the release of their first, self-titled EP.
In the eight years following, the trio has played over 1,000 shows and expanded their roster, adding jazz keyboardist Jaime Ringholm and more recently, Red Dirt phenom Johnny Cooper to replace the departing CJ Thompson on bass.
The band had never felt the need to put out a full-length record.
“At first it was a financial thing. We couldn't afford to record more than five songs at a time,” Boggs admits. James Guckenheimer agrees, while adding: “We also knew that the industry was changing, with people not listening to full albums anymore, so putting out EPs allowed us to get more music out there faster.”
Last year the band felt it was time to go the traditional route and headed to the studio to tackle a bigger project. They enlisted some unconventional help from producer Gene Freeman, known in the music industry as “Machine,” who's made his mark producing bands like Lamb of God, Fall Out Boy and Clutch. The band was skeptical about the match at first but soon placed full trust in the rock and metal producer.
According to Boggs, “Machine” employed some heavy-metal motivation while in the studio.
“We'd get in a circle and Machine would stand in the middle and direct us," Boggs recalls. "He would turn around and get in Jamie’s face to intensify his playing or he'd kick James' kick drum on purpose to piss him off. He would yell all sorts of stuff to get me all hyped up. He had his evil genius ways in order to get the most out of us.”
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With 12 solid tracks, the richly textured Dreamer firmly stamps out the PAO vibe with manifesto-like intention. The blend of R&B, rock and soul is tightly girdled by warm Texas country influences. Boggs' vocals are positively pervasive, alternating between a subtle, rap-like cadence and a suave, soulful growl.
The radio-friendly title track moves with a mellow groove, with an equally mellow Boggs crooning about his legacy. Tracks “Can’t Live With You,” “It’s Your World” and “The Best Way To Find Love” highlight the band’s R&B leanings while tracks “What Are We Waiting For” and “Want To Be Free” have an upbeat pop appeal. Another standout is the edgy service member tribute “Smoking Gun,” with heavy keys from Ringholm and funky wah-filled riffs from Steven Guckenheimer.
Making encore appearances on the record are longtime fan favorites “Soul Shop” and “Sweet Soft Southern Smile.” While both tracks debuted on Prophets and Outlaws' original 2011 EP, the band felt each tune deserved an appropriate reprisal, reflective of their live performances.
The newest album makes for such a unique blend of soul, R&B, funk, folk, pop and rock — its elements varying from track to track — that it’s hard to pin down a defining PAO sound. After ruminating on what to call it after eight years, the band has distilled it down to two words: “Southern Soul.”