“Suddenly, all the parameters that had dictated what we could and couldn’t do just disappeared and we were free to create whatever sound we wanted.”

I’ve never been in a band. Having no musical ability does that to a person, but if I was in a band, that’s how I like to think it would work. It’s the same reason that Maximum Volume Music is called what it is. It means we can put on any damn thing.

Those words, however, are most pertinent to “Voices”. They belonged to the ….urmmmm…..voice of Chris Tapp. Singer/guitarist/songwriter of Indiana based two-piece The Cold Stares. One of MV’s favourite bands of recent years, their 2021 album “Heavy Shoes” is one of the best of this decade.

So, here comes the plot twist (actually, it’s not, seeing as we saw the band last summer) but that two-piece thing? They ain’t no more. They are a trio and bassist Bryce Klueh is now in the band. A long time friend of Tapp and drummer Brian Mullins, he was picked, reckons the singer, because “he’d fit right in”.

The opening of “Nothing But The Blues” is not much of a change at all. If you’ve loved The Cold Stares at any point since 2012 you will love this. The band obviously did/do, given that they’d finished the gig I saw last summer with it (they’d played a load of it that night and evidently wanted it out way before now).

Another of the ones we already knew, as it were “Come For Me” is typical too of the outright glory of the band. Blues if Clutch were a blues band (seriously listen to the groove on the hook of ‘I’m a man of my word’ and tell me Neil Fallon wouldn’t love it), but this brave new world starts to reveal itself with the swirling, almost prog of “The Joy”. Released as a single, probably as its so different, its unlike anything you’ve ever heard from TCS before.

“Lights Out” which follows, might as well start “the devil and me had a falling out” (if you know, you know) but here’s the thing. What follows next is a soul filled freak out. It’s called “Got No Right” and back in 2022 I’d said it “was the most immediate of the new ones” Nine months on, its insanely catchy still, and shows Tapp to be a master of the guitar (Joe Bonamassa has given the band many a shout out and you can see why.

Right in the middle of the collection, though, comes it’s centrepoint.  “Sorry I Was Late” is flavoured with some Led Zeppelin, but it is a thing of fragile beauty. Tapp has spoken about the personal nature of these lyrics. We can only surmise at what led to this, but my, it’s a wonderful song.

There’s so many colours and textures here. It really is astonishing. There’s the heavy blues of the title song, there’s the slower, almost Rival Sons (without the hippy dippy stuff) air to “Waiting For The Rain” (the record’s longest cut at just under four minutes) and “Sinnerman” on which Klueh really shines.

It’s also worth pointing out that these were recorded mostly in the space of two days. The sense of urgency is palpable on the acoustic “Throw That Stone”. The type of thing that the much missed Kelly Joe Phelps could make his own. The Cold Stares have summoned something from the depths here.

The state of existence in 2023 is laid bare on “It’s Heavy”. Blue collar blues, it is but another shining example of the band right now, and whilst you wouldn’t call it “funky” there’s definitely something going on that’s never been here before, as there is on “Thinking About Leaving Again”.

“The Ghost” – the album closer – is another that proves this exists in widescreen. You can imagine it on some dark HBO thriller. Maybe as a character wrestles with some inner torment in the middle of the night. It has that sort of unsettling feel, leaving the story half told it seems. Maybe to reveal itself someday.

Ultimately, having been a band of this quality for a decade, The Cold Stares had earned the right to do whatever they chose to do. To do what they did, however, was a brave step – but one that has paid off spectacularly.

When a power trio gets it right, it’s a magical thing. Here, one has found their “Voices”.

Rating 9.5/10

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