It’s unusual for a band to release a rarities set after just two albums, but The Record Company are an unusual band in the way they iterate quickly. Their debut, Give It Back to You, was Black Keys-inspired modern soul blues and 2018’s All Of This Life put more of an emphasis on the band’s vocals. But listening to these outtakes and b-sides, it’s striking to hear a band that’s so strongly rooted in more straight-forward blues and classic rock. It’s not often that these kinds of albums surprise the listener, but The Record Company manages to show some dimensions that they haven’t yet shown on their studio albums.
“Darlin’ Jane” is low-key, with hiccups of harmonica over a Bo Diddley beat. They instantly nail the Grateful Dead sound, all the more impressive since The Record Company is a trio. Bassist/guitarist Alex Stiff and drummer/keyboardist Marc Cazorla provide some heart-breakingly lovely background vocals that give the tune a vintage 1960s sound. In case you consider the Dead comparison some sort of acid flashback, a few songs later they take on the Workingman’s Dead‘s “New Speedway Boogie.” Singer/guitarist Chris Vos lacks Jerry Garcia’s reedy earnestness, but his aura of coolness pulls the classic into the present, giving it both a contemporary sheen but also an old-fashioned erosion. If you listen carefully, you recognize this as The Record Company, but the tune is surprisingly faithful to the original.
These kinds of rarities albums often feature plenty of covers, and the Record Company have some nice choices. Their take on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” shows off the band’s blues chops. Cazorla provides some beautifully laid-back blues piano and Vos checks in with impressively authentic harmonica work, all making you wonder if The Record Company might be more blues band than rock band.
And like any good album, just when you think you have it solved, the band throws a wrench in the works. In this case, the wrench is The Record Company’s creative take on the Beastie Boys’ “So What’cha Want.” It’s a bluesy version of a rock-rap classic, with The Record Company replacing the original’s shrill guitar hook with something more Albert King. It’s another song The Record Company has tackled live quite a few times, and it’s a fun crossover between two wildly different music worlds. It’s also the track I’ve had on repeat for the past week.
The interesting thing about non-hit compilation albums like this is that the music often has a different vibe from regular album cuts, since the tunes were probably seen as lower-stakes. “Ain’t Love Warm” has a down-home, country blues vibe and appeared as music on the TV show Suits. Having a stand-alone song on a beloved cable legal drama is different from needing it to work in the context of an album. That’s the beauty, and ultimately fascinating thing, about Early Songs & Rarities: it gathers all of these disparate songs in a single place and reveals a completely cohesive album, almost like a secret puzzle assembled over time. A puzzle that will probably even appeal to those who have yet to discover this always engaging band.
The Beastie Boys played a huge part in all of our upbringings, so when we learned the news of Adam Yauch’s (MCA) passing on May 4, 2012, we decided to pay tribute right then and there, and try out a bluesy cover of “So What’cha Want.”
Artist: The Record Company
Title: Early Songs & Rarities
Label: Concord Records
Release Date: April 3, 2020
Running Time: 47:13
*Feature image credit: Jen Rosenstein