Five Years Later, RTB2 Remains The Same Band We First Fell In Love With.
Given the five-year drought between their full-length studio LPs, the “sophomore slump” topic is a tough one for a band like RTB2 to avoid.
The band tackles the subject head on, though. They've cheekily named their long-awaited second album 2, seemingly acknowledging the fact that, despite their greatest efforts, there will still be that handful of critics who will say they've failed to live up to expectations the second time around.
But RTB2, if nothing else, certainly has been living over the course of the last five years.
No, the Denton-based tour de force comprised of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Thomas Becker and drummer Grady Don Sandlin hasn't put out a full-length studio LP since 2007's The Both of It, but it's not like they haven't been active.
The two members' busy schedules no doubt played a large role in the five-year gap: The twosome have performed in a number of other outfits together during this span (see: Last Joke, The Treelines, The Slowburners, Eaton Lake Tonics and Becker's own solo efforts), while shockingly managing to spend some time apart as well. For Becker, that meant slinging axe in such acts as The Missile Men, The Satans of Soft Rock, Madison King and Hares on the Mountain. Sandlin, meanwhile, drummed for the likes of Boxcar Bandits, The Hope Trust and Charlie Shafter, among others. Oh, and on top of this, Becker also held down a full-time job working as a librarian at Texas Woman's University.
And despite their schedules, the pair has managed to also remain one of the hardest-working bands in North Texas, gigging nearly every week.
But no matter how evident the reasons, a five-year gap between albums will always stir some level of debate. After all this time, does the band still have “it?” Will they completely alienate fans of their earlier work? In the case of RTB2, their much-awaited sophomore album fits nicely into their back catalog, serves as a logical progression structurally and sonically, and also manages to maintain the integrity of The Both of It and the magnetism of their eminent live show.
Some history: While The Both of It was a stripped down, bluesy opening statement for RTB2, their 2010 EP, In The Fleshed, pushed them into new territory — a brave new world of bass guitar, piano, banjo and backing vocal overdubs, new sonic textures, and intricately composed arrangements.
The smugly-named 2 finds them settling into a groove, maintaining some of the bass and piano overdubs that helped Fleshed feel so full, but harkening back somewhat to the more simplistic nature of their debut.
Aiding them in this task is producer Stuart Sikes (Riverboat Gamblers, The O's, Calhoun), who does an apt job helping the duo maintain the rawness of their gripping live sound, while also helping them churn out their first big slick effort recorded in a proper studio. Becker's guitar tone is charmingly confounding, sounding at once a brittle crunch on the verge of crumbling in on itself and a ballsy crackling beast. And, though toned down, overdubs aren't scraped completely. Instead, they now allow Becker to tear through a few ripping solo's without the riffs dropping out from underneath like they have on previous efforts.
Sure, much of the disc finds the twosome treading through somewhat familiar territory, but it's an embraced territory, to be sure. And there are indeed several interesting moments that arise over the album's 10 tracks.
The angular “Cool in the Dark,” is a seeming free-for-all structure-wise, with endless shifts in meter executed throughout. It's easily one of the most unique songs the band has ever released. Other songs, such as “Wire to the Walls,” wouldn't have been out of place in the least on The Both of It. Similarly, “Another Black Beauty” is a straight-ahead, rollicking rocker. Meanwhile, the penultimate track, “32,” recalls the mid-'90s era of Dallas rock, pairing an off-kilter Toadies-like riff with a Tripping Daisy-esque vocal treatment.
So, in the end, does RTB2's latest full-length sufficiently fulfill five years worth of expectations: Yes. Definitively. On all counts.
Listen below to the album's first single, “Goon,” which the band is offering up as a name-your-price download on its Bandcamp page, and we think you'll be inclined to agree.