‘Tuned In’ review: Sly Stone Foxes keep ‘Fires’ burning

'Small Fires' by The Stone Foxes

"Small Fires" by The Stone Foxes

The Stone Foxes are insatiable arsonists on their new “Small Fires.”

Produced by Doug Boehm (Drive By Truckers, Dr. Dog), the San Francisco Bay-Area band sparks, rages and smolders through the album’s 10 tracks.

The first and greatest flare-up comes with the gritty blues of opener “Everybody Knows,” a swampfire of a song in which the band brings to mind a forgotten, grimy Mississippi Delta town as vocalist/guitarist Spence Koehler belts through his raggedly soulful delivery, “Everybody knows I’m gonna tear myself apart/You know it’s driving me mad.”

Eventually “Small Fires” spreads from gutbucket blues through Southern-fried, jam and other forms of timeless, classic-sounding rock.

The incendiary “Ulysses Jones” is a grinding juggernaut, the mesmerizing rhythm of the title track conveys a Goth-like feel, and raw closer “Goodnight Moon” is the kind of self-pitying jag that might be expected of weary, down-to-earth musicians (“The nights are oh so cold”).

The band throws gasoline on its instrumental firepower with its personality, as when Koehler becomes helplessly infatuated with a predatory femme fatale on the rabble-rousing “Talk to Louise” and when keyboardist Elliott Peltzman gives a gospel-like tinge to the thrash of “So Much Better,” complementing Koehler’s plaintively offered, inspired visions: “I see a better life/It’s so much better, so much better.”

Tattered arrangements suit the overall atmosphere as the band chugs along ferociously, yet sometimes the loose style gets stuck in the muck and feels incomplete (as on the twangy “Cold Wind”) or barely held together (as on the pounding “Cotto,” where a hodgepodge of jolts and currents course the mix with alternating effectiveness).

But rest assured, “Small Fires” will come blazing out of any temporary ruts.

Rating: 3.5 stars (out of five)

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