If you’ve heard local musician Rudy Colombo before — perhaps in The Humbuckers or Billy the Six or NC Rail — you might not recognize him in You Dirty Rats. Gone is the country twang, the cozy waltz rhythms and the sweet aw-shucks good-guy-ness.
Which is not to say that Colombo won’t still sport the occasional grandpa cardigan on stage, or that the Rats aren’t fantastic. Read about their debut live show here. That energy, that straight-forward rock momentum, the culled-from-the-garage authenticity are all still in play on the band’s self-titled EP. But there’s also a polish to the five songs that turn them into something slightly different than their live counterparts.
On the first track, “Until I Get it Right,” the Rats make clear what they’ve come to do. This is sturdy, masterful, midtempo rock. Colombo’s vocal is fuzzy with effects but the instrumentation is crisp and precise. The lead guitar is cool and high, the percussion snaps, the bass churns. Recorded at Echo Mountain, there are the hallmarks of stellar production: There’s a finished feel to the song, its intro and outro sharp, each instrument fleshed out, yet the coiled tension at the heart of the track remains intact.
“Like I Wore You” continues in that vein — the ominous growl of guitars, crashing drums — but here, Colombo’s humor comes into play. “Sideburns where my cheeks is, and polyester pants,” he sings, like a degenerate Huey Lewis (in the best sense). The joke of the song — and with all of these songs, really — is tempered with serious musicianship. A haunting background vocal comes into play, and Colombo’s lead lyric takes on a punk edge.
There’s a tongue-in-cheek approach to the entire EP, perhaps most apparent in the final track, “Suck When She Puckers.” Stocked with double entendres (or maybe not), the song aptly captures the spirit of dude rock in the sense of Spinal Tap or (locally) Rat Jackson without actually veering into parody.
Ultimately, You Dirty Rats (the disc and the band) is a perfect marriage of fun-having and hard-hitting and, at just 16 minutes, the EP is over far too soon.