“Voices” is the sixth album from The Cold Stares and the band masterfully maneuvers into new directions while maintaining the fierce, blues-rock nature that is so beloved by their fans.
“I had the album title ‘Voices’ in my head before I had written any of the songs for the record”, Chris Tapp, The Cold Stares guitarist and vocalist, told us during the March 8 episode of Bourbon Turntable. “We had made records in the past that all had a similar voice. We wanted to add new voices on this album and do new things”.
Those new things – those new “voices” – include growing the band into a trio with the addition of Bryce Kleuh (pronounced “Klee”) on bass guitar. The album includes a song featuring a guitar-less Tapp on keys called Sorry I Was Late. There are also a few more “soft points”, as Tapp calls them, on “Voices”, especially when compared to The Cold Stares last album, 2021’s “Heavy Shoes”.
The Chains Are Off
As you trace through the discography of The Cold Stares, the opening tracks on each album are powerful launch points to the rest of the record. Nothing But the Blues lives up to that standard and you’d better hold on tight as this one has a little punk rock feel to it. The song opens with Tapp dipping into his seemingly bottomless bag of riffs while lyrically reciting the relentless run of bad fortune that he’s endured, leaving him with – you guessed it – nothing but the blues. How could a guy be that down, however, when he can play guitar like this? The solo itself is like turning a flame thrower up to eleven. “Voices” is off to scorching start.
Come For Me is another riff-laden romp in mind of ZZ Top or James Gang. Got No Right has the feel of a much bigger band to it, like something in a Tedeschi Trucks Band show. I can almost hear the horn section!
Lights Out is a breath-taker where Brian Mullins shines. In person, Mullins doesn’t appear to be the beast that he is behind the drum kit, but he attacks the drums with an intensity and purpose that remind me of Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp and John Fogerty) and Mitch Mitchell (Jimi Hendrix Experience).
Mullins’ partner in The Cold Stares’ rhythm section is bassist Bryce Kleuh. Having only been with the band for about a year, Kleuh is still in lock step with Mullins. One of the things that standout in a live show is how incredibly tight this trio is. Kleuh plays in an accomplished but judicious style reminiscent of Pino Palladino (John Mayer) and Johnny Colt (The Black Crowes). He has become the steady foundation Mullins and Tapp roam upon unleashed. As Tapp says when asked about Kleuh joining the band, “The chains are off”.
The Haunting Songs
There are three tracks on “Voices” that I call “haunting songs” because of their melancholy and evocative tone. The first of these songs is the very poignant Sorry I Was Late. Instead of guitar, this song finds Tapp behind the keyboard. It is a song Tapp said is about his grandfather and his long battle with depression ending in suicide. The song transparently deals with loss but also shares the hope of seeing one another again: “I’ve heard it said that when people die / They just wake up on some other side / I’ve heard it explained there’s more than meets the eye / Behind the curtain there’s a chance for you and I”.
“Voices” closes with a song called The Ghost. It is a story of lost love and loneliness told over Tapp’s chilling acoustic guitar. “Sit in this house staring at these walls / Killing time til Jesus makes a call”.
The third of the “haunting songs” is called Throw That Stone. It is inspired by John 8 where Jesus challenges the accusers of the adulterous woman “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her”. This song seems to tie the album together. “Throw That Stone” shares the voices of the characters in the song: the accusers, an executioner and a jailer. The voices of the other characters on the rest of the album – and all of society, really – are carried through on Throw That Stone, calling out for much-needed mercy.
Voices and Influences
The title track is the title track almost by coincidence. “We wanted to add new voices to this album and do new things”, Tapp explains. “And today in the world there are a lot of voices and a lot of noise and it seems like everyone is shoved into one corner or the other. And everyone must have this voice or that voice and there is no middle ground. It’s sad because the beauty of humanity is everybody has their own story and should have their own voice. I had all this in my head, but”, he chuckles “’Voices’ the song is about more bad relationships”.
Waiting on the Rain has a metal-band ballad feel to it as Tapp howls about the devastation of a relationship gone wrong. It is also a fantastic addition to The Cold Stares live set list.
“It is a song about people watching”, Tapp says of Sinnerman. “Do you not see what you are doing to yourself?”, he questions. This song has a classic blues sequence to the lyrics on top of unique rhythms not typically found in the blues. It is an example of one of the creative approaches Tapp brings to his songwriting: “If the lyrics are grounded in traditional blues, the music would not be”.
One of my favorite tracks on “Voices” is the blues rocker It’s Heavy. In this one, Tapp’s guitar pays homage to two legendary influences. “We want you to know our musical references are here and we have gratitude for people before us. But we want to move things forward”. The guitar solo is absolutely Prince-esque and the guitar in the rest of the song is a tip of the SRV hat to the great Stevie Ray Vaughn. Lyrically, the song is about the evil times we live in and the dangers we face as a society. Tapp prophesies: “We are running out of time”.
The grooves created by Mullins and Kleuh are highlighted on Thinking About Leaving Again. This song is a steady, sultry burn with almost a slow rap delivery of the lyrics by Tapp.
My Bourbon Turntable co-host Drew Crawley has a phrase he uses: “no skips, no misses”. That is what “Voices” is. There is not a song on it that you would want to skip or a song that misses the standard. Perhaps my favorite on the album is The Joy. On our Bourbon Turntable 2022 Awards Show, The Joy was my Song of the Year”.
While not an overt nod to this influence, The Joy could still fit quite nicely in an 80’s era Clapton album like “Journeyman” or “Money and Cigarettes”. This song also adds to the voices of “Voices”. Most of The Cold Stares’ songs through the years speak of faith and fate or heaviness and heartache. In “The Joy” our forlorn hero finally finds redemption! “You are like the sunshine after the rain / You are like the joy that erases the pain”.
“Everything I write is autobiographical”, Tapp shared. “Even when I’m telling a character’s story, it’s my story, too”. To journey from very dark and pain-filled songs on the debut album (“A Cold Wet Night and a Howling Wind“) like Red Letter Blues and Carousel to a song like The Joy is quite a path that Tapp has invited us to walk with him.
As a band that already has five outstanding albums to stand on, “Voices” is a next level achievement. Everything The Cold Stares set out to do with this record – all the added voices – has been artistically accomplished. I suspect upon the release of “Voices” on March 10, the public will add its enthusiastic voice of approval of this remarkable album.