Hailing from Manchester, England, County Rats are a straight-up, alternative blues-rock band. Their first official release is a four-song EP tilted Spotland Mill Session, and that is pretty much all I know about them, as it is seemingly impossible to find any other information on the band. Luckily, all I really needed was the music, and for the most part this short EP is a promising debut.
Since the band does not seem interested in anyone finding out who they are or when and where this record was made, I had to resort to some investigating of my own. Unfortunately, my research did not produce any relevant results, which may explain my high school guidance counsellor’s insistence that I would not have any future in the investigative journalism field. That being said, I can only assume Spotland Mill is the studio, venue, or warehouse in which the EP was recorded. From the sound of it, it seems like it was a live recording, which means that the band played together as they would in a live setting and were recorded as such. Though this technique will produce a very organic record, it can also make it sound a little bare-bones and devoid of some of the more polished production elements that most audiences are accustomed to. However, in the case of County Rats, I think it was a great idea to do things this way; the end result is a groovy, melodic blues-rock album that I very much enjoyed.
“These Streets” announces itself with a clean, snappy sounding electric guitar intro based around a simple two-chord progression that immediately catches your attention. Simple lyrics and a tight groove, not to mention some very melodic and tasteful guitar playing, make this a great start. “Move On” is somewhat similar in its structure with another electric guitar intro that leads into a bigger chorus. The song features backup vocals singing a somber melody that recounts the hardships of moving on from a strained relationship. There is an earnestness to the lead singer’s delivery that is quite captivating, in both his tone and vocal style. The band does a great job as well, holding back while also being able to follow the direction of the song and build up when needed. The live recording really highlights the great chemistry between these musicians. The song ends with a restrained, emotive wah wah-soaked guitar solo that is almost lyrical in its delivery. “As Long as You Know” ditches the blues influence for a more straightforward alt-rock sound, with a delay-effect guitar riff lead serving as the basis of the song. This track could be compared to something Weezer would play, although with a much more somber tone. “Tell ” is another minor key, mid-tempo bluesy rock song with some dark lyrics, is a fittingly solemn ending to the record. In fact, most of the albums lyrical themes are either sorrowful or somewhat confrontational in nature. As a four-song EP it works fine, but I feel that a whole album’s worth of it could get tiresome quite quickly.
That also leads me to my biggest critique: the quality of sameness throughout the album’s songs. Though they don’t necessarily have the exact same structure, they are all in a minor key, mid-tempo, and with somber lyrics. This on its own is not a bad quality, but as mentioned before, they do share a lot of similar themes and are also quite difficult to differentiate in the way they are built (guitar intro, verse, chorus, guitar solo etc.) That, coupled with the bare-bones style of production, left me with the feeling that this release is more of a demo that showcases the band’s strengths without being a proper, full-fledged album that I would want to listen to many times over.
County Rats know how to put a couple of good rock songs together, and this release did make me feel like I was listening to them in a dimly lit, late-night cocktail bar, which I enjoyed very much for that aspect. However, if they hope to make a dent in the already saturated rock and blues market, I hope they can channel their obvious talents into something more fleshed-out and wide ranging.
Written by Ben Massicotte
*edited by Kate Erickson