On June 26th, Down Boy – a “funk rock jam band from Nashville, TN” – dropped their latest album, The Prodigal Sun. At only 20 minutes, it’s a quick and easy listen. However, if one were to only listen once, they’d miss plenty of nuances. Thankfully, repeated listens are easier to make time for because of the album’s length.
The first thing to be noticed on the opening track, “I’ll Never See,” is how much the vocals sound like Erykah Badu. On this track especially, Down Boy floats more towards the “funk” side of their description, channeling more neo-soul energy. Though the bass line is fairly busy, the guitar is laid back enough to warrant it. This allows the moments where the bass and guitar sync up to hit even harder.
That’s something that happens a lot on this album. The guitar and bass lines will sync up to double the sound, and they execute it well every single time they do it. The entirety of “Traction” seems to be synced up. The vocal melody, the drum hits, and the guitar and bass lines quadruple what’s going on, though this is the track that shows the “rock jam band” part of their description to the world.
Where “I’ll Never See” was more on the neo-soul and funk end of the spectrum, “Traction” onward – with the exception of “Alright” – is a showcase of blues-rock and jam band music that calls to mind another part of 90’s nostalgia. Down Boy is essentially a second coming of Phish or Pigeons Playing Ping Pong with Erykah Badu vocals. This is something that doesn’t seem like it would work on paper, though it surely works well to the ears.
Something that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the quality of the drums on this record. There is something to be said for drummers who can show off their chops without being flashy and without losing the groove. Down Boy’s drummer nails this. Every song maintains a steady groove, but either the grooves themselves are slightly more complex than a standard beat or the fills that are thrown in don’t distract from the rest of the song. As a drummer, nothing is more important than groove, particularly when the word “funk” is in your band’s description.
In addition to the fantastic drumming, the guitar work on this album is solid. The solos are expressive without being overbearing, and the rhythmic parts are phenomenally executed. This is most noticeable on “Alright,” where Down Boy leans more into the synthesis of “funk rock” alluded to in their description. “Alright” serves as the perfect closer to this album, since it brings together everything that Down Boy is aiming for. Here is where it must be said that this reviewer considers “Shine” as the blues-rock extension of “Alright,” and it flows so well that it could have been part of “Alright” without being split into its own track.
Overall, though, The Prodigal Sun is what it wants to be: a “funk rock jam band” album that not only brings in nostalgia for the jam band scene of the ’90s but also showcases the musicians that created it in the best light possible. The production on this album allows every member to be shown off when they need to be without sacrificing the integrity of the band’s cohesive sound. As previously mentioned, the drums and guitar work are stellar, and the bass lines, though busy, allow the listener to feel exactly where the groove is at a given point, even when the drums are going a little crazy.
Down Boy has released an album a year for the past three years (2021 included), and they show no signs of slowing down. Give The Prodigal Sun a listen as soon as you possibly can. There’s a lot to love about it.