Even ‘Stoned & Lonely,’ The Outside Voices still sound like a party

by Kyle Cochrun

For a record titled Stoned & Lonely, the bummer-rock to party-rock ratio is surprisingly balanced. Of course, you can make bummer-rock sound like a party. That’s one of the tricks The Outside Voices, a band from Kent, pull off naturally, as if it’s just what heartland rockers who play loud and sing about heartbreak and heavy boozing innately do.

“Bourbon in Bed” opens the album with a flourish of horns battling it out with some jagged electric guitar over mid-tempo drums. “Funky” isn’t a bad descriptor, but lyrically, this is purebred rock ‘n’ roll. Notable lines include packing “a bottle of Bulleit and a toothbrush” for a road trip (I hope these fellas hire someone to drive the tour bus) and a girlfriend who “don’t like to be wine-and-dined / she likes her bourbon in bed.”

Lead singer John Patrick Halling has the twang and grit of a country troubadour, but there’s also some soul singer in him. This is a record about rambling. On “Devil at the Door,” the narrator prepares to catch a train “back to hell.” On “Leaving You,” a man debates heading out on the road and reluctantly abandoning his lover back home. On “Left Lane Lovers,” Halling realizes that “driving down the same road will never lead me back to you.” “When I Get Home” is about waiting around for the one you love to return, staving off the inevitable letdown. The song also boasts some refreshing female background harmonies.

People come and go throughout the record in a dizzying crisscross that mirrors life on tour in a rock band. Yet despite all the moving and shaking, these characters never seem to get where they want to be. The Outside Voices seem to be commenting on the fruitlessness of constant travel. Instead of making a record about home, they made a record about yearning for a place to settle comfortably, and the futility of finding it.

Maybe this comes from a hectic performance schedule. These guys have some serious touring experience. From March 1 through mid-April, the Kband is setting out on an aggressive hopscotch across the US, playing six straight days in a row, from Topeka, Kansas to Boulder, Colorado.

The album’s title track might be its best. It’s a country number with an intriguing fusion of guitar sounds: chorus-doused strumming underneath the left channel’s twang and the right channel’s fuzz. Halling explains that nothing good happens after 3 am and urges listeners to come “get stoned and lonely” with him, in a tone akin to “let’s go grab some beers and dance a little.”

“Nobody told us anything about the pains of growing old, dying young, losing everything,” he sings, following up the heartbreak with a gentle “oooooh” to let you know he’s got soul, which is a way of saying everything will be all right.

You can catch The Outside Voices on tour at Musica on March 1 or at the Venice Cafe in Kent on April 13. Stoned & Lonely releases March 1.

Kyle Cochrun is a writer from Akron, Ohio and is currently enrolled in the NEOMFA program for creative writing.

Images used with permission from The Outside Voices.