Review: ‘Play Loud’ Moves The Blues Rocking The Record Company Closer to the Mainstream

The Record Company
Play Loud
(Concord)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

There’s nothing like grabbing the moment. That’s something the LA-based Record Company trio has accomplished efficiently.

Now a decade into their slow but consistently growing career, this is the blues-based threesome’s third full length (there was also a 2021 covers EP) since its 2016 debut. Add in thousands of road miles that found these hard-working blues-rockers graduating from tiny stages to medium-sided venues and a Grammy nomination to understand the rather quick upward progression this stripped-down outfit has experienced in a relatively brief time since signing with a major label.  

Not surprisingly, each album has moved the awkwardly named The Record Company a little closer to the mainstream. Their arc can be compared to that of the Black Keys, which also began as a tough, greasy roots act but gradually shifted towards a more radio-friendly sound without abandoning their scruffy origins.

Release number three finds the guys edging into soul (“Paradise”), bouncy funk (the first single “How High”), INXS-styled slinky pop (“Get Up and Dance”), and even an Elton John-styled piano-led socio-political sing-along with some wincingly clichéd lyrics (“Live as One” repeats its title over 20 times).

It’s worth noting that on this set the three-piece hired outside songwriters as collaborators for the first time. One of those is producer Dave Sardy (he goes by D Sardy in the credits) whose history of working with the high profile likes of Oasis and LCD Soundsystem speaks for how The Record Company is taking this shift to a slightly more crossover sound seriously. “….this record shows us evolving” quotes bassist/multi-instrumentalist Alex Stiff in the album’s pre-release notes. Fair enough.

It worked for ZZ Top, so who’s complaining? Thankfully none of the dozen selections bring in EDM synths or hip-hop and generally stick to a more traditional guitar-based approach. But each tune has some members overdubbing themselves with multiple instruments to fatten the sound. The music returns to its swamp rock beginnings on the chunky garage funk of “Gotta Be Movin’” where guitarist/vocalist Chris Vos talks the road-centric lyrics as the band falls behind him repeating a tight riff.

Some of this feels a little stilted, but when the elements line up as on “Out of My Head,” a song that shifts from a rugged rock lick to a ballad and back, it’s impressive stuff. No problem borrowing from Link Wray’s “Rumble” for the wonderfully scuzzy “Midnight Moon” and its hooky chorus of let me out as the track reaches its crescendo.

There’s little worse than a band repeating itself with an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mantra, except maybe for AC/DC. That’s something The Record Company is aware of. While they aren’t totally successful— especially lyrically—pushing their blues-rock boundaries, there’s enough grit mixed with the slicker production to keep existing fans happy while possibly bringing new ones to the table.

That would be a win-win.            

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