REVIEW: The Cold Stares – Voices


Launched in 2012, THE COLD STARES got their start when longtime friends and Kentucky natives, vocalist-guitarist Chris Tapp and drummer Brian Mullins, agreed to team up for a fill-in gig that caught them both by surprise. Turning heads almost immediately, this duo ended up releasing a series of acclaimed studio albums that landed them on the road with the likes of Larkin Poe, RIVAL SONS, GRAND FUNK RAILROAD, and THIEVERY CORP. One of their tunes, “Mojo Hands” even ended up in the trailer for the wildly hyped-up 2020 video game, Cyberpunk 2077. Now, after having toured the world relentlessly as a duo, blowing away audiences across the United States as well as Europe, the band is embracing a new kind of chemistry as they launch the next chapter with their sixth studio endeavor, “Voices,” out via Mascot Label Group on March 10th, 2023, adding a third member, bassist Bruce Klueh. With this classic power trio setting, these rootsy ruffians sound as though they already had a lifetime of touring together under their belts. It goes to show that when the chemistry is right, anything’s possible.

The new selection kicks off with the anthemic opener, “Nothing but the Blues,” which is an up-tempo banger about wrestling with hard times in some down-and-out nowhere town. The gritty muscle of the riffs creates a nice contrast to the hardship-infested lyrics. As we will soon find out, the album does indeed ruminate on its fair share of gloom and hardship. Quite a few songs come off as dark, multi-layered narratives with a distinct Southern Gothic sensibility à la Edgar Allan Poe or William Faulkner. Then again, the band’s story would be more than enough for a drama series – cancer, loss, crises of all sorts. Tapp was diagnosed with stage III cancer in 2009 and given only 6 months to live; it has certainly charged the music with unflinching honesty and raw vulnerability. In his own words, “once you’ve been through the experience of looking at death, you know that the rug can get pulled out from under you at any moment. You really start to treat every show like it might be your last.” The lyrics are deeply personal, no doubt, but the desperate longings for hope, purpose, and comfort bear enough universal appeal not to evoke a feeling of reading somebody’s diary without permission.

The somber storytelling is balanced with just the right amount of swaggering rock ‘n’ roll bravado, for instance, on songs such as “Got No Right” and “Lights Out,” with the latter’s jagged escapism even triggering nice LED ZEPPELIN flashbacks. The primal guitar-driven riffathons do indeed create a nice contrast to the more blues-influenced introspection in songs such as “Come For Me,” which, in turn, traverses terrain more akin to the 1960s-tinted roots-rock sound of, say, CREAM.

Quite unexpectedly, one of the most haunting songs on the album is a ballad of sorts. “The Joy” resonates with the retro-vintage vibe of Lenny Kravitz‘s endeavors – the 1991 album, “Mama Said,” in particular. I’m not sure what it is, but the song feels like an oasis of light amidst all the doom-laden desert rock and bluesy melancholy. Perhaps it has something to do with how the lyrics are reveling in the happiness of finding your true soulmate, or something. The song melts the heart of even the most die-hard of cynics, like me for example, with its pure-hearted transcendence in human connection.

Another chilling moment is provided by the gospel-tinted “Sorry I Was Late,” a song featuring only vocals and keyboards (organ and Rhodes, I presume) – until, toward the end of the song, the immersive sound of strings delivers the final blow. The lyrical theme of easing the weight of guilt through the grace of forgiveness has not sounded so quietly tender, yet so haunting, for a good, long while.

Then again, the psychedelic blues of “Sinnerman” comes off every inch as chilling as the old jazz standard by the same name, made famous by Nina Simone. While this song is not a cover of that classic, I’m sure these bluesy garage-rock ruffians knew what they were doing by christening their Southern noir song like this. Not only are they paying decent homage to the garage-rock days of yonder, but on occasion, they switch into higher gear, in terms of the blues tradition, and cast a sly wink at you – like on “Throw That Stone,” which, in turn, reflects on the gospel blues of Son House and Blind Willie Johnson. The haunting closer, “The Ghost,” further suggests that these blues sages must have made some Faustian pact with the old Nick himself or something. The song churns the blood, to put it mildly.

In a similar manner to their previous 2021 album, “Heavy Shoes,” which ran a gamut of themes from addiction and emotional torture to toxic relationships and mental manipulation, THE COLD STARES keeps chasing that distinct, raw, and unvarnished sound on their new outing with lyrical themes reckoning with love and loss, sin and redemption, and hope and regret. Once again, the music feels both vintage and modern all at once. The devil’s dozen of new songs unfolds like a panoramic view over a cinematic black-and-white landscape of rootsy rock ‘n’ roll with a touch of more contemporary flourish to boot. This is “Blues Album of the Year” material, hands down.

Written by Jani Lehtinen


  1. Nothing But the Blues
  2. Come For Me
  3. The Joy
  4. Lights Out
  5. Got No Right
  6. Sorry I Was Late
  7. Voices
  8. Waiting On the Rain
  9. Sinnerman
  10. Throw That Stone
  11. It’s Heavy
  12. Thinking About Leaving Again
  13. The Ghost


Chris Tapp – vocals, guitars

Brian Mullins – drums

Bruce Klueh – bass


Mascot Label Group