Radio Drive – She Colors My World – Album Review
Yessir, this guy knows exactly what he’s doing.
Radio Drive was created by Kevin Gullickson and started pumping out hot singles, albums, & EPs as far back as 2009, starting with the release of Dream The Impossible and up until now, more recently found on a couple cuts called “A Taste Of Heaven” & “Humanity” which we reviewed here in 2015 to much acclaim. It was clear that Kevin had a vision for the sound & style of Radio Drive that was already dialed-in solidly by the time we caught on to the music he was making. With those previously mentioned singles being the last songs posted up on his official website before the new album we’re checking out today, it’s the longest break he’s taken between releasing music of any kind – should be interesting to check out how this project has continued to develop & evolve with more time & perspective in between recordings. Believe me…or read about it for yourself on his pages out there…the man has likely been every bit as busy as ever in his time away, writing songs, collecting awards, signing endorsement deals, getting his music on new TV shows & soundtracks…you know, the usual for Kevin. It’s all in a day’s work for this talented musician – stoked to check out what he’s cookin’ up on the new Radio Drive record, She Colors My World, let’s do this!
Whether it’s a concept record of sorts or just guided by incredibly sweet intentions – you’re gonna wanna have your toothbrush handy, lest you get yourself a cavity or two just from listening. With the title of the record being She Colors My World, you’ve gotta allow for at least an expected margin of sweetness, but there’s no question that at points Radio Drive is going to test your sugar threshold. That being said, over the course of the nine cuts on the new album, Kevin’s switched up the sound quite a bit along the way…they might essentially all be love songs at their core, but the depth in the ideas & different directions he’s been able to express these thoughts, feelings, & emotions with keeps the record interesting & engaging. Truly a sum-total of his own heroes in music – I’m a big fan of how you can hear Kevin’s influences in the atmosphere of the songs he writes & how he builds on the sounds they started.
The immaculate shimmer & sound of the guitars have Radio Drive coming strong out of the gate on “Horizon” – I loved how this first cut settles in to itself. I’ll fully admit – from the moment that Kevin started to sing the chorus, I was almost taken aback by the level of sweetness in the melody & lyrics, but as it continued, “Horizon” really found a controlled smoothness that completely delivers. I love the lower-tones of his register personally…he’s got a great range that he uses to his advantage in this song & throughout the record, but there’s something about the lower notes that connects in a really honest & humble way. He almost sounds like the dude from The Editors in those moments, but like, not the monotone stuff…the expressive melodic stuff…you get the idea. Amazing use of effects & layers on Kevin’s vocals in this cut, particularly in the latter-half; it’s the subtle differences like this that can take a glittery pop song into a more rewarding experience to listen to that lasts over time. The hooks are run deep from the music to the sound of the vocals…the energy is fresh & uplifting, which is very reflective of the sentiments expressed throughout the lyrics…Kev’s done a great job of matching the ambitions & intentions of the writing to the vibe in the music.
Love the opening to the music on “A New Start” – that’s an immediate draw to the ear. Kevin’s reaching up waaaaaay high on this one on a melody that’s difficult to execute. Overall the song is quite the interesting mix of pop & folk music, tinged with like, almost a traditional Celtic sound within the atmosphere somehow. I think in general, the vocals will catch your attention just based on the fact that Kev switches up his approach from “Horizon” in a dramatically different way on “A New Start” you’ll certainly notice. He’s on-point with his tone and reaches the heights he’s looking to soar to…music is all well-played & performed as tightly as you’d expect from Radio Drive…it’s hard to put my finger on what it is about this song that’s got me more on the fence than sliding as easily into “Horizon” was. I think it comes down to how intensely different the entire vibe is from that first cut – lyrically & thematically, it certainly fits…but musically, it shifts the record quickly in sound, almost into a progressive-folk terrain. Nearly by definition, anything that could even be remotely considered ‘progressive’ is more resistant to the masses…but I think for those that listen intently & thoroughly to the music they listen to, they’ll appreciate how this fits into the album’s storyline & definitely appreciate the exceptional execution. The hooks in the guitars of “A New Start” alone should be enough to retain your attention – Kevin’s done well to lead the way through this song with the bold choice of his vocal approach – but it’s also undeniable just how appealing those instrumental sections surrounding him are to the ears too.
Many a musician & band out there would tell you that writing ‘happy’ is one of the most difficult challenges when it comes to creating a song. Even some of the greatest of the greats have stumbled into sweeter-than-sweet terrain that resulted in questionable moments, despite the innocence behind the intentions. “Sweet Thing” is quite the dedicated ode & love-song when it comes right down to it – it’s the musical equivalent of the entire batch of cotton candy, all the colors in the rainbow, and ALL the fluffiest clouds you can grab on the most perfect of sunshiny days. Or in other words – there’s no attempt to hide the sweetness of “Sweet Thing” – that’s the intention, that’s the model, that’s the design. Sad songs are somehow universally relative…happy songs can end up being quite individual & harder to translate; you know that the subject of this tune definitely means a ton to Kevin – but it’s admittedly infinitely tougher to make this scenario mean as much to us, that make any sense? The verdict is that this one probably pushed the limits of my sugar intake for the day and it’s difficult to say whether or not this will connect with the people out there for that same reason. Radio Drive might have gone right into the sweet-end on this one…but it’s also hard to knock a song with such beautiful intentions. I appreciate what he’s going for here, not my favorite, but not by any means a bad tune.
The sweetness doesn’t stop there – it continues to drip like thick syrup in the lyrics of “Forever I Do” to follow. Another tough one to judge…I dig the R.E.M.-esque vibe that this song has…love the way he’s done the harmonies & melody, love the additional piano towards the end of “Forever I Do” as well. I think lyrically, Radio Drive is beating us over the head with sunshine & rainbows somewhat at this point on the record between “Sweet Thing” and “Forever I Do” coming back-to-back…but I think with the advantage of having an additional minute-plus to work with, the latter tune connects a bit more. Don’t forget – the guy writing these words is just about the biggest R.E.M. fan on the entire planet and they’ve been my number one favorite band for nearly twenty-five years or so at this point…but even I’d be the first to admit they’ve pushed the envelope with their sweetest songs in the past as well. Heck, so would they (see public apology for “Shiny Happy People”) – so again, if we’re examining influences on Radio Drive thoroughly here, we have to acknowledge that this is a tendency that Kev comes by honestly. As much as I might generally think that melancholy or sad songs are the ones that genuinely connect to listeners the most – I also firmly believe that as an artist, wouldn’t you WANT to be on Radio Drive’s side of the fence and swinging for the fences with beautiful intentions as opposed to dwelling in angst or confusion? There’s an overwhelming clarity that exists in the cohesion of the writing throughout this entire record that will lead you to one stunning conclusion: Kevin’s in a great place in life right now. The writing reflects that…songs with as beautiful a sentiment as “Forever I Do” reflect that…it’s clear that he’s inspired, creative, and happy – and whoever his muse may be, is certainly one very lucky person.
“Every Road” is another challenging tune to sing, but I felt like Kevin got to the heart of this song perfectly. Something about the approach to this melody really worked for me…it’s the kind of song that, in a studio situation, would probably come out sounding different vocally each & every time – and somehow, you’d be likely to discover a new part of the magic that sparkles & shines throughout this writing of this tune. More or less – as long as Kevin wasn’t going to produce the honest qualities of his voice out of this song, he was bound to succeed here…the humble nature of the song’s movement required an equally humble performance on the microphone, and that’s exactly what you get. I think the hooks are completely memorable in the chorus – and I think the transition into the bridge around the two-minute mark & subsequent breakdown were freakin’ marvelous to listen to. The verses he’s written into “Every Road” play just as much of a role; the chorus literally & audibly responds to them…the flow of this track is seamless and the vibe is highly inviting, friendly, & comforting to listen to. Plus you got all them shimmery U2-esque guitar sounds…we all love those don’t we? It also feels like “Every Road” leads to a defining mid-point in the record that begins to widen the lens of its perspective – and rather than being so zoomed-in specifically on love & personal experience, the ideas expand into more universal & relatable terrain that allows for a higher degree of interpretation & attachment. It shifts the gears…it widens the scope of the album’s potential…”Every Road” confidently leads the way into a stunning second-half of She Colors My World.
Like, I’m beyond impressed with the Radio Drive cover of “Hey Bulldog” by The Beatles. For you young folks out there, it’s that song you know that you know, but didn’t know it was ALSO something The Beatles came up with…for the rest of you, you’re already familiar with this killer psych-pop groove. The execution on this cut is straight-up audio GOLD – there’s no doubt that you’ve heard a million covers of The Beatles throughout the years, but I can guarantee that making time to add this one to the list is well worth your time. I’d honestly put it right up there with the best of the best as far as covers of that band are concerned – I think Radio Drive absolutely stormed right into the heart & essence of this track and pulled out the very best of what has made it great all along. Really putting that rhythm & groove on display throughout the verse & instrumentation, completely nailing the melody flawless in the chorus and bringing the words to life through a brilliantly inspired performance – this is like the championship team playing on home-court here; you want to stand up and cheer for such an incredible cover like this. The tone on absolutely everything from the drums, to bass, to vocals, to guitars…it’s all supreme…just spectacular & superb to listen to in all its transformative, melodic, & all-out wildly chilled-groove glory. Not saying you don’t hear the connection between Kevin and the music this strongly on some of his original as well – but the way he understands “Hey Bulldog” inside & out is straight-up remarkable.
LISTEN to the roll this guy goes on! “Time To Rise” is freakin’ brilliant! The vibe on this cut is so smooth, chilled, cool, & collected…the professionalism in Kevin and his songwriting/performance/music all shine brightly here as he raises the stakes even further on She Colors My World. Another of the finest examples of his incredible ability to match the atmosphere to the design of the lyrical intentions – the uplifting & empowering sound of “Time To Rise” sincerely connects. If the insanely cool sounds & tones of the guitar didn’t get you, the subtle electro background probably did, or maybe it’s the crisp snap of the drums & smooth bass-lines close behind…maybe it’s everything combined, as it should be! But likely for all those reasons & more – and certainly for the highlight performance from Kev’s vocals – there is SO MUCH to like & love about “Time To Rise.” Another cut where I think the music speaks just as strongly as the words do – the hooks on “Time To Rise” are prevalent everywhere; punctuated perfectly in the chorus, the ambitious & inspiring sound climbs to a monumental peak that completely satisfies the intentions of the writing. This is that connection you’re looking for between the artist & the song – at the most chill moments of “Time To Rise” you can still hear just how much focus Kevin displays & just how into it he is, and when the energy expands and thrives in the chorus, he confidently leads the charge, finding incredible success within the positivity-laden lyricism by giving everything he’s got to this song and really making those words hit home.
Is that…is that the Mac I hear? THE Fleetwood? “Life As It Should Be” sounds like it could nearly fit right on to the Rumours record! Might just be me, but I swear that’s the influence you can hear on Radio Drive throughout the vibe, sound, & spirit of this cut. The longest track on She Colors My World, I think Kev’s done an exceptional job of structuring this song to deliver…there’s strong depths & emotions that run through “Life As It Should Be” that continually pull you in as it plays. Love the way it starts with the piano and breaks into its gentle rhythm…that initial hit of the verse reminded me of the sound of something like “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac. On a composition-level, it really felt like “Life As It Should Be” was an achievement on this album…it’s tight in every corner and played with discernible passion – it might be a slow-burning type of energy, but the payoff & rewards for listening all add up here. The hooks might be chilled, but they’re memorable & strong – the guitar solo just past the three-minute mark is likely the highlight moment of musicianship on the entire record. Radio Drive has proven time & again it’s completely capable of creating a pop/rock song that’ll draw you in through the bold hooks of the writing…just make sure you take some time to recognize the impressive musicianship as well, because it exists all over the place on this album. The solo on “Life As It Should Be” thrusts the guitar more directly into the spotlight than any of the other tunes do…and if anything, the result of that, is simply that you’ll want MORE of that to exist in the music of Radio Drive. Because the skills are there to make it work; even in this solo, you can tell that a player like Kevin could just go out there and slay the axe for days on end if he wanted to, but he shows an organic restraint that meters out the awesomeness more subtly, humbly, and controlled without being too flashy or obviously clamoring for our attention.
Musically and message-wise, I think Radio Drive ends this record on solid ground while lifting you up into one last dreamlike experience in sound. “Waiting” has some of my favorite guitar tones on the album and I love the gentle nature of the beautiful melody you’ll find in this song. It expands & evolves in all the right ways…lyrically, encouraging the unity between us all; and almost ironically, Radio Drive creates a complete sing-along worthy chorus while singing about ‘waiting for the world to sing’ right at the point where we’re all likely holding up our lighters & iphones, right there with him & singing every word. It’s a memorable song, as subtle, gentle, and delicate as it may appear at times…I think the hooks of the chorus on this final cut might very well be some of the strongest you’ll find on any song from this album. Ending the album on a positive light-filled melody that’s designed to inspire you – the cohesively sweet sentiments that have driven this record’s material are right in the spotlight for all to hear on “Waiting” one last time, wrapping up the experience conclusively in a powerfully moving way that’ll make you want to repeat it. She Colors My World celebrates life, love, & music from its beginning to end in a range of colorfully blissful & heartfelt emotions – there’s not a single doubt in my mind that the world could use a large dose of what Radio Drive is all about right now…it’s great to have’em back.
Find out more about Radio Drive through the official website at: http://www.radio-drive.com