One of the most rewarding things that can happen when picking up an album from a band you’re less than familiar with is being summarily blown away by it. The unexpectedness is everything. There are no preconceptions that you are going to love it, so it’s a great feeling when you find that you do. Running From a Gamble, the second studio album from Chicago four-piece Company of Thieves, is the case in point. The band has a big, almost stadium sound full of urgency and strong dynamics, and the record has a genuinely coherent feel to it, with each song seemingly flowing from a central theme of taking chances and learning from them.
Singer Genevieve Schatz is very much to the fore, commanding the proceedings with rock chick vigor, assured in her full-on moments and quietly susceptible in the softer ones. There’s a nice mix of songs with immediate hooks and clean melody lines like “Queen of Hearts”, “Modern Waste”, and “Look Both Ways”, while “Death of Communication” has a particularly attractive descending melody line in the verses and a totally knockout chorus. All the songs here are illuminated by some truly great guitar work from Marc Walloch, descriptive organ, and a crisp, tight rhythm section that can also rock out with the best.
“Nothing’s in the Flowers” is an example of the mellower side of the band, yet again it has some quite stunning guitar in the latter half that takes it to an altogether different place. It happens again on “Gorgeous Grotesque”, a slow-burn blues that simply explodes into an orgy of searing guitar and fiery organ. There isn’t a filler track in this entire collection, and it is equally clear that Company of Thieves does not take pigeonholing easily. The horn-driven “Tallulah” is a very decent slice of funk delivered with a Motown chorus line and a vibrant, highly charged vocal from Schatz.
It is a pleasure to listen to an album as well-crafted and original in its construction as Running From a Gamble. It’s a record that doesn’t get you reaching out for the usual “sounds like” comparisons. It has immediacy but grows on you with repeated plays. Producer Rob Schnapf also deserves credit for his intuitive approach to capturing the intensity of live music and bottling it in the studio. All in all, I’d be surprised if this record isn’t up there when it comes time to compile album of the year lists in December.