Radio Drive – In The Light – Album Review
Always excellent to have this dude’s energy in our day and his music in our speakers – Kevin Gullickson has been rocking our pages here since back in 2015 with the release of a couple singles called “A Taste Of Heaven” and “Humanity,” and more recently back in 2018 with a review of the Radio Drive record She Colors My World. It’s been abundantly apparent from the first time we heard Kevin’s music that he had a genuine gift for the craft…and believe me, we’ve hardly even heard half of what the man is capable of! I’m giving you the facts here – In The Light is actually Radio Drive’s SIXTH full-length record; Kevin’s always been a true man of music and he continually makes sure that his creative muscles are always getting the exercise his skills & passion deserve. Plus, he’s always got something interesting & unique going on that gives each project a different dimension than the last. This time around for In The Light, he’s enlisted the assistance & talents of Italian drummer Matteo Andrigo and Grammy-nominated engineer Bryan David for the ol’ mixin’ & masterin’ – resulting in a set of nine songs on the new album that are sure to keep his momentum surging strong out there in the music-scene. Mind you, I said ‘keep’ – anyone familiar with Kevin’s career as the mastermind of Radio Drive is likely familiar with the fact that the music has found its way to all kinds of television shows, he’s won all kinds of awards for both the songs AND videos, and his tunes have been featured all the way around the globe & back. All this and it’s still fair to argue that he’s just getting started compared to where he’ll end up if he keeps going at the pace he’s set already! It’s inspiring to see an artist continue to thrive in what they love to do over the years…or hear it in this particular case…you get what I mean…I got respect for Radio Drive.
The crispy guitar notes of “First Time” & speedy hi-hats shuffling crank-up the energy on In The Light, and the vocals from Kevin add the spirit & sentiment to go along with it. Hard to argue against the immediate hooks the music displays…the main guitar riff is a huge draw; the chorus also deserves a lot of credit for keeping our attention locked onto this one. It’s an interesting combination overall…almost like something close to The Killers, but with the like…you know those songs from The Cure where Robert Smith was completely overjoyed as opposed to desolately depressed? Something like that. Essentially, what I’m saying is you’ll find a ton of sweetness at the core of “First Time” and the lyricism that Kevin has penned into this tune by Radio Drive…but you’ll find it all presented to ya with a real all-encompassing energy and sing-along style that’s readily accessible to the people out there listening. Though the vocal-sound of Gullickson will make the end results of this song come out much different, you can think of a cut like “First Time” in a similar way to say like…like how something along the lines of a Collective Soul record will have you noticing just how much of a contribution the guitars make to the entire appeal and vibrancy of what we hear. The point is, there are hooks on display right away from the music to the microphone, and “First Time” gives you that welcoming invitation that you’re looking for at the beginning of a record, supplying you with sound that’ll have you sticking with In The Light from there on. Dig the combination at work here…Alt/Rock/Pop/Indie…”First Time” gives you more than enough straight-ahead sound for the masses to latch onto, while also supplying enough identity & uniqueness to stand out in a way the people will remember and/or be able to discern for anything else.
Songs like “Come With Me” end up revealing the depth of knowledge that Kevin’s got when drawing on influences and the music that has carved the path he’s now on today. You can hear the modernization of a classic recipe here…almost like it’s a cut from the golden-fifties era of melody in music, filtered through the amplifiers & ideas we use today…and ultimately, that leads to a sound with a ton of appeal to it. “Come With Me” has a shiny gloss all over it from its sentiment to style, but a sincere one that shows the respect for the roots – it has a flashy, pleasant, and comforting vibe that’s warm & friendly. Dude really plays a killer guitar too…don’t let anyone tell ya different. If they try, have them listen to ANY solo you’ll find on In The Light, or at the very least, get them to listen to how brilliantly smooth the hooks of the riffs on “Come With Me” come out shining – either of these things should silence any doubters out there reallllllllllll quickly. Absolutely wicked tone on the guitars of “Come With Me” – I dig the message, I dig the sentiment, I dig the energy, and I dig the sweetness…but I might be lyin’ to ya by omission if I didn’t mention just how much it’s those guitars of Gullickson’s that pave the way to victory on this second cut. It’s a smorgasbord of sound designed to slip right into your ears without objection – “Come With Me” has that uplifting spirit so often found as a signature staple of Radio Drive’s material, and maximizes the amount of brightness in the vibe & energy in the movement/structure as it plays on.
Dude’s got a way with Pop/Rock and how to combine it successfully. It comes with a few risks in terms of longevity at times, but it’s likely worth the trade. Like if you were to ask me about “Moving On” for example, I’d probably tell ya it’s got the most single-worthy potential of any of the album’s first three tunes, but I’d also be willing to bet there’s a chance it could be one of those cuts that people will spin into oblivion too, know what I mean? Any time we latch onto one particular track from an entire set we, as listeners, threaten how much we’ll spin it in the future by how much we play it in the present – that’s just the nature of how music works…it’s what we do; it makes a song like “Moving On” always welcome in the future, but perhaps less intentionally sought out later on down the road. But we’re here in the right here & now, so I’ll make my comments as such – I think the people out there will really respond to the groove & energy that flows throughout this track for sure. Solid bass-lines pave the way for victory when it comes to this cut…don’t get me wrong, I think Kevin’s done a great job with the hooks here in the chorus & verses of “Moving On” – but if I’m being truthful about the hero of this track, it’s the bass. Especially in the verses…and if anything, as cool & catchy as the pre-chorus/chorus may be – that bass gives the verses of “Moving On” an additional advantage and slickness that slides straight into your ears with ease. Guitar hooks are equally effective, same with the keys…many of these parts added in, take over & replace the others for what supplies the melody, swapping out the instrument but keeping the heart of the song intact as it plays…which gives “Moving On” plenty of movement & dynamics to dig on.
One of the most noticeable & effective transitions in this lineup of songs occurs between “Moving On” and the impact that exiting that tune & entering into “Life” makes…it instantly snaps you to attention. “Life” sounds like a more serious or emotionally-complex moment about to come at you when it first begins…and the weight of the mood & melody in the music immediately makes you turn your head to notice. Almost ironically, or at the very least in surprising contrast, “Life” is likely one of the more joyful & celebratory songs you’re likely to hear this year…or any year for that matter. Love the way this song begins…excellent drums from Matteo, solid pace, fantastic punch in the sound of the way he hits his snare…it’s strong stuff that instantly connects. I also felt like Kevin’s found one of his most exceptional moments in the way he both sings this song and where he fits into the overall mix; you’ll hear him a bit more off in the distances for the verses before coming up close for the energy & impact of the chorus – and there’s no doubt about the purpose of moves like this when you listen to the song in-full. Listen to highlight moments like around the 2:45 mark…the ol’ bridge, if you will – that’s an exceptional part of this song that needs the credit it deserves. Because if there’s anything to actually fault Kevin for, it’s for the complete reliability you’ll find in his music and how it’s always right on the money…sometimes that can make some parts of these tunes on In The Light feel a bit expected as a result – but when he wants to flex that creativity and color outside the lines in ways you’ll notice, he proves he’s more than capable when he moves in different directions than you’d expect, like he does in the bridge of “Life.”
“Take Hold” keeps the depth in the music coming atcha…props to Radio Drive, because you really have to admire just how much pull the sound of what we continually hear throughout In The Light truly has. “Take Hold” does exactly to the listener what the title implies…and it’s another solid example of the insightful lyricism/endearing hopefulness that pumps the heartbeat in this project of Gullickson’s. As many times as I toured through this new record from Radio Drive…and as convinced as I am still that “Moving On” probably has a larger potential audience overall…I also couldn’t help but feel like “Take Hold” contains a justifiable amount of single-worthy sound as well. It’s certainly not too far behind the extreme accessibility of a cut like “Moving On” – but it does come with more tangible weight in the vibe. Maybe not the lead-single, but a single-worthy track all the same, “Take Hold” is probably one of the most inarguably universal cuts on the record that’ll attract the attention of everyone listening. Especially if you’re considering the hopeful inspiration you’ll find in the lyricism, or the way this song shifts to the next-level it deserves from verse to chorus…this is a perfect example of a structure that works to Radio Drive’s advantage, 100%. The verse is remarkably solid to begin with, but listening to the blissful way this tune expands, evolves, and blossoms in the heart of the chorus is what’ll really make the difference for the people out there listening. “Take Hold” is just about one of the most encouraging songs you’ll likely ever come across…it’s the kind of song you want to start each & every one of your days with to remind you of what’s truly important in this lifetime. Definitely one of the strongest cuts in the lineup, “Take Hold” is bound to be a fan favorite for its insightful lyricism & purpose-filled sound.
I do have my moments here & there where I find myself really getting into the music on this album instrumentation-wise…to the point where I sometimes felt like the vocal-melodies didn’t quite reach the same strengths in a few cuts; which isn’t to take away from what Kevin’s accomplished on the mic, so much as to compliment what he’s putting out through the amplifiers. And of course the drums of Andrigo…those have been a complete feature throughout this album by Radio Drive and reveal a steady, precise, hard-hitting style that definitely suits what Kevin has come up with for this new record. “I Have A Voice” was a tougher cut to examine in some ways…but ultimately, it’s a really strong idea with a very clever approach to its execution. For one, you’ll likely notice the fairly threadbare atmosphere of this tune, especially at the beginning, as if to not only say “I Have A Voice,” but also, I’m about to use it, and make it the main aspect of what drives this song. And soon you find yourself quickly appreciating that approach and how it ties together the performance & the themes of the song…you kinda find yourself smiling in approval at just how clever and focused a track like “I Have A Voice” really is. Like I was saying earlier with the bridge on “Life” – it can often be the diversity between the music & the microphone that catches our attention for the differences you can make…and here on “I Have A Voice,” you can hear the opposite end of that theoretical spectrum at work…this is where the vocals more closely mimic the movement of the music as well, and they pretty much stick together in tandem. For some, that works – because the flow becomes quite smooth & natural…in many ways, it makes sense to stick to the script in that sense; people will always latch onto something like this quickly. BUT…if I can just quickly make a counter-argument here…and put the say, final ninety-seconds of this song on display as an example – when you hear the innovation shifting towards more expressive vocals on the mic and the ability to roam more freely in the instrumentation…well…isn’t that where “I Have A Voice” finds its strongest moments? I admit, it’d be hard to make a full song out of just that & that alone – but there’s no doubt about the impact Radio Drive makes in the last minutes of “I Have A Voice” and it’s ending either. I also love the fact that Kevin chose to end this cut with nearly a minute of wild instrumentation…as if to say to us all, “I Have A Voice” – it’s not just the one you hear on the microphone, but in the music as well.
As far as the music-goes, “One Life To Give” has some of the most edgy & gripping moments you’ll hear, but Radio Drive keeps the balance in-check by the ever-present brightness in the sound of Gullickson’s vocals. At the top of the final set of three in the nine songs of the record, you’ll also see that “One Life To Give” nearly clocks-in at six-minutes in length, starting a trend into longer cuts as we head towards the finale of In The Light. Loved the breakdown around the four-minute mark of this song, and the solo afterwards is…hmmm…it could very well be my favorite moment on this track, but maybe even on the record as well as far as the instrumentation goes – Kevin’s on fire and puts in an outstanding performance, lighting-up the frets for more than a minute at the end of “One Life To Give” before it’s all over. Credit where credit is due though…the full length of this tune reveals many aspects of what makes a great cut from Radio Drive for many people listening. Specifically, I think you can definitely hear the strengths in the lyricism of “One Life To Give” – Gullickson paints the picture very clearly through a storytelling style stocked full of imagery and remarkable lines. I also think that it’s a bit less direct than some of the themes & ideas he’s explored by comparison…there’s a bit more of a metaphorical & spiritual level that runs through this song that will allow listeners to interpret this cut internally more-so than many of the others. The ability for people to attach their own meanings to a song like this and make those words of Kevin’s apply to their own lives…well…the value in that is completely limitless; whether they realize it or not at first, these lyrics sink into your mind & make ya think while Radio Drive continues to envelop ya in swirling sound that keeps the music flowing with that right mix of tension & seriousness. Gullickson has a gift with the pen & wields it mightily in his lyrics for “One Life To Give.”
I’m probably always going to be more attached to a heavier emotional cut like “What Went Wrong” as opposed to the more pepped-up vibes in a tune like “Moving On” personally…though I wouldn’t expect everyone to join me in that assessment. If you’re looking for a happier atmosphere, hit up “Moving On” – Radio Drive has already given ya plenty of reasons to celebrate & dance throughout this record; but if you’re looking for something a little more internal, thought-provoking, and evocative…I’d say bet on “What Went Wrong” to hit the mark you’re looking for. It’s certainly arguably a more downtrodden sound on the record compared to many of the tunes in the lineup – but c’mon people, listen to the craft – listen to the structure – listen to the execution – listen to the sheer amount of expression & diversity on display in between parts of this song…you can’t tell me that, even as subtle as it appears, that “What Went Wrong” isn’t one of the most epic moments on this record or one of its most powerful tunes. Because it IS! In my opinion, there’s no mistaking that…I think Kevin’s songwriting and melody is spot-on when it comes to this cut…it’s fully engaging, right from the very beginning…and without hesitation, we plunge right into the depths with him for the long-haul here. At times, that might not be the easiest thing for everyone out there…I’d imagine that at the right (or wrong) moment in life, you could play a track like “What Went Wrong” and burst open into a puddle of your own tears…consider yourselves warned. That third line in the verses is freakin’ genius, every single time I tell ya…listen to the way he sings this song and how he bends that particular part of each verse to pack even more melody into it. There’s no question that “What Went Wrong” isn’t going to be one of the happiest cut you’re going to hear this year…in fact, it can be downright bloody devastating when you listen to the words of this tune – but in terms of songwriting, execution, and message…there’s not a flaw to be found anywhere near this tune. “What Went Wrong” also has another one of the best breakdowns & bring-backs that you’ll hear on In The Light as well…Radio Drive has been saving a lot of the real fireworks, especially in the instrumentation, for the very end of these tunes – this cut gives you a highlight example of why it works.
According to legend & what I can find in my research of Radio Drive, one of the perennial favorites he plays live is a cover of “Under The Milky Way” by The Church – and Kevin’s chosen to end this new record by giving the people exactly what they love. Good call brother! I mean, look…Gullickson’s ability, skill, and talent for what he does is damn near never in dispute…so you KNOW he’s got the chops to bring just about any tune to life in a way that the people will wanna hear it – but it’s moments like this final cut that take you a little further inside to reveal the kind of music out there that excites HIM too. As a result, you end up with a song like “Under The Milky Way” that completely suits the sound & vibe of what Radio Drive creates…especially in the confines & context of this particular album. As in, Kevin’s chosen extremely wisely and insightfully by playing this song at all to begin with. Could he have chosen a more gigantic hit or recognizable tune? Sure – if he wanted to set himself up to be a carbon copy and score a quick hit with the people out there, sure he could have. Choosing tunes like “Under The Milky Way” provide a much better opportunity to expose the greatness of a track that not everyone might know by name, and also still bring a ton of his own personality, style, and sound to the final results. Knowing where you fit & what works best for you is an underestimated superpower when it comes to making music…and it’s in hearing how well “Under The Milky Way” comes out that confirms this. For those of you out there familiar with the original by The Church, you’ll be more than pleased with what you hear in this cover and how it Radio Drive draws out the wonder, beauty, and mystery inherent to the atmosphere of this song – but you’ll also be stoked on the differences that are made along the way too. For those of you out there that aren’t up on the music of The Church or don’t know this tune already – you’re in for a final experience that really fits into the Radio Drive vibe and sounds like a compelling & completely natural inclusion into the catalog. A great move on Kevin’s part to have included this cut…”Under The Milky Way” put a fantastically memorable spin on the end of In The Light.
Make sure to find out more about Radio Drive at the official website here: http://www.radio-drive.com
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