250 Word Local Album Review: Under The Big Oak Tree – Under The Big Oak Tree

Under The Big Oak Tree - Under The Big Oak Tree

On sunny days when the grass is green and a refreshing breeze is always blowing, Under The Big Oak Tree’s debut album might just work as your perfect soundtrack. The positive spin of this gentle bluegrass is as comfortable on the back porch as it would be on the church house steps in front of the whole congregation.

“Farmer’s Son” is drenched in the tradition of country life and how comfortably inescapable it is while “Such A Fine Mess” is an old-timey, less serious look at being unable to choose a suitor. The songs are coated with smooth dobro playing whether it is a slow yet playful romp like “Little Ghost” or a faster paced track like the anxious “Will You Go With Me?” The songs “Black Mountain Rum” and “Under The Big Oak Tree” both overflow with a contentedness that really represents what this band it all about with a laid back, patient approach.

Varying vocals from the different singers make sure that the album doesn’t get monotonous but the styles of the songs are tight enough to keep the album from feeling erratic as some album with multiple vocalists can be. If you’re in the mood to slow down life for a little while, this album may just be the perfect accompaniment.

Key Tracks: “Father’s Son” “Under The Big Oak Tree” “Such A Fine Mess”


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The Vinyl Court: Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White - Lazaretto

  • Artist: Jack White
  • Album: Lazaretto (2014)
  • Purchased at: Third Man Records ( for $20

Jack White is a revolutionary artist in many ways. Obviously his bands have shaped the musical landscape for the past decade and a half but now but he is turning music media on its head as well. With the release of Lazaretto, his sophomore solo album, this year he introduced the world to the ultra LP.

What is the ultra LP? It is basically a vinyl record with a lot of accessories; it’s a toy. Among the features are one side gloss and one side matte finish with one side playing from the inside out. There is also hidden songs on each label in the center of the LP; one at 33 speed and one at 78 speed, making it the first record to ever play at 3 different speeds. The best features of the ultra LP are the etched spinning angel graphic near the label that you can see turning in the light reflecting off of the record as it spins and the alternate intros to one song, which intro you hear (acoustic or electric) depends on where you drop the needle.

What does all of this mean? Not much really, it feels like a gimmick, albeit a good one, that ultimately distracts from the music. The music is solid but nowhere near as monumental as White has been in the past. The gimmicks of the ultra LP will likely outlast the legacy of his songs on Lazaretto and that taints the record a little bit.

Rating: C+


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Posted by on September 7, 2014 in Uncategorized


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Critic vs. Critic #3: Top 5 debut albums


We at Vocals On Top are lucky enough to have contributions from time to time and they are welcomed and very valued. For the third edition of Critic vs. Critic Danny R. Phillips takes on newbie music journalist TJ Spurgin. They pick their top 5 debut albums of all time, here is what they had to say:


Danny R. Phillips’ list:

It seems as though I have been challenged.

My friend TJ Spurgin is a writer new to the music journalist game (check out his work at who reached out to myself and Vocals on Top founder/music journalist supreme Clint Wiederholt with a question: “What are, in your opinion, the top 5 all-time debut albums?” Instantly my mind raced, my music geek heart pounded, I love questions like these; what are perimeters?  What genre?  All possible scenarios flooded into my brain.  After much silence reflection and sleepless nights, here are my top five, all time (with some honorable mentions) debut albums in no particular order.


Big Star  #1 Record- Big Star, hailing from Memphis, Tennessee, is perhaps the greatest band many people have never heard of.  The brazenly titled first album, released in 1972, by Alex Chilton (formerly of The Box Tops), Chris Bell, Jody Stephens and Andy Hummel is power pop perfection.  With “Give Me Another Chance,” “Thirteen,” “Don’t Lie to Me,” and “In the Street” (later performed by Cheap Trick for the theme song to That 70’s Show) “#1 Record” is as close to perfect as a record gets.


Foo Fighters  Foo Fighters- Recorded in his basement alone (he played every instrument on FF except one guitar part provided by Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs for “Exhausted”) as part of the healing process following friend/bandmate Kurt Cobain’s suicide, FF is a fuzz guitar driven masterpiece.  Check out “Alone+Easy Target,” “Good Grief,” Wattershed” and “For All The Cows” for evidence of its superiority.

The Velvet Underground  The Velvet Underground and Nico- Lou Reed and Company’s warning shot to all other bands, VU and Nico was completely different then every other album released in 1967.  Opening with the fragile and beautiful “Sunday Morning” and containing two of the greatest “drug songs” ever put to tape, “Waiting for The Man” and the haunting “Heroin,” the album could very well be the first punk rock record ever recorded.


Elvis Costello  My Aim is True- Released in the phenomenal year of punk (1977) on Stiff Records and produced by Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello’s debut is packed with great, snotty, lyrical gems.  Standouts include “Welcome To The Working Week,” “Mystery Dance,” “Alison” and my personal favorite, “Waiting For The End of The World.”  Who am I kidding? Every song is a standout.

Buddy Holly  The Chirping CricketsPossibly the first great rock n roll record.  Buddy Holly and the Crickets blended country and pop, gave it a bit of an edge and gave the world “Not Fade Away,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Maybe Baby” and “Oh Boy!” songs and a sound that would influence The Everly Brothers, The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Graham Nash, Keith Richards, Elton John and countless others.

Honorable mentions:  The Talking Heads  “Talking Heads ‘77” Wilco “AM”  Joy Division “Unknown Pleasures”  Husker Du  “Land Speed Record”  Guns n Roses  “Appetite for Destruction”  Sugar “Copper Blue”  Oasis “Definitely Maybe”  Metallica “Kill ‘em All”  Ramones “s/t”


TJ Spurgin’s list:


Gilded Palace of Sin by The Flying Burrito Brothers

Led by former Byrds Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, this is one of the most important albums in the spawning of the Alt Country movement.

My Aim is True by Elvis Costello

The grand Scrable master of songwriting, the first in a string of three flawless albums.

Guitars Cadillacs Etc Etc by Dwight Yoakam

Inspired by Gram Parsons as much as Buck Owens, this one brought real country back to Nashville in the 80’s.


Velvet Underground and Nico by Velvet Underground

Sunday Morning has to be one the greatest opening tracks on any album let alone a debut. Ground breaking for it’s subject matter as it was it’s packaging.


Black Sabbath by Black Sabbath

The album that gave birth to metal, with all the required ingredients doom, gloom, loud guitars,thundering drums and of course, Satan.


Honorable Mentions: Van Halen I by Van Halen, Cowboys from Hell by Pantera, Greetings from Asbury Park by Bruce Springsteen, Pearl Snaps by Jason Boland and the Stragglers, #1 Record by Big Star


While this article belongs to Mr. Phillips and Mr. Spurgin, I simply have to at least throw my picks in the ring. No explanations or reason but here they are in no particular order:

Ramones – Ramones

Black Sabbath – Black Sabbath

The Clash – The Clash

Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine

Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Fever To Tell

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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Critic Vs. Critic, Lists


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250 Word Album Review: Conor Oberst – Upside Down Mountain

Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain

Conor Oberst - Upside Down Mountain gets 3.5 Stars

Conor Oberst’s Upside Down Mountain feels like the album he has always been trying to make. Its closest kin in Oberst’s now staggering catalog is 2007’s Cassadega, that album had just the right amount of country influence and found Oberst being honest and at his most whimsical; Upside Down Mountain finds him back in the same place.

The album is front-loaded for the most part with two of the album’s strongest tunes in the two and three holes in the lineup. The quirky pop of “Hundreds of Ways” and the calm strut of “Zigzagging Toward The Light” set high expectations for the record that never quite reaches the height of those two songs again but still remains solid. Some good whiney slide guitar on “Double Life” gives the slow song a needed texture and the raunchy guitar hook on “Kick” makes it stand out from the other tracks as well. Overall, all the songs here seem to have a little distinct kick of their own making the album a good listen. To address the elephant in the room though, the song “You Are Your Mother’s Child” may be one of the worst of Oberst’s career. The insincere sappiness comes off as a reach and there is really nothing interesting about the song.

With the exception of the one hiccup this album is among Oberst’s best. It looks like this is the direction Oberst will head from here, he has been heading down this path for a while and now he seems to have refined this sound well.

Key Tracks: “Zigzaggin Toward The Light” “Hundreds of Ways” “Kick”

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Posted by on September 3, 2014 in 250 word album reviews


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Album at a glance: One Headlight High – Live Free or Don’t

One Headlight High - Live Free Or Don't

One Headlight High – One Headlight High

Pop punk is one of the cleanest sounding genres around. Green Day, Jimmy Eat World and Superchunk created a huge wake of bands inspired by them over the last couple decades and out of rural Missouri comes One Headlight High showing just how deep those bands’ influences have reached. The band rocks hard with heavy hooks and the vocals featured on top of the mix, just like they should be. They punch hard on the rocker “Sexlexia” and slow it down appropriately on “Meanwhile Back In Maryville.” Targeted at the high school and college aged crowd, this well recorded album has big choruses and churning guitar licks that fill the album making it irresistible not to sing along with.

Key Track: “Sexlexia”


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250 Word Local Album Review: Kilmaat – Architect of Human Failure

Kilmaat - The Architect Of Human Failure

Do you know anyone who answers the question “What kind of music do you like?” with “Oh, all kinds”? We all do, and Kilmaat is not for that person. Heavy metal runs deep in the veins of Kilmaat’s first record Architect of Human Failure, being carefully constructed and arranged with a sound so dense that you can physically feel the weight of the songs.

The sludge floods this album as the complex, progressive metal songs are at times like trying to walk through quicksand. Most tracks are relentless like “The Dead Die Alone” but on the song “Architect of Human Failure” the band is seen at their most patient, letting the song unfold like a Pink Floyd composition tuned to the floor. “Scalers of Golden Mountain” is a great example of how the grinding, machine gun guitars give the songs an aggressive added weight. The low, growling vocals will wear on you after several songs because the lyrics are difficult to decipher.   It makes sense that this thick of music wouldn’t make anything easy for the listener though, like on “Redemption Denied” the hammering drums and thumping bass make sure you know there will be no reprieve from the doldrums.

Power chords don’t survive on these songs because Kilmaat’s music is much more intricate than that and the deep, growling vocals may scare some away but will hit right at home with who they need to.

Key Tracks: “Architect of Human Failure” “Scalers of Golden Mountain” “Redemption Denied”


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250 Word Local Album Review: Black The Buffalo – Blood On The Plains

Black The Buffalo - Blood On The Plains

The husband-wife duo in bands is really overdone at this point. For the last few years it seems these kinds of bands were popping up everywhere. Black The Buffalo take a different approach when making their album Blood On The Plains though.

It’s easy to write the “I Love You” song when writing from this dynamic but Black The Buffalo approaches from the opposite perspective. The songs explore the real problems of relationships without wasting time on sugarcoating them. Songs like “A Superstitious Mind’s A Prison” are biting with the lyrics “I go where I’m going to and I do what I please” from the female viewpoint and later the male point-of-view claims “Your love’s an acquired joy” in “A House Safe For Lions.” The upbeat opener “As The Crow Flies” proves to be an addictive, soaring chorus while the venom of “Rattlesnakes & Vultures” make it clear that this record refuses to pull any punches. When the final song “Blood on the Plains” (an endlessly appropriate nod to Bob Dylan’s Blood On The Tracks) comes, things shift gears. The song tunes in with an eerie and ghostly feel with the message that things are definitely not in control while the careful acoustic strums beg to differ.

All this heartbreak is backed with dancing Spanish guitar style picking and minimal backing instruments shifting the focus right where it should be, on the lyrics. The deeply introspective album sounds as personal as anything you will hear and the honesty of it makes the songs hit close to heart, sometimes a little too close for comfort.

Key Tracks: “Blood on the Plains” “A Superstitious Mind’s A Prison” “A House Safe For Lions”


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