Some bands who sound beholden to an earlier time in music history give the impression they wish they were actually living in the past. Thankfully, Rookie is not one of them. The Chicago band's 2020 debut album (titled, doubtless after lengthy debate, Rookie) certainly suggests this group has a soft spot in their heart for the '70s, an era when a brawny-sounding band with a Hungry Man's portion of guitars could also have abundant pop hooks, solid harmonies, and an amiability that made it possible to seem powerful and laid-back at the same time. If Rookie most closely resembles one particular band, it would be their Illinois brethren Cheap Trick, with their blend of hummable melodies and no-nonsense hard rock muscle. But Rookie come off as less wiry and more comfortable than vintage Cheap Trick; they sound like a bar band in the best sense of the word, making music that kicks when it needs to but doesn't make a production out of such things. The group's organ accents and occasional washes of pedal steel guitar also give them the vibe of a band who want to deliver a little something for everyone without entirely losing their personality. And like a good bar band, they get the job done: guitarists Max Loebman, Dimitri Panoutsos, and Christopher Devlin give this music a full and satisfying sound without cluttering the landscape, Justin Bell's keyboards acknowledge their classic rock inclinations without getting mired in clichés, and the rhythm section of bassist Kevin Decker and drummer Joe Bordenaro deliver a convincing rock & soul mix that locks this in place just right. If you ever wondered what would happen if the Rolling Stones and Big Star cut a record together, "I Can't Have You But I Want You" is a convincing prototype for such a merger. Rookie could stand to have a beefier production that would show off the band's formula with more oomph, but as it is, it's a richly enjoyable debut from a group with great ideas, the talent to make them work, and a welcome lack of pretension.
by Mark Deming