Radio Drive – Before The Day Is Through – Album Review
Our man Kevin Gullickson, the head honcho, the boss man, the talent that leads the way through the music of Radio Drive is back in action this year – running right on schedule more or less! This guy’s always up to something year after year – we’ve reviewed all kinds of his records from 2020’s In The Light, to early singles like “A Taste Of Heaven” & “Humanity,” which trace back on our pages all the way to 2015. We’ve been riding with Radio Drive for a while now it seems – and we’re well familiar with the exceptional quality that Kevin brings to his music, and the endless well of passion he draws from to make the magic happen. He’s had about a year or so of extra time on his hands due to the whole worldwide pandemic thing goin’ on – so there in his lair, along with players he reached out to via Zoom and the internet & all that – he ended up building an entire record, just like that! Well…I’m sure there’s probably at least a little more to it than that – but that’s pretty darn close to how the story goes!
I’m endlessly fascinated by how one strength in a song, by any artist or band, might very well be enough to carry the whole thing at times, or at least compensate for another aspect that might not quite have as much beef to it. Like, I’ll fully admit, I’m not entirely in love with the lyrics that are contained within the opening track “It’s Who I Am” – but if you asked me what I thought of this first cut on Before The Day Is Through, I’d readily tell ya it’s fantastic. As much as I think many of us tend to desire deeper meanings and more personalized insights than what you might find in a cut like “It’s Who I Am” – there’s not a doubt in my mind that between the melody Kevin’s designed and his execution on it all, he’ll have no problem charming people in to listen. Let’s be real here – in the realm of Pop/Rock, it’s not exactly a bad thing to roam into familiar territory for the folks out there to connect to – and sometimes the simplest ingredients end up becoming the most pure. For example, when you’re listening to “It’s Who I Am,” you’ll hear a love-song that has no issues being a love song loud & proud – Radio Drive owns the vibe with confidence, professional precision, and sincere passion – the exact combination you wanna find to make the experience real for us, as listeners. Kevin’s got tons of sparkling personality on the microphone and an energy that immediately draws you in through the sweetness & melody on display – “It’s Who I Am” is undeniably catchy, that’s the facts – whether or not you think the man’s gonna win the Nobel Prize for literature for his lyrics here or not, really almost doesn’t end up being a pivotal factor in how we listen & connect to a song like this at all if I’m being truthful. That ain’t bad either y’all – it’s actually more of a statement on how automatic we respond to a cut like this with such single-worthy sound at its core. It’s pretty much the quintessential Pop/Rock song in action when you break it right down – Radio Drive comes out of the gate with a burst of beautiful energy and sounding 100% radiant.
“In The Now” utilizes the positive spirit that Kevin brings to the direction and upbeat attitude of Radio Drive’s music – it’s been a staple part of the sound for as long as I’ve been listening personally, and he’s been making songs for even longer than I’ve been around. The core message of this cut rings true – it’s essentially what the title promises you it would be, and becomes an audible form of encouragement for one & all to be as present and in the moment as they can possibly be – because the moment is genuinely all we’ve got y’all. No one knows what’s coming for them tomorrow…we carry an illusion of safety & security that’s so much more fragile, delicate, and breakable than we tend to acknowledge – and deep down, I think we all universally understand just how important & crucial it is to live “In The Now.” As per Radio Drive’s penchant for personalizing concepts into love-songs of all kinds, you can recognize how the wisdom of the words in this track could apply to him every bit as much as they do to us as well. Kevin’s been keeping these songs tighter than tight when it comes to the execution – at this point in his career, with this being his seventh solo record, there’s no doubt that the man knows his way around the hooks he writes, and the instrumentation he’s rockin’ with. “In The Now” has an angelic & peaceful quality to it, largely echoed through the spirited backing vocals…it’s a bit Hippie-ish in its messaging, but c’mon y’all…you should be able to readily get behind the kind of sweet sentiment you’ll find in a track like this one. If you can’t, you’re probably just a lil’ on the grumpy side most days anyway, am I right? I’m just guessing of course – and saying that you’d have to be at least a little hard-hearted to not appreciate the positive intentions & unifying ambitions that Radio Drive adds into making its music.
Shout-outs to Matteo Andrigo, who is lending his talents as a drummer all the way from Italy via the internet to assist Kevin throughout this record – he puts a steady beatin’ into all of these songs in the best of ways, and has a highlight to be proud of with his crisp snap of the snare & reliable precision on “Giving The Best.” Overall…I’m of two minds here…I think it’s a much tougher sell than the first two tracks would be to the masses out there, but that’s due to “Giving The Best” being arguably a deeper cut on an emotional level/serious side of sound for the most part. For some, that’s a stronger attribute of music that makes more of a connection – think of this cut as almost the inverse formula of what you experienced on “It’s Who I Am” as the record began…more substantial, and hooks that are still good, but not quite nearly the appealing strengths & upbeat vibes that the opening cut had so naturally in the mix. The when it comes to the way this particular cut sounds…I don’t know – I was never 100% sold on this quite getting the very best out of Radio Drive personally, though I did appreciate that there’s a different approach here. That one main guitar sounded a bit disconnected from the rest of the song until the very end of the chorus I suppose…just a bit too distant or clear in the mix to feel like it’s really rockin’ in that same room as the rest of the instruments are. Of course, we know as musicians that unless you’re hittin’ it all live off the floor, which would be really, really hard for Kevin to pull off on his own – nothing is likely being technically recorded at the same time here. The clarity of the guitar might work for or against him here…honestly I’m not sure how that’ll go down in the court of public opinion, but I think in terms of what’s being played, Radio Drive’s still got a substantial tune that’ll get its share of the attention. He’s got hooks in the vocals, hooks in the music, a fantastic drummer keeping the beat innovative…lots of great aspects in what you’ll hear of “Giving The Best,” just not quite as accessible as you’ll find the first two songs to be – but so what? Every album has its own ebb and flow to it, especially on those initial listening experiences – you might come back to “Giving The Best” a month or two later on down the road and it might very well become your favorite tune on the record, and that’s fine too.
That thickness we wanna hear…that warmth in the recording that pulls everything all together, instantly gets restored on “No Time To Stay” right afterwards. That could be as simple as the bass-lines playing a more starring role, or more low-end in the mix…six or one-half dozen of the other, the mission gets accomplished and that’s really all that matters. To me, the presence you hear in a cut like “No Time To Stay” and its more robust sound would instantly give it an advantage over what’s more of a thin approach to the vibe on “Giving The Best” right beforehand. Plus, you get a killer guitar solo from Kevin here, a brilliant use of effects on the vocals, fuzz in the ol’ amplifiers, and hooks that are clearly more universal – it’s kind of like Strawberry Alarm Clock met The Monkees, chilled out with Steppenwolf, The Dandy Warhols, and Donovan – and yet still sounds 100% like the Radio Drive you love at the same time too. I have…no idea how Kevin goes about ensuring that happens really…but there’s a ton of signature sound and identity in the music he makes, despite how it might remind you of other songs, bands, or artists at times while you listen. People will dig the main hooks he brings to the rhythm of the vocals on this cut for sure…and the real spark of attitude & fun you find combined in the design of this track. Radio Drive is amped-up and just short of its own “Twist & shout” of sorts…you’ll know what I mean when you hear it – it’s just got that same level of defined coolness to the vibe and a bounce to it that will have no problem at all getting a few folks outta their seats to start dancin’ it up like they should be.
I’m gonna put “What You Know” right up there at the top of the list of unsung heroes that make this record a solid experience to listen to from start to finish. In my mind…I’m still thinking the first two cuts on this album are going to make the quickest impression on the people out there – but I’d be willing to bet a song like “What You Know” will prove to have even more staying power over time. Love the tone in the bass-lines of this tune, love the guitars and where they sit in the mix as well…and I really felt like you get one of Kevin’s best on the microphone here; and if it’s NOT that, it’s still one of his most effective hooks. Like…I mean…I get it to a degree…you could very well cite the fact that he borders right on the line of a Liam Gallagher-esque whinin’ in the way he sings the main chorus of “What You Know” – but…like…someone correct me if I’m wrong…Oasis sold a few records somewhere along the lines right? That’s what I thought. The point is – while it might sound like it’s a bit more of a strained tone, Kevin never wavers and sings it with the strength required to know it’s the exact tone he was seeking out – like I said, performance-wise, you gotta love what he puts into this tune. Whether or not it’s everybody’s favorite vocal tone from his repertoire, that might be a different story – but all-in-all, I felt like the ideas and hooks within everything you’ll hear on “What You Know” had no problem standing out for all the right reasons. It’s a really well-written Pop/Rock tune…bulletproof when it comes right down to it; it’s got a bit more of a push/pull energy to its pace that might hold it back off the starting line for those first couple spins in listening ears out there, but I suspect this cut will surprise many folks that are tuning in for Radio Drive’s latest – I think “What You Know” will eventually go on to get its due credit. Tracks like this that are more unassuming end up becoming the backbone of strength at the core of any record…not the immediate standouts always, but the songs that ultimately keep us coming back. Listen to that breakdown on your way into the second minute of this tune and tell me you don’t want a whole lot more of THAT moment will ya? Impossible – it’s amazing! Shout-outs to Martina Mollo, who is also from Italy incidentally – she’s the angelic voice in the backing vocals. The way the instrumentation slides right back into place is seamless…there’s lots to love about the rhythm and cool of “What You Know.”
I think you get a really fantastic highlight out of Kevin’s vocals on “Let My Love Be The Proof” – he’s got big demands on him in going after some pretty big & bold notes in the main hooks of this cut, and I’m proud to report he nailed every second you’ll hear. Another solid cut to begin with that seems to keep on gettin’ better as it plays on – the solos & instrumentation around the 2:50 is one of my favorite spots on this whole record, and once again, hearing Radio Drive snap right back into place as if it didn’t just come from a significantly riotous part of this audible adventure…is really quite something if I’m bein’ honest with ya. Radio Drive seems to be able to stop on a dime when required, and shift the entire direction of sound as needed – hence you end up in songs like “Let My Love Be The Proof” that are as versatile in design as they are reliable for bringing back the parts you love most in that verse/chorus combo you know & love. There’s a range y’all – that’s what I’m saying. “Let My Love Be The Proof” is majorly impressive for the stunning songwriting you’ll hear at work, but even more-so for the perfect amount of emotion put in through Kevin’s vocals to make this whole melody pack real weight & power. The orchestral-esque vibes he adds into this cut were another extremely effective idea in full bloom, the giant depth in the drum sounds, the violins & strings…exquisite stuff when it comes right down to it – I think “Let My Love Be The Proof” is definitely the kind of cut you appreciate more & more as you listen.
Taking on a monumental song for the only cover tune you’ll find on this record, Radio Drive tackles the epic majesty & sweetness to be found in Led Zeppelin’s “Thank You” – and Kevin should be extremely pleased by how this turned out – ya couldn’t ask for more than what you’ll find right here. Not only does he crush it with another sparkling performance, but c’mon now folks – what have you read about Radio Drive so far that would lead you to believe this wasn’t like, the most perfectly suited type of song this band could have chosen to cover? SMART choice – it fits Radio Drive like a glove. In my opinion on cover tunes, this is the approach you wanna take – if you’re real familiar with the song, you’ll notice the subtle changes that Kevin makes when he sings it by just tweaking where the pauses occur & shifting his pace around vocally from the melody you’re familiar with in the original at points throughout the verses, but overall, no matter what he’s doin’ he’s still retaining the essence about what everyone loves about Zep’s version. So yes – a Zeppelin tune, but tweaked just enough for you to feel that Radio Drive vibe come pouring through – and if I’m being REAL honest with ya? Come in close…I might have to whisper this next part…but if I’m being real honest with ya, I might just take Gullickson’s guitar solo as the ultimate highlight to be found here, offering up a piece of instrumentation that easily rivals anything you’d find in the original, if not exceeds its quality for that momentary burst of sonic energy. Love the tone in the bass, love the crispness to the drums & splashes of cymbals…love the extra hook that Radio Drive adds to the very end…this is a perfect pairing and there’s no two ways about it. Hard to outdo the masters of Rock – but I don’t think the pressure’s on Radio Drive to outperform the legendary Led Zeppelin – he needed to hold his own here, and no judgments would have been passed by anyone. The reality is, he’s exceeded any possible expectations and really found a way to bring “Thank You” into this lineup of songs with flawless fluidity & ease…we recognize it & welcome it into our speakers willingly, and while there’s definitely always gonna be that Zeppelin vibe, it’s really Radio Drive that’s shinin’ here.
“The Other Side” brings in Jericho-based multi-instrumentalist/professional violinist Mohammad Jamal Rjoub – and it’d be pretty hard to argue he doesn’t end up stealin’ the whole show on this particular cut. I think a case can be made that the strength of the hooks in the chorus are at least an equal rival for the awesomeness you’ll hear from Rjoub…but it was nearly a close call there for a moment! Obviously you get the best of both in the one song and no one’s really in competition with each other – don’t get caught up in our journalistic narratives & fun we have with our writing – the reality is that these dudes play together really well and complement each other’s instrumentation every step of the way. There’s a possibility that “The Other Side” might run a tad long by end with the repetitions involved, but on the distance to get there, you’ll find stunning depth in the way that Kevin’s put this track together. Plus, that burst into the hooks is like a beam of pure sunshine into the heart of this tune…it’s not that it was too dark before whatsoever – it’s actually really unique and artistic and all kinds of awesome – you just notice that real punch of uplifting sound in the way Kevin sings the chorus in comparison to the weight that the vocals of the verses tend to carry. He was specifically going for a Radio Drive version of something with an eastern tinge to it like The Beatles have done famously in their career, or Led Zeppelin chose to do with “Kashmir” – there are other examples you can point to as well all over the map of music’s history of course, but the point is, mission accomplished there good buddy, this worked out really well. Solid by any measure…the mix of heavy drama and uplifting emotion is a stellar contrast, the performance is as spot-on as ever, Rjoub’s guest appearance is essential…”The Other Side” is a great cut on this album that has Radio Drive shifting into a more hybrid approach, and coming out with a win.
So here’s where I’m at with “You Held Me” – I think this is actually a highly unique cut that Radio Drive gets to add to its growing catalog, and I think there’s a lot of the blueprint for the pathway forward here. I wouldn’t nearly go so far as to say Kevin’s been chained by the confines of Pop/Rock – it’s what he does, he does it well, and clearly he loves doin’ it – but I’d also point out that there have been several twists on this record from say, about “Let My Love Be The Proof” on-forward, that have revealed many new artistic dimensions of depth, growth, and evolution in his songwriting…his ambitions too. I get that there are still a ton of similarities to things Radio Drive has done in the past when it comes to “You Held Me” – but there’s an Alt-edge to this track that like…I mean…is it just me, or can anyone else even hear a band like Primus potentially covering a song like this one here? The added drama & thickened sound around the 2:15 mark is a massive highlight too…all in all, it’s just very noticeable how different this particular cut is from so much of what we have heard from Radio Drive, despite any potential similarities. In my opinion, there’s a lot about this that works brilliantly…and for the most part, that’s directly due to the level of innovation at work in a hybrid song like “You Held Me.” I’ve got my moments here & there with the words…a bit on the rhymey-side of sound for my own taste, or at the very least, he’s using words with noticeable sharp corners like ‘sight’ and ‘fight’ – it’s that kind of stuff that, I think, Kevin’s got a bit more freedom in song that’s designed more creatively & not so purely on the Pop/Rock formula…my advice is to embrace that within his words as well. I very much like the fact that you can hear a more creative stretch at work here…more ambitious, like I said…this is where Kevin’s really starting to put the art into his music, and while I think there’s still a bit of room to smooth out a few details, for the most part, I think he’s got something that illuminates the excitement of his path forward.
If anything, with so much uniqueness in his material throughout the last stretch of many songs on Before The Day Is Through, it almost makes it tougher to go back to “In My Dreams Tonight” at the end of the originals that appear on this new record from Radio Drive. Not that it’s a bad tune – it still fits Kevin’s vibe – heck, it’s more like the Radio Drive we know, as opposed to the inventive tunes he’s put into the middle portion on into the second-half of this album. Sweetness reigns supreme on this light & airy, endearing melody…but you knew that was gonna be the case with a song called “In My Dreams Tonight” now didn’t you? He’s soft-rockin’ here more-so than he’s Pop-Rock’n – you feel me? Real close, if not pretty much bang-on to the Adult Contemporary genre…and I don’t know that I’m willing to let Radio Drive head down that road just yet! Hard to argue against such gentle sound, delicate vibes, and sweet sentiment combined though – so I won’t! I’ll simply say it’s a good tune, which it is, and leave it at that. I like the piano a lot…but truthfully, I find piano very hard to resist…so Kevin kind of had the advantage on me with “In My Dreams Tonight” – it’s a beautifully written tune, executed to its maximum potential.
So…I know I’ve mentioned this several times on these pages of ours, but I really do believe there’s always an inherent risk in including a song twice inside of one record unless things become dramatically different between the two versions. It’s not only telling our eyes “hey look & listen over here, these are the songs you REALLY need to know,” like it’s being typed out in bold for us, but it threatens the longevity of what probably IS a great song nine times outta ten…so be careful there Kevin…no harm in putting out a short remix EP or something along those lines after the main event of a brand-new record has come out. As I also always point out right afterwards – I fully understand the temptation – and heck, while I’m in the mode of checking out a new album for those first several spins, it’s even easier to empathize with, because that potential wear & tear hasn’t set in yet. And then of course, there ARE exceptions too, where a song is literally THAT good, that sometimes no matter how many times you hear it, whether it changes a bunch or not, it’s still completely welcome. For me, having “Let My Love Be The Proof” come back, with an even more minimal design…I mean…this wasn’t just a homerun, this was knocking it right outta the park when it comes back around in reprise form at the end of Before The Day Is Through. This is Radio Drive at its most captivating, straight up – I listen to “Let My Love Be The Proof (Reprise)” and I’m taken aback by how much Kevin’s been able to make a great song even greater. The minimalist approach is immaculate perfection here…the additional distance in the vocals, amazing – Kevin’s presence at his boldest & most vibrant – awesome…this secondary version of “Let My Love Be The Proof” proves that he didn’t just have an incredible song here, he’s got the verifiable magic of music itself soaring sweetly through the atmosphere of this exquisitely compelling reprise – I’d honestly be hard pressed to name a Radio Drive tune from any record, including this one, that I think I enjoy more. Let’s be real clear here – this song is 100% award-worthy…for the writing, for the performance, for the instrumentation found on this reprise variation…it’s genuinely spellbinding, and equally heartwarming.
“You Held Me” as a reprise…still a unique tune in the Radio Drive catalog, but a much closer example of a song that might not need the extra attention or treatment as much. The few issues for me came along with the lyricism, and I liked the boldness of the chorus as it came beaming through on the original – with the words unchanged and the energy pulled out of the main hooks of this tune, it became a bit tougher to love this version as much as I did in its original form. Fantastic instrumentation being used though, and you’ll get no arguments from me on that – I think this again, speaks volumes on behalf of Kevin finding his way outside of his regular comfort zone and expanding his creative potential for the future to follow. So I’m all for that – I think that’s super important. Does it warrant a second version of “You Held Me” though? Maybe or maybe not…I’m not really here to judge all that – I think it’s certainly something to consider, but it’s all up to Kevin, this is his boat, his bus, he’s drivin’ it. “You Held Me” is a good cut that feels like it’s still in search of that path to become a great one – but I don’t think we really need much more from it other than what it actually signifies in the music of Radio Drive overall – it’s like a preview of the potential creativity & more artistically-inclined future of Gullickson’s band coming soon. As far as “In My Dreams Tonight” goes, that’s the cut that had the least amount of space to scale back on in a reprise situation…and for the most part, I’d imagine that unless you happen to be listening to both cuts one after the other, most would probably be inclined to assume they’re likely checking out the same tune. In its reprise form, you actually get the opposite approach, there’s actually a bit more involved in the mix on this version, giving it a little more thickness to the delicate melody, but I’m always here to be real with ya…we’re not too far removed from the original. On a great cut like how I felt about “Let My Love Be The Proof,” with more tangible changes to the reprise, right on – please sir can I have some more. On a cut that’s pretty decent like “You Held Me,” sure, I’ll take another round…and I suppose I felt the same enough about “In My Dreams Tonight” as a reprise as well in this second appearance…good tunes…probably not the ones I would have chosen personally to be on the record twice, but we all hear different things in the music we listen to, and that my friends, is what makes our world here keep on a-turnin.’ Bottom line is, Kevin and Radio Drive are sounding stellar on this seventh record in his solo career…he’s got some outright amazing tunes on this album, and the quality overall on the production (shout-out to Brendan Dekora for a fantastic job at the helm of the studio boards) and in the performances, never drops even the slightest degree. Kevin puts his heart into what he does in making the music of Radio Drive, and he should be rightly commended for the sensational job he’s done overall – you always wanna root for this guy, and it’s awesome to hear him thriving solidly once again.
Find out more about Radio Drive from the official website at: https://radiodrive.net
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