“Any Way the Wind Blows” opens The Cold Stares’ latest release Ways with a swaggering blast of laser focused quasi-Zeppelin riffing. Chris Tapp’s superb guitar work might benefit from a little additional production heft, but it nonetheless possesses an inexorable steamroller like quality flattening listeners from the outset and highlighting the duo’s tight compositional discipline. Tapp never risks self-indulgence; there are no masturbatory solos or instrumental breaks. He does pepper his playing with tasty tempo shifts however. Some listeners will wish the production dialed back Mullins’ drum sound some, but few if any will find fault with his playing. It gives the track a satisfying muscular swing.

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The title song and second album track is low key in comparison. “Ways” doesn’t broach new songwriting ground writing about an alluring and mysterious woman, it hews close to blues and rock traditions, but he phrases his take on the time tested with idiosyncratic touches giving it a fresher spin than most. The Cold Stares utilize dynamics in a more artful fashion than we hear during the opener; the understated verses create a dramatic contrast with wide-open choruses and better production balance than the first cut helps the title song stand out even during an initial listen.

Ways has overarching production values distinguishing it as well. The third song “I Was a Fool” ramps up the pace far beyond anything we hear in the album’s opening one-two punch. Tapp’s funk-flavored guitar playing supplies much of the song’s bite. He breaks out head-spinning guitar runs, as well, near the song’s mid-way point that pour more fuel on the track’s musical fire.

The stutter built into Chris Tapp’s guitar riff for “White Girl” gives the track much of its attitude and Mullins complements it well with intense drumming. The riff doesn’t dominate the whole track, of course, and Tapp mixes in muscle flexing riffs during the song’s bridges along with wah-wah laced lead flourishes connecting like a whip across your face. The muted elegance of

“Thorns” is one of the standout moments on the release. The Cold Stares dial back the sonic intensity in favor of acoustic introspection and an increased emphasis on the vocals, but the lyrics bear mentioning as well thanks to their poetic flavor. It is a welcome change up from the trajectory they adopt for the album’s first half.

They return to searing electric guitar rock with “In Black” and it’s a cut rife with desperate language and dramatic imagery. Tapp and Mullins’ mastery of dynamics frames that drama and desperation in the best possible way. Blues casts a long shadow over the track “Goin’ Down Easy” and Tapp’s penchant for gripping lyrical imagery continues here as well. It has swagger for days thanks to Tapp’s raw-boned guitar in particular.

“Headstone Blues” is one of the longer cuts included on Ways and unfolds for listeners at a simmering mid-tempo pace. Many of the songs on the release deal with fraught romantic relationships and this is no different. The words ransack blues language once again to flesh out the track for listeners, but Tapp never sounds anything less than convincing singing about digging graves with a silver spade and weeping willows. “Might as Well Die” ends Ways in stark apocalyptic fashion and harkens back to the sound of the earlier “Thorns” though the organ present in the performance sets it apart. The Cold Stares’ Ways is an impressive release from front to back and there isn’t a single track qualifying as filler.

Michael Rand

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