Author Archives: VocalsOnTop

Album at a glace: Radkey – Dark Black Makeup

Radkey - Dark Black Makeup


Radkey has finally done it. They made the record many (myself included) didn’t know if they could make. Why? Because Radkey had never let off the throttle before. On a 4-song EP you can just balls out rock, but for a full-length record you need a tempo change and Radkey realized this. They have typical punk/metal songs like we all know they do so well like on “Love Spills” and “Parade It” and they may never be more punk again in their career than they are on “Le Song.” The key to the madness? The song “Hunger Pain.” While it is far from the best song on “Dark Black Makeup it achieves “key track” status by being so loungey right in middle of the rocking record. This album is what Radkey has always needed, be proud of our three brothers from St. Joseph, they have done amazing things against huge odds.

Key Track: “Hunger Pain”

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Posted by on October 1, 2015 in Album at a glance


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250 Word Album Review: Tracy Huffman and the Walking Sticks

Tracy Huffman And The Walking Sticks


Tracy Huffman can really write a song, this album proves it. If you know Huffman this record is not much new to you with only 4 are new tracks. The songs do sound different though, they are very loose and relaxed like you’ve never heard him before. It sounds like the band is held together with wing nuts and scotch tape and at any time could crumble to pieces.

This gives songs like “Burned Out” and “Jerry” a fresh feel. The jam at the end of “Jerry” sets it apart from the other five times it has been recorded by Huffman; this doesn’t make it any less of a great song though, each version has it’s charm. Songs about drugs are stupid, there are lots of them and most suck, I’ll say it. Huffman’s “Drugs” is an exception though, it has a relaxed acceptance that is really a microcosm of the record and proves why this group of songs is worth listening to. “Keeping My Head On Straight” is a great example of what Huffman does best; write his own redemption songs. With the strums of the electric guitar accompanied by lyrics that make you wonder if he is talking to himself, a girl, the police or all three, the song has a great endearing quality.

Moments of humor are accompanied by moments of desperation and happy is paired with sad here. The contradictions keep enough tension to make you not want to stop listening.

Key Track: “Drugs” “Keeping My Head On Straight” “Jerry”

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Posted by on September 29, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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250 Word Album Review: Missouri Homegrown – Stray Dogs of Rock N Roll

Missouri Homegrown - Stray Dogs of Rock N Roll


Missouri Homegrown’s first studio album is the most rock and roll album you will ever hear come out of St. Joseph. Sure it follows all rock and roll stereotypes but it is supposed to. It is pompous, snarky and crude and it is all the better for it.

The anthem “High In Missouri” will have you singing along whether you like it or not and “Stray Dogs” is the down tempo swan song that proves this band is better than the rest. “Stray Dogs” is the relaxed tempo breaker that builds from a piano beginning to a rocking end that this proves the legitimacy of Missouri Homegrown. The music on “Baby Mercury” sounds like two cats fighting their way out of a burlap sack while in contrast the lyrics flow perfectly telling an all too familiar tale. The song may not stand out at first listen to the record but in many ways is the jewel here. “Wagon Wheel Motel” captures a mood few bands can, it is desperate and weak all the while being just creepy enough for you to know there is more to the story than the words say. “Another Way To Kick” is a balls out Tom Petty-style rocker and “Hey All You Rock and Rollers” is about as 70s anthem as it gets.

This first studio recording for the band cashes in on all the checks the band has written over the last few years. It is exactly what they promised they could do.

Key Tracks: “Baby Mercury” “Stray Dogs” “High In Missouri”

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Posted by on September 27, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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250 Word Album Review: Lucero – What A Man Should Do

Lucero - All A Man Should Do


Lucero doesn’t rock out too much on their new record. It’s predominantly slow and as piano player Rick Steff steps into the spotlight behind lead singer Ben Nichols, lead guitarist Brian Venable steps back from it. This makes the album slow and reflective, seemingly avoiding the rash decisions that make up much of Lucero’s song catalog. Ben Nichols’ lyrics carry the weight though and this record is still every bit as intriguing as any other release by the band.

On the opening “Baby Don’t You Want Me” Nichols is already pining for a lost love in what can be called a  microcosm of Lucero’s career. “Can’t You Hear Them Howl?” is the most rocking of anything on the record as the howling is done by the horn section. The song echoes the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” in your head with the same kind of strong driving push by the horns. “Went Looking For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles” is one of the best song titles you will hear this year, it is also a very good song. Like most on this record it is a relaxed tune that finds Nichols stealing the spotlight with his great lyrics. On “They Called Her Killer” Nichols weaves a tale of the girl all guys have had that is brutal and you can tell by the vivid lyrics Nichols has a specific girl in mind.

This record isn’t the rocker many people wanted but Lucero still have added to their lofty alt-country legacy. Look for this record and its great album art in my top 10 albums of 2015 list in December.

Key Tracks: “They Called Her Killer” “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” “Went Looking For Warren Zevon’s Los Angeles”

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Posted by on September 22, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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Top 5 Albums: Drive-By Truckers

The Drive-By Truckers have had an interesting career. Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley have been the two-headed monster leading this band the whole time for what it just under two decades now. Behind Hood and Cooley players have come and gone but none more noteworthy than Jason Isbell who’s Truckers career spans a balmy 10 songs in total but had a huge impact still. Three pre-Isbell albums, four Isbell album and 4 post Isbell albums make up this groups expansive 11 album catalog. Here is my opinion on what of those are the best:

Here are the nominees:

  • Gangstabilly (1998)
  • Pizza Deliverance (1999)
  • Southern Rock Opera (2001)
  • Decoration Day (2003)
  • The Dirty South (2004)
  • A Blessing and a Curse (2006)
  • Brighter Than Creation’s Dark (2008)
  • The Fine Print (2009)
  • The Big To-Do (2010)
  • Go-Go Boots (2011)
  • English Oceans (2014)

#1 Album: The Dirty South

Year: 2004

Stand-out tracks: “Lookout Mountain” “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” “Goddamn Lonely Love” “Never Gonna Change”

Drive-By Truckers - The Dirty South

This is where Hood, Cooley and Isbell were operating in perfect sync with one another. With Hood having 6 songs written by him and 4 by Isbell and Cooley each, it is the most evenly distributed album in their catalog. Hood has “Lookout Mountain” and “Tornadoes,” Cooley has “Where The Devil Don’t Stay” and “Cottonseed” and Isbell has “Never Gonna Change” and the brilliant slow burning songs “Danko/Manuel” and “Goddamn Lonely Love.” All three songwriters were on fire and as a whole the album gelled perfectly. Rocking, emotional, slow, fast… this album has it all and always will be DBT’s masterpiece.

#2 Album: Decoration Day

Year: 2003

Stand-out tracks: “Decoration Day” “Outfit” “Marry Me” “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy”

DriveByTruckersDecorationDayJason Isbell’s first album with the band took them to a new level. He contributed 2 of the 15 tracks on the record and one could argue they are the best 2 DBT songs ever. “Decoration Day” is one of the best story songs you will ever hear with the Hatfield/McCoy parrellell and “Outfit” hands down life lessons like a songwriter that is 60 instead of in his early 20s. Hood nails some raw anger on “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy” and “Sink Hole” as well as having a great perspective on “Heathens.” Cooley’s “Marry Me” is filled with endlessly classic one liners like “Rock and Roll means well but can’t help tell young boys lies.” I think The Dirty South is a better record but I’ll never argue with this one being in the top spot either.

#3 Album: Brighter Than Creation’s Dark

Year: 2008

Stand-out tracks: “3 Dimes Down” “A Ghost To Most” “Self Destructive Zones”

Drive-By Truckers - Brighter Than Creation's DarkThe first album after Isbell’s departure from the band was actually pretty damn good. It could have been a disaster after the high expectations left by Decoration Day and The Dirty South but Hood let Cooley write half the songs here and it was a brilliant move. “3 Dimes Down” “A Ghost To Most” “Bob” and “Self Destructive Zones” are all brilliant Cooley contributions. Hood also throws some solid songs in like “The Righteous Path” and “The Man I Shot.” Cooley steals the show here though and saved DBT from being “Isbell’s former band.”

#4 Album: Southern Rock Opera

Year: 2001

Stand-out tracks: “Zip City” “Women Without Whiskey” “Let There Be Rock”

Drive-By Truckers - Southern Rock OperaThis album broke the band on the strength of a brilliantly constructed concept. Their stories of the south were instantly endearing. From the feuding of “Ronnie and Neil” to the name dropping “Let There Be Rock” this album was instantly likable. “Zip City” may be Cooley’s best song and it fits perfect here, “Women Without Whiskey” is yet another brilliant Cooley song that will always identify the band. There are a few holes on this album making is sprawl a little long but when songs are good they are very good, an easy step up from the band’s first two records.

#5 Album: The Fine Print

Year: 2009

Stand-out tracks: “TVA” “Rebels” “Little Pony and the Great Big Horse”

Drive-By Truckers - The Fine PrintHere is my dark horse pick for the top 5. With no clear album that rounds out the top 5 for me I looked at DBT’s b-side collection and decided the songs here warrant some major respect. The cover of Tom Petty’s “Rebels” is great (much better than the Dylan “Like A Rolling Stone” cover) and a version of Warren Zevon’s “Play It All Night Long” sounds like the band could have written it. Cooley’s “Little Pony and the Great Big Horse” is a great little story song written like a children’s lullaby and the Hood’s “The Great Car Dealer War” is fun to follow. Jason Isbell’s “TVA” is brilliant and belongs among Isbell’s best songs he’s ever written. Sure this record is up and down but there are some damn good songs here.

A special thanks to for the idea to do this.

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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Lists, Top 5 Albums...


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250 Word Album Review: Have Gun, Will Travel – Science From An Easy Chair

Have Gun Will Travel - Science From An Easy Chair


Have Gun, Will Travel are no strangers to making music at this point with several albums under their belt. When you are good musicians who can write good songs you need to keep yourself interested in what you are doing. So what do you do? You write a concept album about British explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 1914 imperial trans-Antarctic expedition on its 100th anniversary of course. Maybe it’s not that obvious of a topic and you can’t really pick that up by listening to the music but it does give it a nice tie-together.

The theme gives the songs a certain amount of cohesiveness but it is the very good songwriting that really makes this album worthwhile. “Spirit of Discovery” could be a big radio single if the radio wasn’t filled with studio template garbage. The song is big, catchy and well crafted. It has hooks and doesn’t wear thin on your ears, it is a clear favorite here. The throwback sounds on “True Believers” and others let the country roots of the band bleed through while some, like “True Believers,” morph into all out rockers. The band is able to downshift well too, on “Goodnight Sweet Chariot” the rumble their way through a slow burning track letting the listener focus more on the lyrics. They can even put together a good groove without lyrics on several short intermissions and on the largely instrumental “The Rescue Party” where they find a smooth groove and stick with it. The concept of the record makes it slightly more interesting but the strong songs alone make it worth a listen.

Key Tracks: “Spirit of Discovery” “Good Old Shakespeare” “The Rescue Party”

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Posted by on September 17, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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250 Word Album Review: Joshua Fletcher – Ready, Aim

Joshua Fletcher - Ready, Aim

Joshua Fletcher - Ready, Aim gets 2.5 Stars

Joshua Fletcher is a pure singer songwriter, listening to the tracks on “Ready, Aim” you can clearly tell that they were carefully created quietly with an acoustic guitar. The songs here are given a bigger sound thanks to clean sounding studio backing tracks. This gives the songs enough bounce and variance to maintain the listeners attention.

The songs here deal with love and the good and bad surrounding it. “The Eye and the Storm” is a prime example where we find Fletcher plucking his acoustic strings along to the soundtrack of some memories. Most songs here are best found alongside a glass of wine and some candlelight most likely as they remain sweet and gentle mostly. The harmonica aided “We Are All Alone” has a driving stomp that bucks the tempo with by far the biggest sounding drums on the album. “Oh Midnight” is among the fastest tempo songs here as well with its pulse being a quick, thin sounding drum beat that drives the song. On the song Fletcher bellows like early Ryan Adams as he doesn’t try to hide the obvious comparisons he is sure to get.

The album is slower for most of the tracklist and the better songs seem to have a faster tempo. Fletcher writes solid lyrics and knows how to write a song too, if you are in the mood for something not too abrasive this just might be it.

Key Tracks: “We Are All Alone” “The Eye and the Storm”

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Posted by on September 15, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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