Duos seem to be a trend at the moment and, with the sheer high quality of some of them, who cares how many people make up a band? If you haven’t come across Indiana duo The Cold Stares, be prepared to add them to the list of heavy rock and blues bands backed by a wall of sound that belies the numbers. Their fifth album, Heavy Shoes, builds on their fearsome rock and roll, complete with light, shade and benevolent darkness that will take you on a journey through psychedelia via rock, blues and a quick refuel in the garage.
Tapp and Mullins make a hell of a noise, but it is always structured, crafted and thoughtful…after all, when you consider Tapp was only given a few months to live in 2009, he deserves to celebrate in a dark, reflective and honest way; thankfully, after months of treatment, cancer has been beaten…possibly by it being bludgeoned repeatedly by The Cold Stares in full flight. Like the crowd of ghosts and skeletons (including whole families, the cat, the dog, the parrot and the horse!) observing the duo on the album cover, you too will love this…make no bones about it.
Quickly to the music: the title track, Heavy Shoes, opens the proceedings with the mildly Zeppelin-esque riff but, with the bass following the lead and (as always) Brian’s use of the kit as a multi-faceted instrument and the strong vocal, it is pure Stares and very good too…the short solo is neat in its melody playing. 40 Dead Men will get the odd Zep comparison too but, listening closer, it is actually only four notes: it also has a touch of the heavy bluesy rock of the great Budgie…which is an even bigger compliment. The time change recalls the Welsh wizards too although the tale of a soldier fighting to get home is as complete and well-structured rock song as you’re likely to meet this year…at least.
Take This Body From Me is a slower, heavy blues rock that has one of Chris’s tantalising vocal melodies and a way too short guitar solo and it’s a sort of heavier Free feeling again, because of the superb use of the kit behind the Koss-like riff. Hard Times has a great bluesy riff that the vocal melody weaves around; lyrically about never catching a break, the Free-dog of the sparse playing behind the verses and the really clever snare work make this a lot complex than it appears and, considering there’s just two if them, there’s a lot to listen to…especially the bridge and overdubbed solo…nice.
In The Night Time can be summed up best by Chris: “Inspired by the southern gothic city of St Augustine, Florida, “the whole city is a graveyard. There are so many Spaniards that were buried there. When you’re walking the streets, it’s like you’re walking on the graves. There was this magic to it. I was visualising walking late at night, with things in the shadows, and everything is coming alive. It’s joyous.” that seeming conflict of graves being joyous is reflected in the shadowy guitar chords and rolling bass and subtle keyboards. Strange Light follows, content-wise, from the opener; “echoes deep inside of me, I feel her fingertips wrapped around my throat, getting harder just to breathe,” says a lot in just a few words and the guitar solo is genius while the riff and cymbal bell work are brilliant backgrounds. Prosecution Blues is heavied Free and damned good; I know I keep banging on (pun intended) about the way Brian plays that kit but he has an unerring knack of doing the right thing…listen to the snare rolls slotted seamlessly in and (unlike so many drummers) he uses crash cymbals for effect, not a nonsensical barrage….anyway, the short guitar solo is phased, picked, bent and run beautifully.
It’s A Game speaks for those who have no voice backed by a sort of Cream/Hendrix hybrid that takes in SRV too…love every second! Save You From You pits addiction against the Tons of Sobs class riff and bass and drums and woefully short solos…at least there’s two of ‘em! You Wanted Love opens with clever rolls from that kit…then layers are led carefully across the rest of the song with riffing, subtlety and a great vocal melody that reminds me of the great James Dewar. Election Blues is so apposite as it addresses media manipulation with some southern-ish rock and roll; biting lyrics overlaid by solid riffing and tasty bass and drums and a clever (short) solo.
The closing track, Dust In My Hands, addresses injustices for Native Americans with more blues-rock of quality…the solo is short, yes, but the sustain cries with the lyrical messages.
I can only find one fault with this great bluesy rock album: no song breaks the four-minute barrier…being the awkward guitar geek I am, a few extra seconds for some more of the foreshortened solos would have made this even better…but that may be just me. It is still an excellent album from a duo that out duos many duos and many ‘full’ bands with consistent quality, originality and skill.
Bluesdoodes rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album of heavy, varied and skilful blues-rock with sufficient deviations from the template to be always interesting.
40 Dead Men
Take This Body From Me
In The Night Time
It’s A Game
Save You From You
You Wanted Love
Dust In My Hands
All songs by Chris Tapp
Heavy Shoes is released on Mascot Records, August 13th.
Chris Tapp- Stringed instruments, Keyboards, Vocals
Brian Mullins- Drums and Percussion
Recorded in the Sam Phillips Recording Studio Memphis Tennessee and produced by The Cold Stares
(iTunes files by ‘C’ rather than ‘The’, so I got some Honey Tonk Train Blues from Colin “Barrelhouse” Banagan with his appellation illustrated perfectly on this wonderful piano instrumental.)