Thank fortune for this band. The Cold Stares is a duo first formed in 2010 who have maintained a near-furious clip of studio releases and live shows since beginning this journey. The latest mile marker on that trip, a twelve song effort entitled Heavy Shoes, doesn’t venture far afield from the road they have traveled over nine albums but, nonetheless, shows genuine evolution. Chris Tapp’s vocals and lyrics are as indebted as ever to traditional blues and religious imagery but he’s expanded on this with each successive release. Heavy Shoes is no exception. Never a topical band, The Cold Stares nevertheless even offer up a nod to most recent Presidential election and the Year of Plague makes its presence felt as well in a less-than-direct fashion.
Coming out of your corner swinging with the title song is a mark of confidence. Title tracks are often positioned at the midway point or near the end of an album whereas announcing it straight out of the chute often shows a band or artist with more confidence than usual in the strength of their material. You can hear confidence bristling from Tapp’s guitar and, particularly, in his emotive yet powerful vocals capable of cajoling and challenging listeners at every turn.
“40 Dead Men” is one of those tracks that, if you’re familiar with The Cold Stares, you realize no one else would or could do. It is no small feat to invoke a signature personality and style in a relatively limited form such as blues or blues rock but Tapp and drummer Brian Mullins can claim this as an achievement. “40 Dead Men” is full of blood and woe and the lyrics adroitly blend familiar blues language with Tapp’s own contributions to the form.
Echoes of the past are strong throughout “Hard Times” and “In the Night Time”. Both tracks pull from the idiom’s rich tradition of strong riffs and soulful vocals but, once again, The Cold Stares show no wont for outright imitation. The former has the best riff on Heavy Shoes, and that’s not faint praise, and its chorus packs quite a wallop. Tapp’s warm but rugged guitar sound continues to impress during the track “In the Night Time”, though the duo vary their approach some for this song. These are among the most commercially-minded efforts on the release and tracks that seem ideal for live performance.
The longest song, “Prosecution Blues”, doesn’t even reach the four minute mark. Not quite. Despite that, however, it is a gutbucket blues, drenched in wide-eyed paranoia and desperation, and Tapp’s vocals and guitar playing are integral to that mood. The band deserves kudos for never succumbing to the idea that they need longer songs to accommodate their ambitions. Few bands possesses a stronger sonic and written identity than this unit. The album’s conclusion, “Dust in My Hands”, doesn’t end the release on an upbeat moment, per se, but it nonetheless has an exultant quality. No matter if the song is dark and intense, there’s joy in this music. Make no mistake – The Cold Stares love what they do and the proof is in each song on Heavy Shoes.
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