The Cold Stares “Heavy Shoes”

The Cold Stares have been very active since their 2010 formation and the now nine albums they’ve released are among the finest rock releases thus far in this young century. Front man and guitarist Chris Tapp and drummer Brian Mullins have not lain fallow during the pandemic. They used their time off the road to compose, plan, and record their latest collection entitled Heavy Shoes. The dozen songs included on this release should translate without much difficulty to the stage and many of the first class venues The Cold Stares frequent such as Los Angeles’ Viper Room will be ideal forums for their powerhouse songs.

Tapp and Mullins’ songwriting pulls from the blues tradition for much of its imagery but phrases these familiar elements in unfamiliar ways. The opener “Heavy Shoes” has several references longtime rock, blues rock, and purist blues admirers will recognize yet the band uses these moments as creative fuel for crafting their own contributions to the genre’s lexicon. Their songs never pursue a bland straight-line design. Bulldozer riffs are bountiful throughout each of the album’s dozen songs and “Heavy Shoes” builds to seamless transitions between each movement. It’s material that keeps listeners engrossed from the first.

It may seem simple but invoking discontent as a pair of “heavy shoes” has a literary touch unlike many others playing this sort of music. The band’s penchant for arresting phrases and imagery continues with the second cut “40 Dead Men”. Storytelling is an underrated strength in the band’s skillset every bit as essential to The Cold Stares’ ongoing success as the muscular riffs and thunderous drumming. Tapp and Mullins ramp up the dynamic intensity and the wailing vocals are full of blood and grit. This opening tandem packs a wallop.

“In the Night Time” goes in a comparatively lean and stripped-back direction. The Cold Stares abandons the chunky riffs dominating preceding tracks in favor of raw-boned staccato verses. It doesn’t unfold slowly but, instead, patiently. The Cold Stares explode the song’s potential, however, at all the right points, but never lapse into overkill. It’s a fine line they walk between hitting the mark as a hard rock band and slipping into heavy-handed cliché. “It’s a Game” has a spring in its step missing from more of the heavy riffers and incorporates a judicious amount of flash. Some listeners may think it reminds them a little of souped up Texas blues without any hint of imitation.

One of the album’s best tracks, “Save You from You”, sounds like it’s been dredged up from the depths of his personal autobiography. If it isn’t, he deserves even more credit for convincingly owning every fiber of this cut. The chorus and its subtle variations through the song are another masterful highlight. “Dust in My Hands” has some light special audio effects during its introduction and an appropriately soulful guitar phrase raising its opening curtain. It’s an powerful finale for an album packed with several peaks. The Cold Stares are back and in dominant form. 

Michael Rand

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