The Stone Foxes
Joshua P. Fowler, March 5, 2013
Ever since gaining some recognition with their 2010 release Bears and Bulls, The Stone Foxes have been lumped in with other modern electric blues bands such as The Black Keys and The White Stripes. Sometimes this has been fair and at other points it has not been, and with their latest release Small Fires they should be able to finally lose this label. Small Fires is the band’s third album and first recorded in a studio with an outside producer–Doug Boehm (Girls, Dr. Dog, Booker T. Jones). For some bands, the switch from home recording to the studio can be negative but this is not the case here; Small Fires is the first of the three albums that really exhibits the energy of the live show which The Stone Foxes have become known for.
Throughout the album, the band shows that they have musically and lyrically matured from their first two albums. The biggest change comes in the guitars–which are cleaner and quieter at points, as opposed to the relentless bluesy distortion of old–and the inclusion of organ and electric piano which becomes of the strengths throughout.
Small Fires starts off with first single, “Everybody Knows,” which has the sound and feel of a mid-2000s Black Keys song with an added Blues Harp, but the comparisons end there. The highlight of the album comes early at track four with the song “Cotto,” about Puerto Rican boxer Miguel Cotto’s loss to Manny Pacquiao in 2009. The art of the boxing song is one that thrived throughout the 1940s through 1960s but was mostly lost more recently. Here the art is revived and not only imitated but evolved and improved upon. The song rises and falls like a great boxing match and then stops suddenly much like the famous match it is describing.
Some of the stronger songs on the album are those that expand from the blues tradition that the band has been known for. Title track “Small Fires” comes complete with a slowly rising dance-ready bass-line that rises to a raging guitar and organ solo. It is the closest they have come to being able to represent the energy of their live show on record to date. “Talk to Louise” has the walking bass-line and layered instrumentation that gives it the feel of fellow San Francisco band, The Grateful Dead. Despite its strengths, Small Fires isn’t without its missteps. “Battles, Blades & Bones” is a somewhat cliché anti-war ballad that names drops conflicts from the Civil War to the First Gulf War and feels somewhat out of place with the other tracks.
Small Fires is a significant development for The Stone Foxes. It is the first of their albums that feels like a complete and fully realized thought. At points it remains tight with their early-electric blues influences and at others it expands on those influences in a way that isn’t found on the previous two releases. While being cleaner and more precise than the previous efforts, it is also more energetic and representative of their fantastic live shows.