Just so you know, this review of the new Candlebox album Wolves will serve also as a nostalgia trip for me. This band has been in my life for such a long time, and for such a consistent tenure, that it is difficult to express completely how I feel about them. The new album released on September 17th.
I was in high school, and I remember hearing two songs on the local radio waves: “Far Behind” and “You”. For the longest time, the DJ would say only the song title, not the damn name of the band, so I went months without knowing whose music I was enjoying. Soon enough, the answer came: Candlebox. I was obsessed, and I mentioned this to my older brother. That weekend, he happened to see the band’s album Happy Pills for sale at a local shop, so he bought it for me. This was my introduction into one of my favorite bands ever.
I devoured the band’s first three albums, but was bummed to find out that they had split some years before I even discovered them. Then, in 2006, I remember driving in the car with my wife, and an advertisement for a Candlebox show at the Cleveland House of Blues came on, which I didn’t notice until my wife pointed it out to me. I bought tickets immediately. The show had a disappointing turnout, at least from my perspective. There were less than a hundred people there, for sure. How could this band not be bigger and more popular? Needless to say, the band gave it their all still, and the show was amazing.
I remember seeing them at the House of Blues at least a couple more times. One particular night was a late one, and at about 1- 2 am the show ended and the band sat out in the foyer to sign autographs—no pictures allowed. I was a nervous wreck in front of vocalist Kevin Martin, stammering about how he was one of the best singers ever, or something like that. He stood up and moved the rope that blocked access to the band, just so I could come take a picture with him. My brother and wife still make fun of the look on my face in this picture.
Since then, I’ve seen them live at least 4-5 times. I try to see them every time they come to town; except, ironically, the show that took place just last week in Cleveland. Candlebox has been part of my life for more than half of it.
So, the band has a new album. Wolves is a rocking, entertaining record, no doubts at all. The band still has that classy aura of blues rock in their grunge-y style, though I would note that this album has more of a stomping classic rock sound overall. When I say “classic rock”, I mean Led Zeppelin, Motorhead, Kansas, and that type of band: bands with grit and a big block engine running on their hoods. This album feels like it has guts and torque, and I love to hear that sort of drive in the band after so many years.
Kevin, of course, sounds amazing, as always. His voice has matured ever so slightly, but it seems to add gravitas and character to his already unmistakable voice. I love to hear him offer up screams just like the good ol’ days, and his writing on the vocal lines and choruses features a ridiculous amount of strong hooks.
The line up behind Kevin is equally strong, though. As best as I can tell, the band features Brian Quinn on lead guitar, Island Styles of rhythm guitar, Adam Kury on bass, and Robin Diaz on drums. Peter Klett, the original guitarist, is not on the record, though he returns for one-off shows sometimes. However, even though Peter is one of my favorite guitarists ever, Brian and Island hold their own, and I am super impressed with Brian’s soloing and soul on this record. Adam and Robin lay down a gritty, punching rhythm section, too, which gives the album much of its weight.
In more than a few ways, this album reminds me of 2008’s Into the Sun. That album had blues and classic rock in its sound, some of the choruses were structured similarly, and it gives off some of the same raw and even vulgar vibes that I love so well. Instead of aging like fine wine, the band has aged more like a small batch, high proof, black label bourbon that burns just right, even in all its smooth and delicious glory.
The band released three singles, and I love them all. “My Weakness” and “Let Me Down Easy” are both rollicking, rocking tracks with strong choruses that you absolutely will be singing later. “All Down Hill From Here” is a little more complex, especially in the guitars, and just is a great opener. They are good representatives of the album.
I want to highlight a few tracks that have really stuck with me, though. “Riptide” is one of them, being as smooth as silk. This song is maybe the softest on the record, but what it lacks in edge it makes up for with beautiful melody, gravy vocals, tender emotions, and an absolutely addictive sound. I can’t stop singing it. “Sunshine” is another favorite, this one sounding like it could have been on Into the Sun, for sure. It has a Western twang to it, and I never realized how well that works with Kevin’s voice. I love it.
Let me mention a couple more. “Nothing Left to Lose” gets the award for the most f-bombs on the record, and has that Motorhead drive and blur to it. I love this song, but definitely won’t play it around the kids. The album closer, “Criminals”, is one of my favorites overall. This track is full of ethereal subtlety, and reminds me of the Happy Pills days. The guitar work and drums are so satisfying on this track; in fact, the second half of the song is entirely instrumental. I love to see Candlebox dive into the deep end like that.
Candlebox are still alive and kicking, with no end in sight. This record is strong and focused, and definitely unrelenting, but somehow also diverse and simply fun to hear. This amount of grit and grime feels so good right now, in a “wiping that grease off your forehead after a long day’s work” sort of way. That is exactly what this album feels like, and I can’t stop listening to it.
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