Author Archives: VocalsOnTop

250 Word Album Review: Dismal Swamp Lords EP

Dismal Swamp Lords


The Dismal Swamp Lords could be any bar band. They also could be your favorite bar band just as easily. Their bluesy rock pulls few punches, they just hold steady on their righteous path. They let their southern rock influences bleed into the slide guitar powered blues. They rely on a power trio to trudge through tracks like “Black Crow Blues” with a thick sound with a deep low end.

On the short instrumental “I Married A Marxist” they take the swamp to the beach for a little Ventures inspired number before getting back to the business at hand on “Lucky Charms.” The slide guitar intro to “Lucky Charms” lets it shine more than anywhere else on the record, highlighting the band’s most distinct feature. “The Devil Does The Driving” has a solid strut and plenty of attitude, the  clear and very matter-of-fact vocal delivery pushes all the focus onto the stompy music which is the band’s greatest strength.

The Dismal Swamp Lords are luckily far from dismal, there may not be a ton to set them apart from any solid blues-rock band you hear but there is no reason to think they are any worse either. This EP is a solid listen with good production and a nice clean sound, it should be interesting to see what the power trio could do over the course of an entire album.

Key Tracks: “The Devil Does The Driving” “Lucky Charms”

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Posted by on August 31, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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250 Word Album Review: Pie Eyed Pete – Working Man’s Paradise

Pie Eyed Pete - Working Man's Paradise

3 Stars

Pie Eyed Pete has more twang than you might think at first glance. Sure he has the vocal fire you only get from 800 or so consecutive nights in bars and you can hear a distinct garage rock influence in his voice but he is country at heart. The lead song “Lay Me Down” is adorned with violin setting the tone that this music feels at home a little more in bars with an electric bull than bars where you’ll find mosh pits.

The early punk bands like The Beat can be heard at times like on “She Got Gone (Ghosts)” more so than most (ironically this may be the most country title among this group of songs) but twang is what ties everything together. The brilliantly titled “From A Soaking Skull” has the inebriated swagger that defines country bar-rock with a subject matter to match. The wandering “Everything (Sing Your Favorite Song)” may be the best microcosm of this album, it has a sing-along chorus with the notable whine of a pedal steel guitar that instantly meets the quota for country credibility.  It’s not all “tear in my beer” country though, Pete gets rowdy with “Pot In My Car” where he creates a barroom stomp worthy of the Old 97’s. The frowned upon subject covered finds the band at their loosest, jamming harder than they do for the rest of the record.

Pie Eyed Pete delivers a good bar record with Working Man’s Paradise, he does sad and happy country equally well and ends up with a good Friday night album.

Key Tracks: “Everything (Sing Your Favorite Song)” “From A Soaking Skull”

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Posted by on August 25, 2015 in Uncategorized


The Vinyl Corner – The Louvin Brothers – Tragic Songs of Life

The Louvin Brothers - Tragic Songs of Life

  • Artist: The Louvin Brothers
  • Album: Tragic Songs of Life (1956)
  • Purchased at: Goodwill (St. Joseph, MO) for $2

Ira and Charlie Louvin are classic Grand Ole Opry style county. With a strong gospel upbringing and training, their harmonies fit perfectly with their traditional county sound. Real county music often doesn’t contain the most uplifting tales and The Louvin Brothers don’t beat around the bush with this topic on “Tragic Songs of Life.”

The album is filled with heartbreak, anger and revenge even coming to a brutal end at times. The shockingly bloody “Knoxville Girl” is the brothers’ take on a traditional song that involves dragging a girl by her golden curls and disposing of her body in a river. On the traditional classic “In The Pines” that dates as far back as 1870, the Louvins retell the classic tune in the “longest train I ever saw” version. Generation Xers may be more familiar with the “Where did you sleep last night?” version of the song popularized by Nirvana in the early 1990s. These songs all have dark spins by The Louvin brothers but you may not even notice if you don’t pay attention to the lyrics. The harmonies are beautiful, the mandolin playing and simplistic backing instruments lets you see what the Grand Ol Opry was all about.

This is just one of thousands of country records you see at every used record store. At first glance The Louvin Brothers may look the same as hundreds of other bands you’ll see in the stacks but they are well worth the pull. This is one of the gems but it is disguised amongst stacks and stacks of musty smelling junk. Every once in a while you get lucky and find a good one.

Rating: B

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Posted by on August 18, 2015 in The Vinyl Court


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The Vinyl Corner: Possessed By Paul James – Live at Antone’s

Possessed By Paul James - Live at Antone's LP

  • Artist: Possessed By Paul James
  • Album: Live at Antone’s (2011)
  • Purchased at: From artist at a live show (Kansas City, MO) for free

Possessed By Paul James is in fact the one-man-band Konrad Wert. He plays acoustic guitar, banjo and electric fiddle while singing. He is a school teacher from Texas who has a surprisingly lively moonlighting gig. His energy makes him a distinct act as you can easily see how the “possessed” part of his name comes into play shortly into his live set.

His performances are instantly stunning and it makes sense that the energy he puts into his shows might not relate perfectly to a studio record. This 6 song EP was recorded live to try to capture the “possession.” You get to hear his interesting banter between songs and you can feel the looseness of his set as well. He goes raw on “Feed The Family” and goes to town with his electric fiddle on “Fiddle Jig.” His songs all remain interesting based on his energy level alone. You can feel the crude sound of his blunt stomps that seem raw and dirty; just the way they would live.

He was giving this 10-inch record away to any interested takers at the Folk Alliance International music fair showing his willingness to just want to spread his music. The limited edition record of 500 on black 10-inch vinyl is definitely and interesting slab to have. Numbered records always have an exclusive feel to them; this led largely to the massive scramble that is now record store day. The limited quantity here is more just to focus on getting a vinyl sampler of his live show to fans. While it is still difficult to capture the live magic of Possessed By Paul James on any audio recording, this is likely about as close as you will come.

Rating: B-

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Posted by on August 4, 2015 in The Vinyl Court


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250 Word Album Review: Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free

Jason Isbell - Something More Than Free gets 3.5 Stars

Jason Isbell’s last record “Southeastern” catapulted him into a whole new stratosphere of stardom. He used good songwriting as his main selling point and gladly traded in noisy half full bars for sold out mid sized theaters where the crowd hangs on every word. “Something More Than Free” is released once again as a critic’s darling. He advances even more into his quiet singer/songwriter career and moves further away from the angsty southern rocker he used to be.

24 Frames” has the markings of another strong lead single (if singles even mean anything anymore for an artist like Isbell.) The big chorus and mid-tempo pace make it a clear favorite among this group of songs. Other than “Palmetto Rose” where Isbell gets a little bluesy but still keeps himself well under control there are no rockers here. Most songs are quiet thinkers where you wait for the story to unfold. “Speed Trap Town” is a great example of what he does best, tell stories that are foreign to the listeners life but aren’t all that far fetched from being a reality and that is what Isbell thrives on.

The vinyl once again is a double LP, at 11 songs and 44 minutes I really don’t understand why it needs to be three (or less) songs per side but it is. It makes listening a less enjoyable experience for me, I’d rather have 6 songs on one side and five on the other, I don’t think that the sound quality would suffer all that much from it. This album is still worth seeking out, it is no “Southeastern” but it is still very strong and an appropriate follow-up.

Key Tracks: “24 Frames” “Speed Trap Town”

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Posted by on August 1, 2015 in 250 word album reviews


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The Vinyl Corner: Amy Winehouse – Back To Black

Amy Winehouse - Back To Black US Vinyl cover

  • Artist: Amy Winehouse
  • Album: Back To Black (2006)
  • Purchased at: Hastings (St. Joseph, MO) for $11

Amy Winehouse was far more than a mid 2000s chart sensation. With her sophomore album “Back To Black” in 2006 she was catapulted into stardom with the success of the single “Rehab.” Her stature as a pop star was actually eclipsed by her critical acclaim. With her influences running deep through Erykah Badu back to Etta James and even Billie Holiday she obviously had a good pedigree for her music career.

Unfortunately in 2011 at the all too familiar age of 27 her career was cut short due to drug use. So “Back To Black” suddenly became her last album as well and the irony of her biggest hit “Rehab” now hitting way too close to home. The album is filled out with solid songs however, many better than “Rehab.” There is the jazzy “You Know I’m No Good” that is a solid go-to for women who carry guilt with them. The incredibly delicate “Love Is A Losing Game” is the perfect song for a woman to drink a glass of wine to as they morn an ended relationship as well. The title track falls right in line as late night partying song to sing along to while keeping the tempos mellow and showing off Winehouse’s great vocals as most tracks here do.

This album is a good example of a modern LP that is good to own on vinyl. Soul records just seem to fit better on this medium. Maybe it is all perspective but it is hard to deny that some records seem to have more life when presented with a dragging needle and a few pops. It’s a shame we don’t have more Amy Winehouse records to listen to but this one is still good to hide on the edge of the collection for something a little different.

Rating: B+

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Posted by on July 24, 2015 in The Vinyl Court


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Concert Review: The Coterie at Cafe Acoustic 7/16/15 in St. Joseph, MO

The Coterie live at Cafe Acoustic poster

Volume doesn’t scare those who aren’t faint of heart. Every acoustic singer probably has the urge to plug in and rock every now and then. A great example is The Coterie led by chief singer/songwriter Matthew Coman and the band was a needed outlet for him. Coman is a second generation songwriter with an undeniable talent for putting a song together. He put in his time trying solo acoustic shows without much of a splash, which isn’t uncommon for a guy with a guitar because it’s hard not to be lumped into that “one in a million” category.

So Coman put together The Coterie, this enabled him to rock out on his electric instead of strumming the night away on his acoustic. He recruited heavy hitting drummer Christgen “Binky” Solomon to be a refreshing live drum sound to his shows and Andy Blumer on bass who has a great feel for music that he inherited from his amazingly talented family which includes current Money For Nothin’ frontman Aaron Blumer. Former Grindstone Creek multi-instrumentalist and singer Tanner Ferguson was also added to the fold on keyboards and guitar. This backing band provided Coman the comfort he needed to really bring out songs he had played for years the way he always wanted them to sound. Suddenly he could play songs like “The Host and the Parasite” and the yearning “Fix On You” off his great 2013 album “No Other Animal” the way they should sound.

The Coterie performing live at Cafe Acoustic on 7/16/15. From left: Tanner Ferguson, Matthew Coman, Christgen Solomon and Andy Blumer.

The Coterie performing live at Cafe Acoustic on 7/16/15. From left: Tanner Ferguson, Matthew Coman, Christgen Solomon and Andy Blumer.

The Coterie’s show at Cafe Acoustic on a hot Thursday in July just reaffirmed all of this and much more. The smokey bar will punish your eardrums but is still the finest spot to see live music in town. The Coterie is far from just Coman’s backing band though, they are truly a group effort. Coman can jam out as the excellent guitar player he is and still belts out songs just over the sonic noise in his raspy style that isn’t at the front of his vocal class but still gives him a distinct sound. His true secret weapon is Andy Blumer on bass who is great with backing harmonies to songs and has a very loose bass playing style not unlike his late father Tim from the band Remedy and his uncle Sam most know for playing in Pompous Pilot. Tanner Ferguson and Blumer are even contributing to the songwriting of The Coterie now as well making the band gel even more.

Coman’s ear for country isn’t getting satisfied as much by the group but the alternative rock edge more than makes up for it. Some newer songs like “Love To Call My Own” and a re-worked “Cold Dead Stare” show the direction they are going for their first full album as a band. Their live shows are coming together now and while they may not have the distinctiveness of Cupcake or be riding the wave of a popular trend like The Souveneers they are still a major player in St. Joseph’s music scene.

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Posted by on July 17, 2015 in Concert Review


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