The Record Company’s drummer and backing vocalist Marc Cazorla notes that the band committed to being the best performance a live music fan ever experienced early on in the band’s existence. Scheduling my return from New York City in 2018 hinged on experiencing a second show at Phoenix’s Crescent Ballroom, this time for their All of This Life tour. My sister danced her way through two sets with me at the High Sierra Music Festival a year later. To say Cazorla, Chris Vos (lead vocals, guitars), and Alex Stiff (bassist and backing vocals) achieved their goal is an understatement.
The band’s self-sufficiency led to 2016-2017’s Give It Back to You. Fans urged the band to record. The album was born in the clubs and bars in Los Angeles where the band cut their teeth, refining their tight, lush, three-piece sound. Recorded in bassist Alex Stiff’s living room, the band’s energy was digitized brilliantly, raw and real. Vos and Cazorla found a connection to authentic blues-rock with Stiff’s backline foundation and three-part background vocal harmonies. There’s a new member of the club that formerly only had Cream and Big Brother and the Holding Company in it.
Limited to 1,000 vinyl records from Concord Records on its Black Friday 2019 release, The Record Company’s Early Songs & Rarities is an invitation. This release was Initially supported through tour dates which are, of course, postponed. Now, while we sit home together with the band’s release digitized, does it fill the gap until we can hang together again, masked up like superheroes?
“Darlin’ Jane” from 2013 throws it back from the beginning. “Crooked City” feels like a raw version of the track from Give it Back to You, listed as an alternate take. This gritty quality cannot be faked. “Medicine Man” brings to mind one of my favorite performances at the High Sierra Music Festival. A tribal, driving backline pushes the cut along. Hollow vocals reverberate each lyric in true blues-rock style, aching like the great John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton. Sweet!
“New Speedway Boogie” drops in on the band in a living room recording session doing a cover. “Ain’t Love Warm” is that analog, down-and-dirty grit that shifts into a deeper dive with its grungy bar feel. Hopefully, we have all been places where there’s traction from slopped booze as we step up to the stage.
Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” from 1961 shows a reverence for the band’s primary genre: blues. Each note embraces the history of a band that has fought for each achievement. Staying true to their roots, “Never Gonna Cry For Me,” composed by Stiff and Cazorla, brings back that Muddy Waters vibe, paying homage to the genre. Growling vocals from Vos alternating with harmonica transport us to a full-on juke joint grind. These guys are in charge with no pretenses, and “So Whatcha Want” brings us into the living room for the practice. The rough feel of gem “4 Days 3 Nights” is fitting here, especially sequenced with the tense “The Jailor.”
The Record Company certainly had no ability to foretell the future, seeing the devastation this pandemic would have. This throwback collection gives us all a chance to collect ourselves. Finding the will to be weird, as Jim Morrison said, may help people mask up, as Vos models on the band’s website. Stiff and Cazorla provide the foundation of this soundtrack for a strange new day in live music. It may be a while, but I can’t wait to see them live again. —Lisa Whealy.