It’s a Wednesday night outside of Carabar on Parsons Avenue. Inside, several patrons enjoy cheap beers and video bowling. At this early hour the stage sits empty. All the action seems to be taking place in the upstairs apartment. It’s a speakeasy through the windows and a juke joint through the floorboards. The seven members of Nick Tolford and Company are “grinding” though their entire catalog above, prepping new bassist Bobby Silver for the next night’s show. From the sound of it – it sounds like the best after-hours party you weren’t invited to – he’s going to pass. He’s a trooper. They do this every Wednesday night.
By now you’ve heard plenty about the Company around Columbus. In addition to increasing crowds and higher-profile gigs, they’re also gearing up to release their long-gestating second record, Just a Kiss, this month. They’re damn proud of it. Even with a cursory listen, the songs attest that the three years between albums was not spent resting on laurels. Many a good time was had and many a member of the Company departed and was replaced. Things changed for Tolford and you can hear it in the grooves.
“The first record was about what I was wanting in my life when I finally got the girl,” says Tolford of the shift in mood. “Just a Kiss is about having the girl, being in love, and everything that’s associated with that.”
Indeed, that sense of joy pervades the music. Tolford has switched from piano to Rhodes organ for a dirtier sound. The album is markedly in sync, even its looser, less color-by-numbers. It’s a full Company experience – where first record Extraordinary Love was the fleshing-out of Tolford’s first batch of demos, this album was written with the band in mind. More directly, Just a Kiss plays as a list of instructions, be it lyrics that demand attendance on a bar stool, or titles that demand action, like “Get Down” or “Cancel Your Plans.”
Soul “revival” is an extraneous term, a redundancy if only because soul has never really died. Though many in recent memory have tried to revive it and failed miserably, Tolford’s love of soul, and the amount of if that lives in his voice, give the Company’s music a modesty and grit that trumps the idea that there’s only showmanship. It’s easy to compare what they do to Motown and Stax, James Brown and Otis Redding, but they venture further out. The soul of the Company comes from the echoes of bygone Columbus labels like Capsoul and Prix and the same vibes those dreamers culled from the Ohio experience.
Here, they even live out a “pipe dream,” collaborating with veteran jazzman Eddie Bayard, who plays saxophone on the epic finale of “All Right.”
“Early on we made a conscious decision that we weren’t going to be a suits-and-ties soul band,” says guitarist Julian Dassai, “we were a ties-and-horns soul band. With the second album I can hear that we can pull things from everywhere and put it in the music. We aren’t in any kind of box when it comes to what we play.”
With soul as their template, it’s the feeling that goes into every note that makes all the difference. In that, Nick Tolford and Company succeed on many levels. Who else can turn a Bad Religion song into a gospel-tinged exorcism or an average night out into a carnal dance marathon? Huey Lewis and the News they are not. •
“Delores” – If there’s a discernible turning point on the new album where Nick Tolford’s songwriting, and the Company’s airtight accompaniment starts to get what Tolford refers to as “nasty,” it’s on “Delores.” The energy that’s created during their rollicking live shows is palpable and contagious here with the whole band latching onto one of Tolford’s more complex and ascending Rhodes riffs. It’s like the nexus between Little Stevie and Stevie Wonder.
•Catch Tolford and Co. January 11 at Strongwater Food & Spirits, 401 W Town St.