Liz Phair’s comeback didn’t exactly stick, Sarah McLachlan’s revival of Lilith Fair tanked and Sheryl Crow’s pretty much gone country. What’s a fan of strong ’90s women in rock to do? Check out Company of Thieves, a Chicago band led by Genevieve Schatz, a small woman and a big voice.
With the lungs of Johnette Napolitano (Concrete Blonde) and the lilt of Dolores O’Riordan (the Cranberries, but without her trademark falsetto break, thank heavens), Schatz is a dynamo on record and on stage belting in front of this basic but bold rock band. She writes the literate lyrics, too — the popular single from 2009 debut “Ordinary Riches,” after all, was “Oscar Wilde” — and the new single “Death in Communication” frames a miserable relationship with some keen allusions (“Honestly, my honesty was always what I gave for taking your bread / I never thought you would have hung it high above as you did over my head“).
Going farther afield than on the debut, “Running From a Gamble” finds guitarist Marc Walloch working overtime pricking out spidery melodies and bashing riffs. Many of these songs lurch and swell, and several swing with extra heft thanks to the organs and keyboards of Mike Maimone. His Wurlitzer and Mellotron give gravitas to the sing-songy “Look Both Ways” and jumps in with a late-blooming and wonderfully seasick interlude in the otherwise stalled “Nothing’s in the Flowers.” As with “Ordinary Riches,” there’s plenty of alt-rock filler here, and the album could be a splendid 10 tracks rather than its 13. But just as you start sinking into an “Empire Records” reverie, they go all Southern soul and Chicago (the band) horns in the preposterous and fantastic “Tallulah.” Still full of promise.
In concert: Company of Thieves opens for their pals Daryl Hall & John Oates on June 26 at Ravinia.
Also, “Death in Communication” is, for some reason, on Lollapalooza’s 20th anniversary iTunes sampler.