Author Archives: VocalsOnTop

Album at a glance: Paul Collins – Feel The Noise

Paul Collins - Feel The Noise

3 Stars

Paul Collins holds steady with a sound he has had for years with his album Feel The Noise. Collins lets his age show just enough in the songs here to not make it seem like he is just trying to recapture past successes. He blasts out mid-tempo punk with a minimalist approach while keeping a very strong pop sensibility to result in a slight rockabilly result. If Johnny Ramone would have joined the Beach Boys it may have sounded like this.

On “Lonely Girl” the call and answer technique is used to break up the grungy song while on “Reach Out I’ll Be There” it is hard not to think of The Clash’s “London Calling” with the first notes of the song. There is a little bit of Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue” in “Baby I’m In Love With You” so it is obvious Collins keeps his influences in the forefront. This album feels like an aging rocker acting his age like you’ll hear in an Ian Hunter or Graham Parker record.

Key Track: “Reach Out I’ll Be There”

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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in Album at a glance


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250 Word Album Review: Centro-matic – Take Pride In Your Long Odds

Centro-matic - Take Pride In Your Long Odds

3.5 Stars

Will Johnson’s lyrics are the key to Centro-matic. Even with this being true the sonics of the band fight this song by song by trying to obscure the lyrics. The four-piece band consistently comes up with interesting textures for each song and Johnson’s vocal delivery is used differently from song to song as well.

The sound is thick and dense most times and that doesn’t create music you are going to fall in love with the first time you hear it. While you could easily label Take Pride In Your Long Odds as not very “accessible” and be completely justified in doing so, this creates positives as well. The songs never wear thin or get boring, the layers of instrumentation stay fresh. The grinding guitars that start out “Academy of Lunkers” always sound sharp in the landscape of the album and the very Neil Young (when he is with Crazy Horse) inspired “Cynthia Glass” struts along with a strong rhythm section. The true take away track here is “Salty Disciple.” The song starts with a strong drumbeat and the guitars kick in to make it one of Centro-matic’s grooviest songs ever.

While Take Pride In Your Long Odds may not measure up to its predecessor Candidate Waltz, it still is yet another strong performance from a criminally underrated band. The fact that the band can still kick out records like this this far into their career is impressive in itself.

Key Tracks: “Salty Disciple” “Cynthia Glass” “Academy of Lunkers”

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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in 250 word album reviews


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Album at a glance: Anie – Lovekill

Anie - Lovekill EP


Anie’s Lovekill EP is an interesting mixture of 4 songs. Starting with the over-the-top pop of “Lovekill” the EP seems immediately like it could be too much to handle. The next song “Honey” is still extremely poppy but does have more interesting textures that the title track. “Only Ever This” sounds like dark indie-pop in the vein of Bon Iver. The final song “Fear of Losing” continues with a strange progressive 70s soft rock tone that can be felt on much of the album. Lovekill can be difficult to grasp and possesses its strengths at its slower and more delicate moments. It is an interesting mix of songs that could eventually lead to something really great but now seems to be trapped in being too elusive and strange to pin down.

Key Track: “Only Ever This”

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Posted by on September 18, 2014 in Album at a glance


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Concert Review: Drive-By Truckers / Lucero in Omaha 9/16/14

Drive-By Truckers and Lucero live at The Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska on 9/16/14.

A heavyweight bill was a can’t miss. With two of the most consistant bands that you will see take the stage pairing together there was no doubt that the Slowdown in Omaha was the place to be for the Drive-By Truckers and Lucero. Alt-country (or whatever you want to call it) has many great bands but these two are without a doubt near the top of the list. Many fans were overlapping of course as the venue filled and the line strung outside of the ticket window when Lucero, who was on first, started playing at 8:00 sharp.

Their 75 minutes on stage was a no nonsense affair led by Ben Nichols raspy vocals and tons of crowd requests. Their set contained the usual suspect; “Nights Like These” “Texas & Tennessee” and their phenominal take on Jawbreaker’s “Kiss The Bottle.” Only a few minor surprises would appear in the 18 song set, among them were “Dangerous Thing” off of their long out of print first album. Some highlights from the tattooed 7-piece group were a rocked up “Chain Link Fence” and a grinding “All Sewn Up” as well as Nichols and keyboard and accordion player Rick Steff taking on “The War” and “Mom” (two of Lucero’s quietest songs) by themselves.

Drive-By Truckers and Lucero live at The Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska on 9/16/14.

Lucero setlist from The Slowdown in Omaha, NE on 9/16/14:

  • The Devil And Maggie Chascarillo
  • On My Way Downtown
  • Nights Like These
  • Kiss The Bottle (Jawbreaker cover)
  • I’ll Just Fall
  • Women & Work
  • It Gets Worse at Night
  • Little Silver Heart
  • Texas & Tennessee
  • Union Pacific Line
  • Chain Link Fence
  • Don’t Go Wasting Lightning
  • The War
  • Mom
  • All Sewn Up
  • Dangerous Thing
  • Tears Don’t Matter Much
  • Fistful of Tears

After a 45 minute gap the headlining Drive-By Truckers took to the stage. Admittingly let down by their latest record English Oceans I was less enthused to see them than I was Lucero. Singers Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley now alternate songs throughout their sets which is great for variance and hearing plenty of Cooley songs (Cooley has written considerably fewer songs than Hood in DBT.) With some expected vocal issues early “The Righteous Path” could have been better and “Pauline Hawkins” seems to be a little longer than it needs to be were what Hood would start with. Cooley would spit fire early with “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” before taking on one of his tracks from English Oceans. Hood and Cooley would then shoot back with two of their oldest songs with Hood’s great “Box of Spiders” and Cooley’s “Uncle Frank.” The set would build as an average DBT set to Hood’s “A World of Hurt” which I consider to be one of the worst songs the band has recorded (but Hood apparently still love it.)

Then something happened, perhaps as a response to the long, drawn-out, boring “World of Hurt” Cooley fired back with his song “Marry Me.” That song has some of the greatest one-liners you’ll hear in a song, ever. Hood would come back with the agnsty “Lookout Mountain” and “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” while Cooley would slip another rocker “Shit Shots Count” in-between. This was possibly the best four song run I’ve ever seen DBT have in nearly 10 times seeing them live. It was an amazing was to go off stage. The encore would start strong with “Birthday Boy” then Hood would pull out “Girls Who Smoke” which might be the best song the band has recorded since Jason Isbell left the band close to 10 years ago. “Girls Who Smoke” was never on an album and is seldom performed making it extra special. A not too disappointing absence of “Let There Be Rock” wouldn’t be bad but another long, drawn-out slow song “Grand Canyon” would end their time on stage at midnight sharp. It wasn’t the greatest way to end a set by a band that restored my faith in them but did represent what the band has become very well with a more adult and calm approach.

Drive-By Truckers and Lucero live at The Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska on 9/16/14.

Drive-By Truckers setlist from The Slowdown in Omaha, NE on 9/16/14:

  • The Righteous Path
  • Where The Devil Don’t Stay
  • Pauline Hawkins
  • Primer Coat
  • Box of Spiders
  • Uncle Frank
  • The Part of Him
  • English Oceans
  • Hangin’ On
  • Space City
  • A World of Hurt
  • Marry Me
  • Lookout Mountain
  • Shit Shots Count
  • Hell No, I Ain’t Happy
  • Happy Birthday
  • Birthday Boy
  • Girls Who Smoke
  • Zip City
  • Grand Canyon

Drive-By Truckers and Lucero live at The Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska on 9/16/14.Drive-By Truckers and Lucero live at The Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska on 9/16/14.Drive-By Truckers and Lucero live at The Slowdown in Omaha, Nebraska on 9/16/14.

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Posted by on September 17, 2014 in Concert Review


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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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