|Running from a Gamble firmly establishes the CoT sound.|
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by TS Oldman
This! This is an album for more than music critics and devoted fans to put on repeat. The sophomore effort, Running From a Gamble (released May 17th), from Chicago based Company of Thieves is a hard-edged, smart rock and roll record.
While their first album (Ordinary Riches) received some acclaim and spawned the hit "Oscar Wilde," for anyone that had seen the band live (like myself), the album didn't quite capture the same ferocity of the band's live performances. While live shows were filled with genuine emotion and infectious energy the album could feel a bit hollow or straight laced at times.
However, with Running From a Gamble Company of Thieves (CoT) has created a fantastic mix of soaring guitars, growling vocals, building percussion, clear rhythms, and an array of organs. In person, lead vocalist and lyricist, Genevieve Schatz, is a small, demure young woman. However, once she steps on stage, Schatz erupts with joyful energy and a textured voice that paints pictures of emotion. On this record, she displays masterful vocal control with performances that capture a noticeable grit (though never yelling). She even sounds flat out pissed off on a couple of tracks. Guitarist Marc Walloch also brings a welcome harder sound to this sophomore effort with grunge fueled electric guitars taking a more central role on a majority of the tracks. Amongst the rock sounds, CoT also finds room to feature horns and slices of haunting piano licks, making it a true rock and roll album.
On this record, listeners are treated to a richer, more complete sound.While Running From a Gamble explores various rhythms, textures, and themes (much like the album cover collage combines a range of colors and patterns) all of the tracks feel linked by a distinct sound that is uniquely Company of Thieves' own. Click through to read the full review and find links to an acoustic version of every song on the album.
"Intro/Queen of Hearts"
The album begins with Schatz doing a short emotionally wrought, acapella intro that sets the table for the collection of songs that poetically explore tender regret, broken communication, and even frustrated lament. Immediately after Schatz completes her opening, Walloch's guitar leads listeners into a building rhythm that remains the backbone throughout the one way conversation with a recently former lover. The variation between a driving piano during the verses and a B-3 organ during the chorus and bridge point to the fuller sound that is present throughout the record.
If "Queen of Hearts" sets the emotional tone, "Modern Waste" cements direction of the album as a higher energy effort than Ordinary Riches. Mike Ortiz's kick drum remains relentless behind Schatz impressive vocal pyrotechnics. This track shows also shows the maturity of the group in their arrangements as the song shifts from the electric guitar to an acoustic one for a brief interlude before Walloch rips a solo. Listeners are allowed to breathe for a just a second before the song closes assuring us that the relationship in question is not destined to work out.
"Look Both Ways"
While her songs about love and heartache are beautifully written, "Look Both Ways" is the type of song that indicates that, as a songwriter, Genevieve Schatz is capable of looking at the world beyond herself. On this track, Schatz amusedly watches the common tale of kids growing older as they begin "making a mess just to clean it up later." The title of the track is a wink the childhood adage of what to do before crossing the street. A playful metaphor for transitioning to adulthood. From the gang vocals to the clap-able rhythm of the chorus this song exudes a youthful exuberance while maintaining a consistent sound.
"Never Come Back"
Here, CoT slows the pace down a bit with a brooding tune that simmers with anger, eventually bubbling over in the final moments only to be cut short by a haunting lullabyish piano. Maybe it's the fact that the title of the album comes from the this track or maybe it's that Walloch's guitar during the verses reminds me of Bad Company's "Bad Company," but this feels like it belongs on a modern western soundtrack. FX's Justified anyone?
"Nothing's In the Flowers"
This track originally appeared on CoT's Tourniquet the Acoustic EP. As someone who enjoyed the acoustic version, I was more than pleasantly surprised to see that the full band version features the most unique percussion on the album. Although original CoT member, Mike Ortiz, left the band after the recording the record, his work here indicates that this song should be nothing short of amazing live. The last third of the song slows to jam between Mike Maimone on the wurlizter organ and Walloch on the guitar as Schatz makes imploring vocal runs.
"Death of Communication"
As the first single on the album, "Death of Communication" has a frenetic energy that doesn't let up for the entire track. Schatz is singing about a couple that no longer talks with each other but rather at one another. Although Walloch has brief solo, the song is definitely the most radio-friendly as it is the most straight forward of the record. The energy and Schatz's clear enunciation make the song an easy introduction to Company of Thieves for the new fans that the record is sure to collect.
"King of Dreams"
"King of Dreams" hearkens back to the slow, western groove of "Never Come Back." For fear of sounding like an English major who's inventing meanings to works, I hesitate to say exactly what Schatz is singing about here. However, it's safe to say that the "King" of this song could easily be a cocksure politician that eloquently sells dreams and was preceded by a man who made a mess of things. Regardless of whether this song is some sort of allusion to President Obama (who is also from Chicago), Schatz growling the phrase "you rambled on" might be my favorite moment of the entire album.
It's amusing to think that the hardest song on Running From a Gamble is track that expresses outrage over littering. However, Schatz is deadly serious and seriously pissed off about the lack of accountability people have with regard to caring for their world. The song begins with a cacophonous mix of electric guitar and various organs. The heavy reverb of the electric guitar throughout the song points to a white noise that keeps us all from experiencing the closeness the song wishes we could have. For me, Schatz's gritty, growling vocals of "G/G" hearken back to the powerful rock fused voice of Ann Wilson from Heart. And no, that's not an exaggeration.
By leading into "Syrup" with just an acoustic guitar and Schatz's voice, the song exudes a sense of young love that is "so sweet." Frankly, the start of the track sounds like it could have been included on CoT's first album. However, as the acoustic guitar gives way to the electric, the fuller sound of the second album returns and the listener realizes that this sweet, syrupy love is no more because of a mistake Schatz made when she missed her lover. This song is a much needed rhythm-driven break from the solely rock "Gorgeous/Grotesque."
I am an unabashed fan of songs with great horn sections. I grew up on rock and roll oldies that regularly featured horns (Tower of Power). I enjoy rock music but there's something about horns and a piano that really add a fun jazz (or roll ) back into rock. Thus, "Tallulah" is far and away the most fun on the album for me. A song about a Louisiana town that had been abandoned and couldn't be rebuilt, the backing vocals of Kym A. Franklin and Yolanda Brown are heavenly. I could go on about this song that the group has been performing mainly around the Chicago area for the last two years but I'll simply suggest that you watch this a live performance here.
"Won't Go Quietly"
"Won't Go Quietly" is a song that builds right from the start of the beginning strums of the acoustic guitar. Slowly but surely the drums, an organ and layered vocals from Schatz are added. As Schatz voice grows more and more forceful, the song suddenly becomes as powerful as any on the album with Schatz's raw voice declaring that she won't go be silenced as another relationship ends.
Here we return once again to the western sound of "Never Come Back" and "King of Dreams." Schatz vocals remain subdued for the first two thirds of the song, seemingly lamenting the obstacles of being a woman in this world. However, this closing song reminds listeners on their way out the door, of the harder sounds of "Gorgeous/Grotesque" as Schatz literally cries out her closing refrain "Take me for only a man!" The album comes to a close with a mix of piano, organ, and electric guitar jamming. A fitting end to an ambitious album.
Looking forward from the release of Running From a Gamble, Company of Thieves has a decidedly upward trajectory. CoT is no longer a band to watch. They are a group that has arrived and demands audiences' attention. If CoT performs in your area, I would strongly urge you to catch a show to watch Genevieve explode with seemingly endless energy while Marc deftly wails away on his guitar. However, if you can't see them live, Running from a Gamble perfectly captures that same ferocious live energy. By combining Schatz sharp songwriting with harder edged arrangements, Company of Thieves has established themselves as true artists claiming their own unique sound within the rock and roll landscape.
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