Fuzzy guitars, explosive drums, harmonicas and a thick-sounding Rhodes are just some of the components that constitute the Stone Foxes’ latest album, Small Fires. While they could have settled with sticking purely to the aforementioned instruments and making another heavy blues rock album like Bears & Bulls, the evolving band took a chance and expanded outside of their comfort zone of gritty “rawk.” Small Fires has allowed the band to pave the road into a more diverse, lyrically mature territory.
Listening to the first three songs of the album alone already displays the record’s sonic spread. Opening with the single “Everybody Knows,” the distillation of warm, two-step guitar chucks and drummer Shannon Koehler’s cowboy-western harmonica flow like a smooth whiskey, introducing the record with a familiar tone that is at home with their past material. “Ulysses Jones” then abruptly cuts in with guitarist Spence Koehler’s smokey, raspy vocals and thick guitar riffs, complementing the eclectic mixture of high and low frequency chords from keyboardist Elliot Peltzman. The album then switches out the intensity for melodic key rhythms and steady drum beats as bassist Aaron Mort croons soul-searching lyrics of a better life in “So Much Better.”
Small Fires continues to venture beyond the typical hard rock route with tracks like “Battles, Blades & Bones,” with a somber overtone describing the bleakness of war, a theme that rings throughout the pacifistic lyrics of “Cold Wind.” With the track “Cotto” — written about the Puerto Rican boxer of the same name — bringing the band together in a ballistic knockout of whirring keys, thunderous drums and a four-way chorus harmony, you can practically feel the musical chemistry. The Stone Foxes have grown into their sound and have crafted an album that qualifies them both lyrically and musically as one of the best rock bands that the Bay Area has to offer.