Penny Prophets release First Run Friday, June 4, at The Cave. Showtime is 10 p.m.
On 2006’s We’ve Had Some Trouble, singer-songwriter-guitarist Randy Whitt presented his country-ish rock in a hushed manner that suggested he didn’t want to disturb the folks next door. The same subdued delivery informed a good chunk of his follow-up, The Good the Bad and the Grits, made with his then-backing outfit, the Grits. Whitt has a new band now, Penny Prophets, and their goal runs counter to the aim of those earlier efforts.
This time out, he’s determined to wake the neighbors. Whitt and company lean on a melting pot of ’60 and ’70s hyphenates, mixing and matching psych-rock wanderings, hard-rock guitar solos, Foghat-style blues rock and even the occasional prog-rock signature change. In light of that roll call, the surname of Prophet lead guitarist Jamie Sneeringer is either quite a coincidence or an in-joke for those of us who remember the adventures of Rick Derringer (nee Zehringer). He played with Alice Cooper, both Johnny and Edgar Winter, and Steely Dan while rock ‘n’ roll hoochie-kooing his way through the ’70s.
But if you’re going to make old-fashioned guitar rock, you need old-fashioned guitar hooks, and there are just not enough of them here. In fact, the songs that make the deepest impression are the ones that ignore First Run‘s loose blueprint. “My Mistake” plays like a Roy Orbison number resurrected and roughed up, while, true to its title, “Country Religion” is a rural rock hymn. One other outlier, the soul song “Happening,” almost connects. Despite convincing shimmer and wah-wah, though, it stays too grounded for a style that needs to soar.
Everything else here can be summed up by the word that nails the by-the-book blues-rocker “Dues”: serviceable. Alas, “serviceable” doesn’t make much of an alarm clock.