Vinyl Corner: Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

AlabamaShakesSoundAndColor

  • Artist: The Alabama Shakes
  • Album: Sound & Color (2015)
  • Purchased at: Hastings (St. Joseph, MO) for $26

The Alabama Shakes will never write a better song than “Hold On,” I just want to get that out of the way. “Sound & Color” is their sophomore effort and was a given to pale in comparison to their debut with the monster single on it. This record was nominated for 4 Grammys including Album of the Year, so critically it is hardly a let down. The single “Don’t Wanna Fight” is likely the songs you’ve heard (if any) but many other great tracks lie deeper in the grooves of this release like “Dunes” “Gimme All Your Love” and “Shoegaze.”

This record is different for the Shakes, they sound more technical and experimental and there is one big reason why: Blake Mills. Mills is a guitar mastermind that has a couple solo records and dabbles in producing and contributing to other bands. His unique guitar textures were clearly and influence on this album and it is much better because of it.

There were two versions of this album on vinyl, regular and deluxe. The deluxe edition was 180 gram black vinyl with an etching on side 4 where there is no music. I opted for the regular version on a thinner vinyl (I firmly believe 180 gram vinyl is unnecessary if you take care of your records) and it was pressed on clear with no etching. I love clear vinyl and will take it every time over a thicker record that audiophiles say sound better. As far as new music goes, this one is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: B

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Top 5 St. Joseph Albums of 2015

1 Missouri Homegrown – Stray Dogs of Rock and Roll

Missouri Homegrown - Stray Dogs of Rock N Roll

This is the record Missouri Homegrown was supposed to make. It doesn’t back down and has a swagger all its own. Anthems like “High In Missouri” and “Hey All You Rock and Rollers” harken back to the 70s when rock bands like Homegrown played arenas with droves of dedicated followers singing along. “Stray Dogs” is a game changer for the group as it is a step outside of anything they had previously done. This studio record was done right and shows the talent behind the erratic band that put this music together. This record belongs in a class of its own because it is unique and interesting and the songs are damn good.

 

2 Radkey – Dark Black Makeup

Radkey - Dark Black Makeup

St. Joseph’s boy wonders finally took the big step of putting out a full-length record and it was exactly what they needed. It had hardcore punk edge, “Le Song,” as well as some laid back lounge rockers like “Hunger Pain.” The latter was the more important step to take, they had never really loosened their grip and fans couldn’t help but wonder if they could. “Love Spills” and “Parade It” prove their music is for the masses and can create a career for the three brothers but showing their songs have a little range was the more important thing to prove here, everyone knew they could already write catchy songs.

 

3 The Center State – Close Enough To Miss

The Center State - Close Enough To Miss

This folky record may have come out of left field for many people. This trio came from the church doorsteps to put out a super clean sounding album with pop sensabilities. The bouncy opening track “Every Little Thing” shows this record is more than just good musicicians, they are good songwriters as well. The touches of violin are spilled on songs in all the right places and the singing is quite good. The acoustic strums fill out songs with thought out lyrics and each song contains enough of a unique splash in one way or another to keep them all interesting.

 

4 Matt Coman – Crooked Moon

Matt Coman - Crooked Moon

Matt Coman wins the prize for most underrated album of the year yet again. “Crooked Moon” flew under the radar despite its fine production and healthy mix of americana beside a few rockers. He quenches his thirst for guitar rockers on “Post-Apocalyptic Driving Song” and “Walk Down” but also adventures into songs with all the focus on lyrics like “Ol’ Danny.” The soft touch of “I Just Can’t” is beautifully direct and refreshing while other songs like “Not Talking Anymore” scribe lyrical riddles to sort through, it will make you curious why this isn’t playing on more stereos.

 

5 Dreamgirl – Illuminaughty

DreamgirlIlluminaughty

Dreamgirl’s first EP proves they are one of the most progressive thinking bands in St. Joseph. These 6 songs reek of the coast, far from their home in the Midwest. The electronic sound and sweet harmonies makes the harshness of the Midwest feel more comfortable. “Pretty Sexual” is light and bouncy and “Sweet Thang” could be your new favorite shower song. The record is out of place in the area making it all that much more special among its surroundings. The songs paint a gentle dreamscape where heartbreak is bearable and love always triumphs, all while sounding cooler than cool.

Honorable Mentions: Ryan Lombard – Mercy on the Loud Speaker, Sisters of… – The Serpent, The Angel, The Adversary and Tracy Huffman and the Walking Sticks’ self titled record.

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250 word album review: Under The Big Oak Tree – Local Honey

UnderTheBigOakTreeLocalHoney

Stars4

There are two ways you can listen to Under The Big Oak Tree’s sophomore record “Local Honey.” There is a lion’s share of sweet melodies you can sway to and plenty of hooks to sing along with but there is also a wealth of lyrical depth and references to dig into if that is how you like to listen.

This record is clearly more accessible than their debut, the songs flow in a linear way and if you don’t dig your claws in it is easy for them to pass you by. Tracks like “Stars Songs Faces (after Sandburg)” and “Thread So Thin” work as lullabies and will sooth you into getting lost in the melody.  In contrast “Tracks of the Train (for Walcott)” is a moment of urgency escaping the overall relaxed mood of the record. A faster pace and longing lyrics give it a distinct profile among these 11 songs. If you are a listener that likes to closely examine songs there is much fodder for you here too. You may have noticed some songs have appendixes with different poets attached to them (Larkin, Keats, Sandburg, Pound and Walcott to be precise.) These references are well thought out and specific to each song and writer’s poems, sometimes directly borrowing lines before expanding on them. This knowledge isn’t necessary for the listener but serves as a nice easter egg.

Great musicianship, songwriting and carefully picked guests make this a clean, shining bluegrass album. If you’re a casual listener or over-analyzer of music, chances are you’ll find what you are looking for here.

Key Tracks: “Tracks of the Train (for Walcott)” “Don’t I Know (for Pound)” “Local Honey”

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Best of 2015 by Danny R. Phillips

Top 10 of the Year (in no particular order)

By Danny R. Phillips

When compiling my end of the year lists, much thought and stress come into play. The sheer lack of great albums in 2015 is startling. I heard more mediocre or outright shitty albums this year than I care to recount so their memories will be banished from my data banks as soon as I hit send on this list. Thank God. Here is my top ten of the year along with a few honorable mentions. Here is to 2016 being, I hope, the opposite of the retched compost heap that was 2015.

ClearPlasticMasksBeingThere

Clear Plastic Masks – Being There

Built to Spill – Untethered Moon

Failure – The Heart of a Monster

Vietcong

Vietcong – Vietcong

Death Cab for Cutie – Kintsugi

Beat Happening Look Around (an anthology)

MurderByDeathBigDarkLove

Murder by Death Big Dark Love

Screaming Females – Rose Mountain

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

FooFightersSaintCeciliaEP

Foo Fighters – Saint Cecilia

Honorable Mentions: Sleater-Kinney No Cities to Love, Baroness Purple, Cage the Elephant Tell Me I’m Pretty, Wilco Star Wars, Tame Impala Currents

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Vocals On Top’s Top 10 albums of 2015

This is my super bowl. The top 10 albums of the year for me represent a seemingly endless amount of hours sitting and listening to vinyl, my phone at work, on the computer while writing and CDs in my car. This will be amazingly my 6th year doing my personal top 10 list and I hope I get to do one every year before my hearing gives out. Here are the lists from the last few years if you are interested in further reading:

My list from 2010, headed up by Jason Collett’s Rat-A-Tat-Tat

My list from 2011, headed up by Tom Waits’ Bad As Me

The 2012 list belonged to The Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits 

The 2013 the top of the mountain belonged to Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

The 2014 list belonged to Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

The latest album of the year enshrinement for me is Courtney Barnett’s – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit.

Read and enjoy my list. Also watch for my top 5 concerts coming soon.

Thank you – Clint at VocalsOnTop (vocalsontop at gmail.com)

1.Courtney Barnett’s – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

Courtney Barnett - Sometimes I Just Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit

This Australian fireball decided The Breeders and Nirvana are still cool. She resurrects their sound while adding some wandering tripped out textures in places. This album is simply the universally freshest sound album you will find released in 2015.

Key Track: “Pedestrian At Best”

2. Craig Finn – Faith in the Future

Craig Finn - Faith In The Future

Craig Finn of the Hold Steady released a brilliant solo debut and followed it up with an album just as good. This was undoubtedly my most listened to record of the year. It is groundbreaking and trendsetting like Courtney Barnett but it is a cohesive, great listen all the way through. Craig Finn is one of the finest storytellers making music today.

Key Track: “Christine”

3. Bob Dylan – Bootleg Series 12: The Cutting Edge

Bob Dylan - The Best of The Cutting Edge - The Bootleg Series Volume 12

I know, it’s a reissue so can it really count? Yes is my answer. If I’d never heard this music before it would’ve been #1 without a doubt. Taking into consideration it is demos and bsides takes some of the luster away but this is still a brilliant record. There are great alternate versions here that make this easily worth a long, careful listen.

Key Track: “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”

4. William Elliott Whitmore – Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore - Radium Death

William Elliott Whitmore goes electric for his 6th record. His acoustic guitar and banjo still hold their ground but the flashes of electric guitar just add to Whitmore’s stature. The songs switch between the instruments breaking any monotony as Whitmore really sings about topics outside of his farm for the first time.

Key Track: “Healing To Do”

5. Lucero – All A Man Should Do

Lucero - All A Man Should Do

Lucero comes back with another album with brilliant lyrics. This could essentially a Ben Nichols solo record from the sound of it. The rockers are MIA and replaced with a heavier dose of piano/accordion than ever before. Fortunately the songs don’t suffer from it.

Key Track: “Can’t You Hear Then Howl”

6. Wilco – Star Wars

Wilco - Star Wars

This is easily the best Star Wars released in 2015. As a surprise free release it was a little difficult to digest at first. The clean, refined guitars are more distorted and dirtied up for effect. This creates a different sounding record for the best active band in the world. The fact that it is still a great record comes as no surprise.

Key Track: “Random Name Generator”

7. Ike Reilly – Born On Fire

Ike Reilly - Born On Fire

The most underrated songwriter of the 2000s does it again with “Born On Fire.” His lyrics range from sincere to absurd and fun to devastating all the while his backing band delivers their shot on the mark every time. In a perfect world this album would have littered the radio playlists.

Key Track: “Born On Fire”

8. Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

After releasing “Southeastern” there was nowhere to go but down for Isbell. He did go down but still delivered a very solid album. He moves further into John Prine/Willie Nelson territory and at this point has totally abandoned the Southern rock sound that initially made him famous. As a songwriter he is still clearly top notch.

Key Track: “Speed Trap Town”

9. Missouri Homegrown – Stray Dogs of Rock and Roll

Missouri Homegrown - Stray Dogs of Rock N Roll

The rowdy St. Joseph, Missouri rockers breathe life into Thin Lizzy and the New York Dolls on their first studio record. The work on creating anthems and achieve their goal as a push to gain popularity. Finding ears to listen is always the biggest challenge. This record will probably never fulfill the potential it has.

Key Track: “High In Missouri”

10. The Deslondes – The Deslondes

The Deslondes - self titled

There is way better country music out there than Kenny Chesney and Blake Shelton. The Deslondes capture a classic country sound and indulge in the blues and western swing all in one swipe. Always pointed and patient they put together modern country songs that are far better than what fills the radio airwaves.

Key Track: “Still Someone”

Every Year a few albums just barely miss the cut. This year those albums for Vocals On Top were The Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color, Local H – Hey Killer, Bottle Rockets – South Broadway Athletic Club, The Electric Lungs – Don’t Be Ashamed of the Way You Were Made and Radkey – Dark Black Makeup.

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Classic Concert Review: Scott H. Biram / AJ Gaither at The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO

Scott H Biram with AJ Gaither show poster for the Record Bar in Kansas City, MO on February 5th 2015.

Scott H Biram with AJ Gaither show poster for the Record Bar in Kansas City, MO on February 5th 2015.

The blues and country music aren’t all that far apart. They can be but their roots each run deep in the ground and tangle. Few current acts tie them together as much as Bloodshot Records’ artist Scott H Biram. He is a road warrior in every way, self-dubbed the “dirty one man band from Texas,” he brings his unique loose style to whatever town you are near surprisingly often.

This evening at Kansas City’s The Record Bar he would let the hometown act A.J. Gaither take the stage before him. Gaither, being a one-man-band himself, worked as an appropriate lead in and in response to Biram’s nickname called himself “the smelly old one man band from Missouri.” His country soaked, backwoods songs played on his homemade cigar box guitars ranged from mellow numbers like “Fishing Pole” and “Locust Bayou” to down right rowdy like in “AJ’s Worried Blues.” His overalls, sweat soaked trucker hat and bushy beard are far from an act as he sings about whiskey, women and of course his love of biscuits and gravy.

A.J. Gaither performs live opening up for Scott H. Biram at The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO on 2/5/15.

Scott H Biram sat down after Gaither’s set and glanced at the crowd for the first time looking mundane as he said “Okay, same old shit, different day.” For him it was one of several hundred shows but after about 30 seconds into the first song “Time Flies” he had already summoned the demons and would continue to exercise them for the next two hours straight. He would howl out bluesy numbers like the driving “Graveyard Shift” or the backroom saga “Alcohol Blues” to more classic old-school country tunes like “Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue.” His normal fu Manchu had grown into a full beard for the start of this tour showing his gray hairs taking over. His bar-b-que trucker cap and bar-b-que t-shirt from different restaurants appeared to be a coincidence but told a lot about him all the same. He switched between his five guitars as he tapped and stomped on his pedal board but usually settled on one of his classic hollow body Gibson’s to play.

He never takes himself seriously too seriously on stage as he stays incredibly loose while joking with the crowd, at times being as crude as he could but the audience didn’t seem to mind one bit. He would plug in his Gibson Explorer to take on some of his more nonsense songs and do some shredding, occasionally breaking out his metal voice to adorn them like on “Around The Bend.” He pays homage to blues great Howlin’ Wolf by covering “Back Door Man” only a few songs away from covering three straight songs from the catalog of folk legend Woody Guthrie including “Pastures of Plenty.”

As Biram neared the 2-hour mark of his set he seemed to gain momentum and get more rowdy but the weeknight crowd would begin to thin out because it was so far removed from midnight already. The Record Bar house lights slowly came on and Biram used the bill of his cap to block them out and keep playing, hitting some of his finer moments near the end of his set like “Jack of Diamonds” and “I Want My Mojo Back.” In the end you got the sense if he kept playing the venue might need to cut the power for curfew but Biram was unaffected. His endurance for his shows obviously makes sure no attendees feel cheated by a short set but for Biram it is as he said in the beginning: “same old shit, different day.”

Scott H Biram performs live at The Record Bar in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/5/15.

Scott H Biram performs live at The Record Bar in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/5/15.

 

A.J. Gaither setlist for 2/5/15 at The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO:

  • Fishin’ Pole
  • Old Truck
  • Trainhand
  • Faith or Fate
  • Hillbilly In Space
  • Locust Bayou
  • A.J.’s Worried Blues
  • Biscuits & Gravy
  • Stoned in the Mourning
  • Don’t Wanna Go To Heaven

Scott H Biram setlist for 2/5/15 at The Record Bar in Kansas City, MO:

  • Time Flies
  • Goin’ Home
  • Graveyard Shift
  • Gotta Get To Heaven
  • Slow & Easy
  • Trainwrecker
  • Alcohol Blues
  • Just Another River
  • Back Door Man (Howlin’ Wolf)
  • Something’s Wrong/Lost Forever
  • Pastures of Plenty (Woody Guthrie)
  • Union Maid (Woody Guthrie)
  • We Shall Be Free (Woody Guthrie)
  • Rolling Stone From Texas (Don Wasler)
  • Victory
  • Mean Old Frisco Blues (Junior Mance)
  • Low Down Truck Driver
  • All I Need To Make It Through The Night
  • Hit The Road
  • Whiskey
  • Still Drunk, Still Crazy, Still Blue
  • I Be’s Troubled (Muddy Waters)
  • Jack of Diamonds
  • Around The Bend
  • Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin with improv lyrics)
  • I Want My Mojo Back
  • Thunderbird (ZZ Top)
Scott H Biram performs live at The Record Bar in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/5/15.

Scott H Biram performs live at The Record Bar in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/5/15.

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The Vinyl Corner: The Replacements – Hootenanny

ReplacementsHootenany

  • Artist: The Replacements
  • Album: Hootenanny (1983)
  • Purchased at: Gift from a friend

The Replacements are essential rock and roll. The band started its path of destruction in the 1980s and their influence has been heavily felt since that time. Their no holds barred style influenced many forms of rock, from Green Day to Nirvana to The Strokes and Ryan Adams, The Replacements undoubtedly influenced them all.

Their 7 album career had several legendary albums and songs but 1983’s “Hootenanny” was one of their rawest. The drunken sounding title track is sloppy and loose but still captures a perfect mood. The fearless garage rock of “Color Me Impressed” shows what made the band legendary. The soft touch of “Within Your Reach” shows how great Paul Westerberg’s lyrics were and that the band was masterful at dialing it down as well as turning it up. While this record isn’t their masterpiece, it is an essential piece of the Replacements puzzle.

This record was long out of print and hard to find for many years. This original Twin/Tone pressing is on translucent red vinyl and fetches over $100 online. It was a gift from another music lover who wished to pass it along. It was well taken care of and in impressive condition except where a cat got ahold of the jacket at one point. Sometimes music is at its best when it is shared just because it is so good. This helps the music live on and lets it spread from person to person and even generation to generation. That is the case here, sometimes a book value can be trumped by sentimental value.

Rating: B

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