Wednesday, March 1, 2023

The Cold Stares - Voices

I like ‘em.  I mean, I can compare The Cold Stares’ sound to a few familiar names – and I will, in a minute – but whatever influences they’ve soaked up from down the blues-rockin’ ages, in the end that’s just for reference purposes.  The important thing is that the noise this Indiana trio make on Voices has their own stamp, their own personality – and it’s convincingly good.
They set out their stall with the archetypal if-it-can-go-wrong-it-will tale of woe that is ‘Nothing But The Blues’, an in-yer-face chunk of blues-rock given extra impetus by a wailing, distorted guitar solo from Chris Tapp.
The Cold Stares audition for a musical remake of Usual Suspects
Pic by Alex Morgan

There’s a Bad Company/Free-ish strut to the mid-paced ‘Come For Me’, but with its own spikiness, and if Tapp’s voice doesn’t have the warmth of Paul Rodgers there’s still admirable assurance to his delivery – and in fact they sound confident all round, with rhythmic shifts from drummer Brian Mullins and bassist Bryce Klueh to keep the pot boiling.  There’s a similar swagger to ‘Voices’ itself, with a twirl in the tail of its rockin’ bluesy riff, guitar effects that don’t sound typically off the shelf, and flutters of organ adding colour.  Oh yeah, and when they’re done they’re done, with no wasteful sprawling around to no effect.
The roots of both ‘Light’s Out’ and ‘Got No Right’ also sound like they go back a bit, the former with whispers of Hendrix in its fuzzy, revolving riff, reverb-heavy licks, and scampering drums, and the latter with a bright, Creamily descending riff – again with a bit of a strut, this time evident in the chorus, to which harmonies add an extra flicker of panache.
There’s a bit of a Bonamassa epic vibe to ‘Sorry I Was Late’, which opens with what sounds like a Mellotron picking out a ‘Stairway’-like motif, while Tapp offers up a suitably reflective, patient vocal.  And though it’s an altogether gutsier affair, there’s a similarly cinematic quality to ‘Waiting For The Rain Again’, with muscular bass and drums augmenting the Byzantine feel of the riff, and a strong, piercing solo from Tapp.
They get real edgy with the crunking ‘It’s Heavy’, which has a low-slung, funkin’ riff that puts me in mind of Them Crooked Vultures, and bends your ear with its urgency and slithering wah-wah solo.  And there’s a hint of psych-rock to ‘The Joy’, with its ringing chords, blissed-out ascending riff, and yearning, harmony-enhanced chorus.
But they also do a good job of stripping things right back, as on ‘Throw That Stone’, a plangent acoustic blues that’s kept simple but sounds like it’s drifted in from the desert rather than emerged from the bayou.  And closing track ‘The Ghost’ is as sparse and moody as its title suggests.
Praising them with faint damns, the riff and tone of ‘Sinnerman’ are a good deal more intriguing than the melody and the lyric, while the slow-ish ‘Thinking About Leaving Again’, with its strum’n’twiddle riff, falls a bit short of the interest levels they arouse elsewhere.  And a little shot of humour somewhere along the line might have given matters an extra lift.  So they ain’t perfect – but then, who is?
Voices is the sixth album by The Cold Stares, though I can’t say I’d heard of ‘em before last year.  It’s their first as a three-piece though, following the arrival of Klueh on bass, and in that context they're making a fresh mark in convincing, characterful style..  Like I said, I like ‘em!
Voices is released on 10 March by Mascot Records, and can be ordered here.

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