Author Archives: VocalsOnTop

Album at a glance: The Center State – Close Enough To Miss

The Center State - Close Enough To Miss

The Center State’s full-length debut is an upbeat group of acoustic songs where gentle picking is paired with a soft violin and great vocal harmonies. The yearning “Proud Man” is lead singer Jeremy Sharp’s guidebook to life as he expresses his lessons learned in a yielding tone. The title track “Close Enough To Miss” finds McKenzie Davidson leading the vocal charge before giving way to one of the record’s quintessential moments with a choir-style sing-along. The songs play subtle but keep from wearing thin. The contemporary folk stylings here are most closely related to groups like the Milk Carton Kids and even Death Cab for Cutie if you are looking for a more mainstream comparison. The clean production and concrete songwriting will make this album a solid listen every time.

Key Track: “Close Enough To Miss”

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Posted by on March 27, 2015 in Album at a glance


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Album at a glance: Empirics – Odophilia

Empirics - Odophilia

The Empirics is St. Joseph musicians Eddie Miles and Aaron Furst making a mellow metal album in the vein of A Perfect Circle and other bands that know how to ease off the throttle. The 7-minute instrumental opener “Mechanism” sheds the faint hearted from the melodic music that follows. One of the more rigid tracks, “About You” has some Filter style vocals and angry guitars on a mission. The album is moody throughout but always keeps restraint to maintain its melodic themes. The brooding tones still fill the songs with tension. The band is never more angsty than on “Internal” where they proudly earn the parental advisory logo on the album cover. “Odophilia” is a solid debut, putting more concentration on ambiance and mood than being loud, making it more accessible than many hard rock albums.

Key Track: “About You”

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Posted by on March 22, 2015 in Album at a glance


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VOT Cover Story: Zale Bledsoe (Update)

Tuning Fork cover story update - Zale Bledsoe

Zale Bledsoe may be the person most featured in Tuning Fork magazine since our first issue back in July of 2013. This is with good reason as he thrives within the St. Joseph music scene and continues to move toward new goals. He graced the beautifully shot cover for Tuning Fork Magazine in September 2013 for our third issue. The guest photographer was a specialist in skating photography, Mitch Stroup. Mitch captured Zale with his Dsoedean skateboard on the photo as you can see and only Mitch, Zale and I can attest, but he landed the trick.

Bledsoe’s latest endeavors still involve the same things he was doing back then; Dsoedean, skating and his solo project For The Sound. His rock band Dsoedean with bassist Cody Hudson and drummer Bobby Floyd is gearing to record a new album in the coming year and have plans to release their second 7-inch vinyl single on record store day (April 18th.) The 7-inch will feature the songs “Body of Water,” which is available digitally now, with the flip side being the song “Rocketeer.” He has even hinted that there will be a small amount of these that will be available in a limited edition packaging bundle.

For The Sound is also an active project as Bledsoe is in the midst of recording the first full-length release under that moniker. He has recorded numerous EPs using lo-fi recording methods. These recordings were traditionally solo acoustic and many times live in the studio but he is now adding more instrumentation. “It’s a different feeling to put drums, bass, lead guitars and different guitar parts on those songs.” Bledsoe says “It’s given some older stuff a little bit of life and made it more listenable.” In addition to re-recording some old For The Sound songs that have been around for several years, many of them pre-dating Dsoedean, there will be new songs on the album as well making for what Bledsoe helps is an elevated listening experience.

Bledsoe’s other hobbies have gained some major attention recently as well. He is a craftsman and recently started toying with making guitars. He incorporates his past in these as he is making them out of old skateboard decks. This gives the guitars unique color schemes that flow naturally. The intense colors from the decks show through and the guitar bodies that he is crafting make them completely unique sounding. He recently raffled one off for the This Tall Records Christmas show and Austin Marks of the bands Eyelit and Dreamgirl won it. “The response from Austin and from the raffle we did showed me people dig them and as long as I can make them good it is probably something I should get out there.” Bledsoe is currently making four guitars to bring his total number of hand made guitars into double digits and continues to fine-tune them, trying to make each one better than the last. “I’m donating one to the Midwest Music Foundation for a fundraiser for Midcoast Takeover that helps area bands get down to Austin, Texas so they can showcase music from the Kansas City area.” Bledsoe explains, “Then I’m donating one to the Folk Alliance to help them raise money.”

Each of his guitars has a sound and personality of its own along with one of a kind colors. Bledsoe has his favorites among the ones he has made as well, he has one guitar that he uses at live shows now and he is even using it to record the new For The Sound album. The distinct sound of the guitar he hand made is making this record truly be distinct and one of a kind itself.

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Posted by on March 21, 2015 in VOT Editorial


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Album at a glance: Tyler Gregory – Roots Below

Tyler Gregory - Roots Below

Tyler Gregory’s vocal delivery is rough and raw as he belts out colorful stories with his banjo and acoustic guitar. His powerful voice is the key to his backwoods songs. He uses them to contrast quiet music and sometimes no music at all to get his point across like on the nearly a cappela “Day By Day, Night After Night.” For the new album he recycles the older song “Kansas Girl” and rightfully so as it is still one of his strongest works. “Western Colorado (1896)” is a folklore tale of a tommyknocker trapped in a mine that Gregory picked up and was able to add to his illustrious group of stories. It’s a good example of what kind of message he shares on the album, tall tales for any ears that will listen and lots of stomping.

Key Track: “Kansas Girl”

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Posted by on March 18, 2015 in Album at a glance


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Concert Review: The Folk Alliance International music conference 2/21/15

Possessed By Paul James (Konrad Wert) performs live at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.  He performed official showcases as well as private showcases that took place in hotel rooms as shown above.

Possessed By Paul James (Konrad Wert) performs live at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15. He performed official showcases as well as private showcases that took place in hotel rooms as shown above. His performances proved to be one of the biggest highlights of night.

The Folk Alliance International Music Fair and Conference is flat out overwhelming. Split between two major Kansas City hotels (the Westin and the Sheraton) there is more to digest than any one appetite could take in. The lobby is instantly filled with basking musicians at every turn. Each lobby table is covered with an overabundance of promotional material from bands and labels including handbills, links to websites and posters. Some vaguely familiar faces are roaming with an air of importance about them but with the excess of talent centrally located at the conference, it is difficult to tell who it could be.

Solo musicians quietly strum on the loveseats in lobby as each corner potentially has a band playing and hoping to get the attention of some ears. Young bluegrass bands like the dread laden jam band Way Down Wanderers would play in the lobby while an elderly group named The Blue Moon Trio would take a break from their normal nursing home gigs to pluck away on the mezzanine. Further exploration of the halls of the hotel find more bands playing in dark corners and walkways as seminars and exhibits go on in the main rooms. A panel with legendary folk singers such as Tom Paxton and Peggy Seeger talking about their roughly 50 years as performers would happen while people wandered in and out of the room. Other exhibits like media presentations, seminars about booking and running labels would all be happening throughout the day.

After the dinner hour the events shift to official showcases in the large rooms of both hotels. This is where you would find such major named acts as bluegrass trio Red Molly, guitar virtuoso Andy McKee and the impressive harmonies of The Howlin’ Brothers. The western swing of Kansas City’s own Victor & Penny is playing to a packed room around the corner and each subsequent room has the sound of talent blasting out of its doors. It is important to have a schedule at this point but not stick to it. It is always great to know where you want to go but the journey there will ultimately get altered. Walking into a room not knowing what band is playing and hearing the loose, passionate voice of Possessed By Paul James will stop you in your tracks. It will make you cross things off your schedule and bask in what you are seeing. Two doors down the hall the room is so packed people are gathered in hallway tying to get a peek in at Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar who are venting southern gospel soul by way of Canada with people standing, clapping along and dancing.

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar brought some soul to their performances at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar brought some soul to their performances at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

At 10:30 the showcase rooms empty out and a 20-minute line at the elevators forms. The massive crowd is headed up to the 5th, 6th and 7th floors of the hotel for private showcases that will last until 3 and 4 in the morning. Stepping off the elevator is a surreal experience as you are transported into an expensive hotel floor in the guise of a college dorm. Band and room posters are plastered all over the walls leaving little open space to see what color the paint actually is. The halls are lined with instrument cases and people and each poster promotes a band or showcase in a room with times listed. This is the point when the Folk Alliance International conference really takes shape.

As you walk the hallways the open doors reveal a musician or band in nearly every room busting through 30-minute sets as people scramble back and forth among them. The best thing about these shows is that it offers and intimate environment where you can see bands with only about 20 other people. Among these bands are the acts that might have been missed at official showcases like Possessed By Paul James and Victor & Penny. Even if you did see them earlier in the day, you could now see them again if you chose to do so. Samantha Martin & Delta Sugar would also be performing but instead of a packed room of a couple hundred people they would be playing to a small audience because of the fierce competition between rooms. Some up and coming acts would struggle for an audience outside of their friends and fellow musicians while other accomplished acts like Iowa banjo slinger William Elliott Whitmore would (rightfully so) play to a packed small room with people struggling to get in the door.

Overindulgence is necessary in a situation like this. The extremely refined talent on display is awe-inspiring. The downside is there is simply no way to avoid missing something great. This collection of some of the finest folk acts in world really couldn’t disappoint, you just have to soak it in.

William Elliott Whitmore performs live at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

William Elliott Whitmore performs live at a Folk Alliance International Conference private showcase in a hotel room in Kansas City, Missouri on 2/21/15.

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Posted by on March 15, 2015 in Concert Review


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Brutally Frank celebrates 13 years

Brutally Frank is ready to take a look back at their past. For their 13 year anniversary they are self-inducing a hardcore case of nostalgia as they will play songs they haven’t played for years. The band wasn’t always the psychobilly trio that the Midwest has come to know either. While the current lineup has remained in tact for their 13 years, their sound has definitely went through some evolution. “When we first started playing out we were a straight street punk sounding band” bass player Steevo says, “then our guitarist started diving into blues playing and started incorporating it into our sound and he introduced us to psychobilly.”

When they were a more straight-laced punk outfit Steevo played a standard electric bass, contributing to that sound. By the time Brutally Frank finished their first studio record the band’s drummer who is also Steevo’s wife, Mel, had surprised him with a stand-up bass, changing the band’s sound in the process. Now the upright bass is a big part of the group’s image and is a huge portion of defining their sound. “We knew the big psychobilly markets were Texas and California and the first few times we played there we got great responses and we thought we must be doing something right.” Steevo explains. It’s hard to imagine a Brutally Frank show now where guitarist/vocalist Klyntt doesn’t hop up on Steevo’s askew upright bass and shred some rockabilly guitar licks.

Brutally Frank performs live at The Westport Saloon in Kansas City, Missouri on 10/31/14.

Brutally Frank performs live at The Westport Saloon in Kansas City, Missouri on 10/31/14.

This will need to be the case for their 13th anniversary show however because Steevo is digging out his standard electric bass to play those old songs again for one show. The celebration will be on Friday the 13th as well, very appropriate for a band with an album titled “TH1RT3EN” and who is celebrating their 13th anniversary. Beyond that show the better-known version Brutally Frank will return to continue to promote their 2014 album “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things.” This promotion is set to include a small tour to the west coast and playing some prominent festivals.

Their longevity is no surprise; groups that keep the same lineups for the longest amount of time seem to click on a different level. “We probably practice 4 or 5 times a year,” Steevo says “people don’t understand how we have this chemistry that’s always been there. The only time we really get into practicing is when we are writing new material.” With this in mind, taking their brand of punk fused rockabilly on the road isn’t the challenge it would be for some. The band members all have day jobs and moonlight as Brutally Frank, going on small runs out of town on long weekends and whenever they can. This has led to them covering the Midwest near their Joplin, Missouri home more often and building a following in cities like Springfield and Kansas City. Those cities can probably look forward to more psychobilly from Joplin for years to come, maybe even 13 more years.

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Posted by on March 10, 2015 in Coming Soon, Concert Review


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Top 5 Albums: The Old 97’s

The Old 97’s have solidified themselves as Americana staples at this point. Few bands have been so consistent throughout their careers. They have been so consistent in fact that they haven’t had one lineup change in their 10 albums over 20 years. Their albums have been fairly solid as well, all standing the test of time in their own ways. From their twangy early days right up to 2014 where they started cussing like you’d have expected them to 20 years earlier. Their sound hasn’t changed much over that time but their are obviously highlights. Here is a look at what I consider to be their top 5 albums and why:

Here are the nominees:

  • Hitchhike to Rhome (1994)
  • Wreck Your Life (1995)
  • Too Far To Care (1997)
  • Fight Songs (1999)
  • Satellite Rides (2001)
  • Drag It Up (2004)
  • Blame It On Gravity (2008)
  • The Grand Theatre, Vol 1 (2010)
  • The Grand Theatre Vol 2 (2011)
  • Most Messed Up (2014)

#1 Album: Fight Songs

Year: 1999

Stand-out tracks: “Jagged” “Lonely Holiday” “Murder (or a Heart Attack)” “Valentine”

Old 97's - Fight SongsThe Old 97’s used a vaulting point out of “Too Far To Care” and delivered a knockout punch with “Fight Songs.” The record relentlessly delivers, from the grinding opening guitar on the song “Jagged” to bass play Murry Hammond taking the delicate approach to end the record with “Valentine.” It has arguably their biggest crowd pleaser in “Murder (or a Heart Attack)” that deserves it accolades. Even deep cuts like “Busted Afternoon” and “Oppenheimer” deliver with hooky choruses and fresh guitar twang. “Lonely Holiday” delivers some of Rhett Miller’s best lines on record like “Thought so much about suicide / parts of me have already died,” beat that anybody… This record is a nice transition in between the twang of “Too Far To Care” and the more rock direction they would eventually lean toward. As far as “Fight Songs” goes, there are no losers here, it’s solid all the way through.

#2 Album: Satellite Rides

Year: 2001

Stand-out tracks: “Buick City Complex” “Designs On You” “Question” “Up The Devil’s Pay”

Old 97's - Satellite Rideshe Old 97’s don’t think much of this album themselves. I have no idea why. Sure it has one of the “big hits” with “Question” (which is criminally the only song off this record they play many nights) but there is a lot more greatness here. “Buick City Complex” and “Rollerskate Skinny” are pop triumphs and it obvious on songs like “Bird on a Wire” that Rhett Miller was lyrically on top of his game. “Question” is always here to make the ladies swoon with some of Rhett’s most heartthrob moments but it is a crime that this record will always be remembered primarily for that.

#3 Album: Too Far To Care

Year: 1997

Stand-out tracks: “Timebomb” “Four Leaf Clover” “Barrier Reef”

Old 97's - Too Far To CareThis is the big one. It broke the band and most fans will likely say it is their best by far and likely disown this list for having it at #3. It stenches of a record best heard live (in a good way.) The big choruses of “Timebomb” and the sing-along fun of “Barrier Reef” dominate the landscape here. Murry’s signature song (possibly) is here with “W. TX Teardrops” and always assures him time at the mic at Old 97’s shows and this record always gets hit hard at shows (see what I mean about it being best heard live?) “Niteclub” is a personal triumph for Rhett that can be delivered as a rocker but also you can look past the tough musical exterior to see the pain hidden beneath in the lyrics. I think “Fight Songs” is their peak and “Satellite Rides” may hold some sentimental value to me so this is #3 but nobody in their right mind will blame you when you have this one at the top of your list.

#4 Album: Blame It On Gravity

Year: 2008

Stand-out tracks: “Dance With Me” “Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue” “No Baby I”

Old 97's - Blame It On GravityWe get adventurous here. This isn’t your standard banner Old 97’s album and some might have it near the bottom of their list. The truth is that this is a great team effort of songs. While it may not have a song “Murder” “Timebomb” or “Won’t Be Home” that is a huge instantly likable single; it does have a solid 13 songs that are as “pop” as the band ever got. The band wears the sound well with songs like the stompy “Dance With Me” and the disillusioned sounding chorus of “No Baby I.” Once again Murry closes the album out on a strong note with another delicate number. “Color of a Lonely Heart Is Blue” may be slow and meander a bit but that’s exactly what it is supposed to do. It is a great closer for a great album made of solid songs instead of some home runs and a few filler tracks.

#5 Album: The Grand Theatre Volume One

Year: 2010

Stand-out tracks: “Every Night Is Friday Night” “Please Hold On While The Train Is Moving” “Champaign, Illinois”

Old 97's - Grand Theatre Volume OneThe ambitious idea of splitting this group of songs into two parts turned out to be a little one sided. While “Vol 2″ is still a solid album it seems that the band may have cherry picked the list a bit for “Vol 1.” First of all the song “Every Night Is Friday Night (Without You)” may be their best song of the second half of their career. It is a live staple with a huge sing-along chorus and still maintains some good upbeat stomp. They even tap Bob Dylan’s music to re-write “Desolation Row” in “Champaign, Illinois” with new lyrics that shockingly don’t turn out to be sacrilegious toward the original song. They even up the tempo to make the meandering head trip a trumping rocker. “Please Hold On While The Train Is Moving” is anther great moment with a mid song tempo change that will try to convince you it’s an accident every time. The album has several great moments making it well worthy of clinching the #5 spot.

A special thanks to for the idea to do this.

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Posted by on March 2, 2015 in Top 5 Albums...


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