The Stone Foxes - Small Fires
Record Label: Self-released
Release Date: Feb. 12, 2013
"Everybody Knows," the lead single from The Stone Foxes' sparkling new album Small Fires has more power and polish than anything else the band has done to date. Fueled by a searing harmonica and a swampy, blues-ridden groove the song is an absolute scorcher and another notch on the band's limitless belt of accolades. Its successor "Ulysses Jones" is a howling hound dog thick with attitude, tenacity and bluster. Coasting on the swagger of Jagger-esque vocals from Spence Koelher, the album is only seven minutes in and already they've blown away their contemporaries. Aside from The Black Keys and Gary Clark Jr. can you name another garage-blues outfit with this much attitude?
What separates the elite from the pretenders is knowing when to pull back the reins and dial it down. The whiskey-soaked "So Much Better" is veritable proof of that and arguably one of the album's finest moments. More straightforward than probably anything the band has done to date, it rises on the wings of a soaring organ. Ostensibly a song about hope and triumph, "So Much Better," is a Springsteen-tinged effort that should serve as a tonic to a nation still feeling their way through a murky economic recovery. Small Fires' first half closes out with "Cotto," an effort that punches with the ferocity of its titular welterweight; and the percussive title track, a rattling romp buttressed by that towering organ and some of the best guitar work 2013 will most likely hear this year.
The second set of Small Fires opens with the funereal ballad "Battles, Blades and Bones," an anti-war hymnal searching for clarity, guidance and solace. As much a beacon of light as "So Much Better," the song has the far-reaching power of being more than just a three minute ditty and rather a testament to the imminent grace of a well-crafted ballad.
Though its hard to top a song as timeless as "Battles, Blades and Bones," the quintet does their best with the Laurel Canyon-tinged "Cold Wind," a mid-tempo meditation on just how to tuck it back and not sacrifice message or conviction. To put it succinctly, in less capable hands "Cold Wind," could easily have gone the way of filler but with these experts the song does not meet such a fate. After two subdued efforts, the Foxes ratchet it back up on the dark and stormy "Talk to Louise" and the whirlwind whiplash that is "Jump in the Water." Fittingly, Small Fires closes out with the weary "Goodnight Moon," an affecting paen to every troubadour, truck driver or aimless vagabond criss-crossing America in pursuit of unbridled wanderlust.
And it is that very sentiment that makes Small Fires such a compelling listen. In each one of us is a highway dreamer, a hopeless Kerouac, a beaten down peacenik, a starving organist, an American. The Stone Foxes connects those disparate threads and does so in a way that is both awe-inspiring and meritorious. Now three albums into a criminally overlooked career, they're leaving it all on the table with this one. If this doesn't get the masses buzzing, then alas, music is far more lifeless than this writer ever thought possible.