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Critic vs. Critic #1: Best Five Underappreciated Nirvana Songs

This will be the first installment of Critic vs. Critic here at Vocals On Top. The premise is to take one topic and have two music guys come up with their own lists blindly and debate the topic. It will be interesting to see the similarities and contrasts of the lists. One critic will be myself, Clint Wiederholt (Vocals On Top, Tuning Fork Magazine, The Clamcast) and the other will be Danny R. Phillips (Blurt Magazine, Missouri Life, VOT, Popshifter etc.) Mr. Phillips contributions to this site and to me personally as a writer can not be understated so it is great to start what will hopefully be a recurring project with him.

So in our carefully unplanned sort of way we decided to start with a band that is vastly important in both of our musical interests: Nirvana. We had no limits on the topic as we simply decided to do the best five underappreciated Nirvana songs.

The cover art of Nirvana's vault clearing box set With Lights Out that contains many of the song picked on these lists.

The cover art of Nirvana’s vault clearing box set With Lights Out that contains many of the song picked on these lists.


 

Danny R. Phillips

Yes, I know that a vast majority of alternative rock fans of a certain age group love “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  I get it.  It is the theme song of a generation, my generation. When Nevermind firebombed the Billboard Hot 100, I was 16, angry; the perfect age for rebellion, the rebellion that Nirvana represented was there to take me over.  It resonated with me, I claimed every chord, scream and mumbled lyric as my own.

However, it was not “Teen Spirit” that won me over, the honor of blowing my mind first goes to “Breed.”  I have never been a singles guy, I’m a digger, always looking deeper, past the songs that I’m told to like either by the chart position or “cool” factor.  When Vocals on Top head honcho Clint Wiederholt asked me to do a Critic vs Critic(an article series I hope will continue) around Nirvana’s unsung, underappreciated songs to commemorate the two decades gone of Kurt Cobain and the induction of his band into The Rock n Roll Hall of Fame  I was excited.  I was pleased, worried and honored that he asked me to put words to paper.

Therefore, here are the top five underappreciated song of 2014 Rock n Roll Hall of Fame inductees Nirvana in no particular order.

Oh the Guilt - (available on With Lights Out box set)

Originally released as a split single of “Puss” on Touch and Go Record with The Jesus Lizard (The Jesus Lizard featured David Yow, former lead man of Cobain favorite Scratch Acid), “Oh the Guilt” is a sludgy, skull pounding masterwork.  Krist Novoselic’s growling bass and Dave Grohl’s pounding drums push Kurt’s screams and brutalizing of his amp to a new level.

Spank Thru - (available on Bleach and Subpop 200)

This is Nirvana’s biggest shot at blatant hero worship. Included in the exceptional compilation Subpop 200, “Spank Thru,” an ode to the joys of self-pleasure, is the most Meat Puppets sounding song not written by the Brothers Meat.  It’s as cowpunk as they come.  If you want live, go with the one included in “From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah” or the bootleg recorded at Duffy’s Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska called “Stiff Drinks.”

I Hate Myself and Want to Die - (available on The Beavis and Butt-head Experience soundtrack and With Lights Out box set)

The original title of the band’s final studio album In Utero, it is the most honest title of any of the Nirvana songs.  It is Cobain making fun of himself (I think) and hating his new station in the rock strata. “Runny nose and running joke,” and “one more quirky clichéd phrase” are but two lines of Cobain looking at what he’d become in the mirror and not liking what he saw.

The Beavis and Butt-head Experience soundtrack contains the only Nirvana song to make both lists here with "I Hate Myself And I Want To Die."

The Beavis and Butt-head Experience soundtrack contains the only Nirvana song to make both lists here with “I Hate Myself And I Want To Die.”

Token Eastern Song - (available on With Lights Out box set)

Another winner never to find a home on a record.  “Token Eastern Song” or “Born in a Junkyard” possesses one of Novoselic’s coolest, grooviest basslines and the lyrics “I’m not gonna make you scream / suicide is something mean” and “keep it in your gut” references to his mental state and physiology are subjects Kurt revisits over and over throughout his tragically too short career that no one seemed to hear.

Mr. Moustache - (available on Bleach)

A song from their debut Bleach, “Mr. Moustache” is a guitar line drenched in fuzz, showing the great level of influence The Melvins’ Buzz Osborne had on Cobain as a guitarist. A hybrid speed/sludge track that the jock rednecks that beat and terrorized Kurt in his hometown of Aberdeen, Washington would never listen to and never figure out its making fun of them.

There you have it kids, my picks for the unsung heroes in the Nirvana canon.  In an age when Lorde, Luke Bryan and Taylor Swift dominate the music world, it is nice to know there is a Nirvana for those that hunger for something different to search out; I’m just sad that I will never have the pleasure of hearing it for the first time ever again.

Honorable mentions (Best Covers by Nirvana)

“Return of the Rat,”(The Wipers) “Here She Comes Now,”(The Velvet Underground)“The Money Will Roll Right In” (any song that says “I’ll get to fuck Brooke Shields” is a winner) (Fang), “White Lace and Strange” (Thunder and Roses) “Plateau/Oh Me/Lake of Fire” (The Meat Puppets) “Love Buzz” (Shocking Blue)


Clint Wiederholt:

Nirvana will always be important to me as a music fan. There was a time when their music was valued above all others in my life. That time has since faded away much the way grunge did in general. Still I believe Kurt Cobain to be a brilliant songwriter and Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic to be perfect partners in crime for him. I do want to mention that I believe no Nirvana song to be underappreciated, I mean, how could it be? Their relentless fanbase knows every song title in their songbook and have exposed nearly every track that possibly could see the light of day. Still, here is my take at the Top 5 “Underappreciated” Nirvana songs.

Hairspray Queen - (available on Incesticide)

Getting into Nirvana after Cobain had already cowardly taken his own life, I was exposed to all of their music at once. “Hairspray Queen” off of the b-sides cd Incesticide was one of the first songs to ever grab me by the band and tell me they were capable of things that I had never heard before. The insane vocal performance by Cobain is simply brilliant. Novoselic’s bass line on the song gives it the melody that Cobain’s vocals try to destroy.

Curmudgeon – (avilable on Lithium single, With Lights Out box set)

“Curmudgeon” is another song with some creative vocal work by Cobain. It was special to me because it was on the Lithium cd single (on top of being a kick ass song of course) I loved the cover of that cd single and it was important because that is where you got the lyrics to the Nevermind album. At that point in my life I also loved songs that had one of those naughty words in it (spoiler alert: Kurt says “shit” a lot in the song.) Since that time I have evolved into the opinion that using those words is often cheap and gimmicky. Still, “Curmudgeon” stands the test of time for me.

I Hate Myself and Want to Die - (available on The Beavis and Butt-head Experience soundtrack and With Lights Out box set)

One of the absolute most unfortunately titled songs in the history of rock. While the title of the song may well have defined Kurt, it is still stupid to saddle a good song with such an awful title. The song has a classic grinding Nirvana riff and Grohl crashing symbols in a way it seems only he can. The riff remains key for the song, it echoes in my head long after I’ve moved onto a different track.

The No Alternative compilation contained several great artists from the early 90s including Nirvana even though your won't find their name on it anywhere; "Verse Chorus Verse" is a hidden song on the album.

The No Alternative compilation contained several great artists from the early 90s including Nirvana even though your won’t find their name on it anywhere; “Verse Chorus Verse” is a hidden song on the album.

Verse Chorus Verse aka Sappy (available on No Alternative and With Lights Out box set)

This is an interesting one, it was a hidden track on one of the most important compilations of the 90s, No Alternative and at a time when the world couldn’t be more hungry for a fresh Nirvana song. Cobain’s buzzing guitar and Grohl’s huge sounding drums make this song a keeper. It is also catchy and could have easily fit on either In Utero or Nevermind. It is an outtake from the Nevermind sessions.

Talk To Me (available on nothing, a youtube video is the best you can get and if you bootleg: Outcesticide: In Memory of Kurt Cobain)

This song represents how fans always want more out of Nirvana’s vaults. It is only available on youtube or the famous Outcesticide bootlegs. Their is no denying that the song is pretty awesome by the rough versions that exist. The best version is from 1991 though, what does this mean? Nirvana had a lot of studio time after this, is it possible a studio version exists buried deep in the vaults, who knows? We can all hope so though.


 

Thanks to Danny R. Phillips for his contributions as always. Feel free to submit your underappreciated Nirvana songs so Danny and I can make fun of you.

 

 
 

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Concert Review: William Elliott Whitmore at The Waiting Room, Omaha, Nebraska 4/12/14

The reason William Elliott Whitmore’s music is so endearing is because it is so honest and humbled. There are no launched comparisons or metaphors that are too difficult to wade through, just straight up, blue collar life. It is a very midwest sound with songs about farming and hardships and a steady amount of fanfare is given to him when he plays shows in the area. The Waiting Room in Omaha was no exception, it wouldn’t sell out but he would still draw a very strong crowd for just a man and a guitar.

He would have a very appropriate opening act this time around in troubadour Austin Lucas. Like Whitmore, Lucas’ arms are covered in tattoos and he just plays solo acoustic for his stage show. It quickly became apparent that he takes a far less serious approach to his concerts than his songs would indicate by constantly cracking jokes. His country twang can be overpowering at times as he delivers his lyrics in a little bit unorthodox manner. He would manage to win over Whitmore’s crowd as the opening act with solid songs and poking fun at himself, at one point after a guitar solo saying “I could’ve done that a lot better, I just thought I’d let you know.” As his stage time dwindled he would get to the serious “Somebody Loves You” to grab attention and immediately best it with “Alone In Memphis” off his new record Stay Reckless that would prove to be a clear highlight. The set would be short but a perfect primer on the night and it is always great to see an opening act that actually fits the bill.

Austin Lucas opens for WIlliam Elliott Whitmore at The Waiting Room in Omaha, Nebraska on 4/12/14.

Austin Lucas opens for WIlliam Elliott Whitmore at The Waiting Room in Omaha, Nebraska on 4/12/14.

Whitmore would come out and set his own instruments up on stage, which was just a banjo, guitar and kick drum. He would ask if he could start playing as opposed to going off stage, showing that pageantry was something he clearly wasn’t interested in. He would have no setlist and seemingly no plan, he would close his eyes between each song and start to pick or strum, improvising his setlist for the whole night on the spot. He’d start with the banjo on “Lift My Jug” and “One Man’s Shame” but he wield his acoustic guitar for the vast majority of the songs. He took requests all night informally and would work them in where he thought they made sense. He struggled with a request for “Porchlight” for about half the set as he repeatedly referenced how difficult it was to get in the right head space to sing a song. “I just don’t know if I feel like going back to that place” he would say as he asked for patience for him to play it.

He would bounce back and forth between slow songs and fast tempo tunes powered by his kick drum. Songs like “Johnny Law” and “Don’t Need It” would juice the crowd up and make them frantic before he would bring them back down with a heavy slower song like “Who Stole The Soul” or “Our Dreams Float Like Anchors.” He got around to the slow and burning “Porchlight” toward the end of his set, naturally to a large ovation. He would perform new songs alongside of old songs with possibly his best song “Not Feeling Any Pain” appearing right next to one of his oldest songs “Pine Box” in the setlist.

William Elliott Whitmore plays live at The Waiting Room in Omaha, Nebraska on 4/12/14.

William Elliott Whitmore picks at his banjo at The Waiting Room in Omaha, Nebraska on 4/12/14.

He would do a couple non album tracks in “Ol’ Bill Jones” and “Lee County Brew,” the latter promising to be on his upcoming record due out later this year. He would also perform a new song named “Make It Through” that started as a slow burner before shifting into another gear to finish with some help from the kick drum. Whitmore would comment “Have I been up here like two hours?… or 10 minutes, I really don’t know.” as he would keep thumbing through his songbook building on a long set that ended up lasting just under two hours. He would finish strong with one of his fastest songs, “Black Iowa Dirt” then would play his climactic closer “Old Devils” then make a tour around the stage shaking hands. He then ended by standing with just his kick drum and honoring an earlier request for “Mutiny” that would turn out to be an anthemic sing-along. He would shake more hands before commenting “That’s all I got.” Back at his merch table, both t-shirt designs were sold out along with his one LP and two cds he brought, the only remaining merch was a 7″ single so the Omaha crowd would support him well.

 

William Elliott Whitmore setlist from The Waiting Room in Omaha, Nebraska 4/12/14:

  • Lift My Jug (Song for Hub Cale)
  • One Man’s Shame
  • Let’s Do Something Impossible
  • Don’t Need It
  • Hell or High Water
  • Everything Gets Gone
  • Not Feeling Any Pain
  • Pine Box
  • Johnny Law
  • Lee County Brew
  • Who Stole The Soul
  • Take It On The Chin
  • Our Dreams Float Like Anchors
  • Lifetime Underground
  • Diggin’ My Grave
  • Midnight
  • Field Song
  • Porchlight
  • Ol’ Bill Jones
  • Hard Times
  • Make It Through
  • There Is Hope For You
  • Black Iowa Dirt
  • Old Devils
  • Mutiny 
 
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Posted by on April 13, 2014 in Concert Review

 

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250 Word Album Review – Jesse Denaro – Dear, Love

Jesse Denaro - Dear, Love

Jesse Denaro - Dear, Love gets 3 stars

Jesse Denaro’s Dear, Love starts out as a strong guitar rock album that plays like a 90s alternative rock record with thick coats of guitar and smooth pop vocals. The opening track “Someone Save My Life” nails this as it is one of the most poppy songs on the album. It burns with a gentle rock sound of an Augustana or Fray song. “Waiting War” finds Denaro at his edgiest with the vocals submitting to crunchy guitars and a driving sound.

Soon after the album takes a distinct shift toward a softer world. The electric guitars give way to acoustic strums for the most part and the tone of the record changes. The group of acoustic tunes that comprise the middle of the album sound like Dave Matthews or John Mayer type of songs with strong vocals that strain but never lose control. The singer-songwriter tracks like “Young & Naive” and “Dear, Love” are clearly where he is most comfortable. At times you can hear Mumford & Sons’ americana style start to peek through, especially when a steel guitar is humming in the background of a song.

The last track “People” breaks out of the mold of much of the album made by acoustic numbers, bringing back an electric guitar stomp to bookend the record. The album feels very planned and thought out because of this. Dear, Love is really a solid record for lovers and people who love non-offensive pop rock but will fail to excite listeners who long for experimentation.

Key Tracks: “Waiting War” “Young & Naive”

 
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Posted by on April 2, 2014 in 250 word album reviews

 

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Smoking Ban Passes in Low Turnout for Early Election

In a surprisingly low turnout, St. Joseph, Missouri’s smoking ban passed by a landslide. The vote, originally scheduled for April 8th, was moved up a week in a City Council meeting on March 25th. Originally the bill had a 60 period before it went into effect but the verbiage was altered at the same meeting causing the ban to take effect immediately. Despite strong opposition to the ban it received nearly 80% of the votes cast on the March 31st election.

The effect of the ban were seen immediately as well. Already two local bars have contacted real estate agents to lease out their buildings. One has already shut down entirely and directly blames the smoking ban for the steep decline in business. The former bar owner, who wishes to remain anonymous, said, “Those fucking soccer moms have won again! I can’t believe how stupid this town is, first they pay nearly $5 for a beer they can buy across the street for a quarter of that price here, and now they ban the best thing about my bar.” The bar owner also mentioned that he was too busy running his bar to go vote and claimed, “his vote didn’t matter.”

SmokingBan

We interviewed Gloria “Peaches” Wilson at the South Presbyterian Church polling station and she said she was glad the measure passed. “I think all those young drunks were out too late the night before drinking alcohol and smoking their cigarettes to get out to vote. I don’t go to bars anymore but I don’t want a cigarette within a mile of any one of them.”

More than just bars and taverns are feeling the crunch too. Three local bands announced on their facebook pages that they had played their last show. “Some bands are in it for the music and artistic expression, I say fuck that, I wanna smoke some cigs bro.” one band’s lead guitarist said. He would add, “I don’t smoke in my house because I don’t want my wife and kids to breathe the nasty air, but a bar? Yeah, I don’t give a fuck about those people.” The other two bands simply stated that nobody would ever go to bars again to see music because they weren’t there for that. One band would even say that he anticipated that every bar in town but one or two would go under within a month.

Two local cigarette shops already have closed, the owners have skipped out on their leases and fled the country. The unemployment rate is expected to spike in the coming weeks because of the lost revenue from cigarette smokers as well. Not all aspects of the economy in St. Joseph are suffering though; St. Joe Frontier Casino has done record business since the ban went into effect as it was exempted from the controversial ban. Bill Connors, a local smoker, claims to have waited over 45 minutes just to get inside the casino doors. “I need one (a cigarette) so bad I thought I was going to pass out right there in line. I am a card carrying member of Gambler’s Anonymous so I don’t go to casinos anymore but I had no choice.” Connors said. “I went in for a smoke and ended up losing my 12 year old daughter’s college fund. It’s not my fault, if I could just smoke in bars little Suzie could’ve went to college and cured lung cancer, then smoking wouldn’t matter anymore. This is all because of that damn ban.” When Connors was asked which poll he voted at he declined to comment on the subject.

 

Casino

With Casino revenue soaring luxury cars are at a shortage in town. Several local politicians in the area have recently purchased the same luxury cars. “It is easy to pay a little more for a car with the success of the casino,” one councilman would comment, “with the casino kickbacks going in my pocket I was approved for any sized loan that I wanted they said at the dealership. I took the 20% interest rate from the lot too, I figured I would easily stay ahead of that now that the ban has passed.”

Smokers are still the losers here though. Some smokers have even resorted to smoking in their own houses! Most previously never have done that as it makes all your things smell bad and get discolored. Local smoker Sandra Littleton is one of these smokers who have sunk to these measures. “I have to smoke in the house now” she says “I never did before because my sister died back in 1995 from second hand smoke inhalation and I took it really hard and still blame her husband for it. I need to smoke and I think my husband and three kids will be fine because there are four of them breathing the smoke instead of just one like in my sister’s case. I’m not worried about them, I’m sure they will be fine. I need to smoke and it is okay to be a little selfish every now and then right?”

The long-term effect have yet to be seen but several people are upset about the ban. Many are expected to never go to bars again because they only went to smoke. Similar cities have experienced hot spots of economic recession because of this. It is obvious smoking is the linchpin to the economy. Look for violence to rise, the economy to crash and everybody to not have to breathe toxic smoke in the months to come.

This is of course all rubbish. It is another Vocals On Top April Fools article meant to be a bit of a satire of the extreme fear of smokers everywhere. The vote is April 8th and I encourage everyone to vote whether you are filling in the top circle or the bottom circle, just vote.

Now some real thoughts on the smoking ban in bullet form so they are easy to browse:

  • Smokers are going to smoke no matter what, I have seen several smokers endure dangerously low temperatures outside to smoke a cigarette. A smoking ban will not stop many smokers from smoking.
  • The casino being exempt is crappy but isn’t that big of deal. They allow gambling too, do you see any blackjack tables in bars? People who smoke at bars aren’t going to flood to the casino and the argument that they are exempt to fill politicians pockets is little more that a scare tactic (much like the NRA often uses) used to get people to vote for what they want.
  • Banning E-Cigs seems shitty to me. I’m sorry but if it is part of the deal I’m okay with that.
  • No bars will shut down because of this. If a bar shuts down after the ban takes effect it is because that bar was poorly run in the first place, not because people can’t smoke there anymore.
  • Other cities have easily survived this ordinance. It is not a radical bill that is unusual in any way. Go look at a map of what areas are non-smoking, many entire states are, including Kansas (yes, the same Kansas that we can SEE from St. Joe.)
  • Second hand smoke is a real thing, look it up.
  • Lady smokers get worse saggy boobs, look it up.
  • The freedoms argument is tiring. It works both ways. You say “What’s next?” It could be fatty foods… sure. Let’s go the other way. If we make smoking legal what is next? Marijuana? Seems reasonable, tons of people would like that but what’s next? Heroin? Bar owners: Do you want someone tieing off in the corner of your bar? Do you want your kids to be able to get hard drugs because we all have the “freedom” to have them? This argument goes both ways so it is invalid, there has to be a line somewhere.
  • It would be healthy to not smoke or have to breathe smoke.
 
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Posted by on March 31, 2014 in VOT Editorial

 

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250 Word Album Review: Universe Contest – We Are The Rattlesnake

Universe Contest - We Are The Rattlesnake

Universe Contest - We Are The Rattlesnake gets 3.5 stars

Universe Contest’s second full-length album is a morphing collection of songs that refines the sound from their first record. The music is more cohesive as a whole and feels less like individual songs and more like blobs of music. The songs smoothly switch paces and momentum constantly, whether it be using punky guitar or electronic drones. Listening to the album is like watching a lava lamp, the transitions are a smooth flow and all the musicians follow eachother’s leads creating a punchy group of solid songs that works better as a whole.

Keyboards are often more featured than guitars like on the trippy “The Day The Earth Took Pills” and “Squirrels” but there is some solid guitar work and big sounding drums like on the ferocious rocker “Jumbi” that keep the record easily in the rock genre. While “Squirrels” is keyboard dominated, the Modest Mouse style vocals give it and instant punk edge. “Dirty Clean” sounds so much like a rave song you can almost see the strobe lights and glow sticks if you close your eyes and the layered vocals sound like an entire audience singing in unison. The record builds to a climactic conclusion with the arena sounding “Remember” that seems to create a big exclamation point.

We Are The Rattlesnake is unmistakably a labor of a lot of work, whittling a group of songs into an experience. Without a doubt the record sounds big enough to fill arenas or make the best use out of a good sound system attached to your turntable. It is an ambitious attempt by Universe Contest to make a great record and when you get in the right headspace, it feels like they may have succeeded.

Key Tracks: “Dirty Clean” “The Day The Earth Took Pills” “Jumbi”

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2014 in 250 word album reviews

 

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Top 5 albums… Tom Petty / Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

Tom Petty is an American classic. His music appeals to the masses by being blasted out of a hipster’s speakers and a pickup trucks on dirt roads alike. He is also a great songwriter and has put together some truly great albums, here is the Vocals On Top best 5 Tom Petty albums:


 


 

#1 Album: Full Moon Fever

Year: 1989

1989 Stand-out tracks: “The Apartment Song” “Runnin’ Down A Dream” “Yer So Bad” “I Won’t Back Down”

TomPettyFullMoonFever Tom Petty’s first “solo” album came in 1989 and was pretty much flawless. The album didn’t sound much different than anything that he had put out with the Heartbreakers but with Jeff Lynne producing and helping write, the songs were as strong as ever. “Runnin’ Down A Dream” should be illegal to listen to in the care because you will get a speeding ticket if you do while the sly humor in “Yer So Bad” is priceless. “I Won’t Back Down” is a perfectly structured song while “Love is a Long Road” is just straight up rock gem. Yes, “Free Fallin’” is on this record too so all your drunken buddies can sing along.

 

 

 



#2 Album: Wildflowers

Year: 1994

Stand-out tracks: “Wildflowers” “It’s Good To Be King” “Crawling Back To You”

TomPettyWildflowersAnother Petty solo venture that turned out to be a classic. The gentle “Wildflowers” sounds just about right for any mood and “You Wreck Me” and “You Don’t Know How It Feels” get credit as being rowdy rockers. “It’s Good To Be King” and “Cabin Down Below” are great deep cuts but the album is highlighted by the painfully understandable admissions in “Crawling Back To You.”

 

 

 

 

 



 

#3 Album: Hard Promises

Year: 1981

Stand-out tracks: “A Woman In Love” “Something Big” “Insider”

TomPettyHard PromisesOne of Petty’s really great early albums, Hard Promises had the hits in “The Waiting” “A Woman In Love” and “Insider” but also produced a solid 10 song album. “King’s Road” and the ominous “Something Big” being the best of the remaining 7. The album fits well with Petty’s catalog but possesses a yearning throughout that creates a different mood than his other albums..

 

 

 

 

 

 



#4 Album: Damn The Torpedoes

Year: 1979

Stand-out tracks: “Refugee” “Even The Losers” “Don’t Do Me Like That”

TomPettyDamnTheTorpedoesThe big breakthrough for Petty that made him a household name had some of his finest individual singles like “Refugee” and “Don’t Do Me Like That.” This will likely be the album that forever defines Tom Petty as an artist and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

#5 Album: Echo

Year: 1999

Stand-out tracks: “Room At The Top” “I Don’t Wanna Fight” “Free Girl Now”

TomPettyEchoHere is the shocker. Is Echo really that good? Yes. It is Petty’s first album of what I consider the third stage of his career. It sees him being comfortable throwing out sloppy rockers like “Free Girl Now” and “About To Give Out” all while also including slow, fragile songs like “No More” and “Accused of Love.” “Room At The Top” is a classic Petty tune that you won’t likely hear on the radio too much but it is a shining star among the other songs on this underrated album.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

A special thanks to RiffRaf.net for the idea to do this.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2014 in Lists, Top 5 Albums...

 

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VOT Editorial: The Case for Scruffy & The Janitors’ “Pino” by Matthew Coman

The Case for “Pino”
By Matthew Coman


 

Matthew Coman is a pretty fine singer/songwriter from St. Joseph, Missouri, he occasionally gets tricked into writing something for Vocals On Top and we are always happy to host his thoughts here. After reading this article about the forgotten debut by Scruffy & The Janitors (even though it has been just over a year since it was released) you should check out his bandcamp page and pay him like .03 cents for his great 2013 album No Other Animal or preorder his upcoming record Crooked Moon. You can do all that right here: http://matthewcoman.bandcamp.com/


 

Right now I’m listening to a great debut album from one of St. Joseph’s best garage rock bands. The artists in question are none other than Scruffy & The Janitors. The album, titled “Pino”, is flooded with bombastic fuzzy guitars, poppy bass lines, and and overall hi-fi sound quality. I am told the bands debut album was recorded using Sonic Acid Pro, an eighty dollar recording program available on your local interwebs for any aspiring musician who doesn’t have the green to spend on a decent recording studio.

The reason I feel the need to revisit this 2012 release is that I feel it received somewhat harsh criticism by local reviewers, journalists, fans, speculators, ect. It had been a while since I put the album in since I first picked it up at the Lucky Tiger around the time of its release date. I remember hearing “Use Me Up” for the first time in my car, popping it in as soon as my chewed off nails tried frantically to get the shrink wrap off.  Accompanied by clean guitar, soft rhythmic drums, and a great harmonica part the song is any blues lovers wet dream, but that track is alone is not the only one that shines brightly on this hi-fi, low budget debut release.

Scuffy & The Janitors - Pino

Scuffy & The Janitors’ album cover for Pino, their out-of-print debut album from late 2012.

Case in point: “Post-Meridian”, the first track off of their debut album. It’s catchy, its rocks, and despite the critique that it doesnt sound like it came straight out of pro tools or a well designed recording studio it still has Steven Foster, the lead singer, attacking every song with his very unique vocals. The vocals are still clear, the bass is there, Teriq Newton’s fuzzy and bombastic guitar sound, and Trevin Newton’s drumming are all perfectly audible for me to thoroughly enjoy this album. How about “Know it All”? The same could be said for every song on this album.

If “Pino” is a testament to anything, it is to the determination of these guys to make really good music despite the only vessel they had at the time of the recording. In this writers humble opinion, it is the perfect debut garage rock album for a garage rock band. Maybe some of you are familiar with a band called Night Beats. Night Beats’ album “Sonic Bloom” is also another great example of how things don’t have to be crystal clear to make a great record. Night Beats’ album is filled with reverberated vocals, the words barely audible, the music bombastic and lovely, they sound like a garage rock psychedelic group from the sixities, yet they’ve just arrived.

There’s not a song on “Pino” I don’t enjoy. I love the fuzz and the general feel. When I listen to it I hear three guys, maybe in a basement somewhere, hammering out these songs with intensity. They were serious when they made this album. If you can go back and listen to  The Litter, a psychedelic  garage rock band formed in the sixties, you won’t necessarily hear the same quality of recording like Pino, but you will hear something that you like despite how dated it is. The same is true of so many old records. These were bands using the tools available to them at the time to pour their hearts into the music that they love, and for Scruffy & The Janitors, “Pino” is the very same. So don’t let the fact that these aren’t perfectly mixed and mastered tracks, with crystal clear vocals, and a good balance of low and high end get in the way of how good this album is. I’ll say it again; “Pino” was the perfect debut record for a band like Scruffy.  Take it out of it’s case, and listen to it again. That’s what I had to do.

Key Tracks: All of Them

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2014 in Guest Writers, VOT Editorial

 

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Top 5 Albums… Bruce Springsteen

There are gaggles of music websites similar to Vocals On Top on the web each with their own distinct set of articles, tastes and styles. Some are bad, some are lazy, some are far better than this site but it is nice to see artists getting well deserved coverage. I hope VOT serves this purpose well. One of the finer music websites I have found is RiffRaf.net, with similar tastes to mine and more contributors and more in-depth coverage I am not ashamed to say it is better than VOT.

So if you can’t beat them; steal their ideas, right? So this premise I have stolen from the stellar RiffRaf.net website, I’m even stealing the format. They take an artist and give a unique look at their top 5 albums. They have done this for one of my favorites in Bruce Springsteen and I’m going to start doing this idea by giving my take on my top 5 Springsteen records.

First of all, here is a link to the RiffRaf article on the top 5 Springsteen albums: http://www.riffraf.net/2014/01/top-five-bruce-springsteen-albums/

You should check out that list before mine, then tell each one of us whose list you agree with more, or better yet submit your own list. Here is my 5, take it or leave it.


 


 

#1 Album: Born To Run

Year: 1975

Stand-out tracks: “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” “Jungleland” “Thunder Road”

SpingsteenBornToRun The obvious masterpiece of Springsteen’s catalog, Born To Run shows an artist so hungry to rule the world that you can feel it in each note. The intensity on songs like “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” are nearly unparalleled as studio tracks, many times studio tracks can be too careful and lose their feeling, not here. This is clearly one of the most ambitious records ever and it lived up to expectations and possibilities

 

 

 

 

 



#2 Album: Born In The U.S.A.

Year: 1984

Stand-out tracks: “I’m Goin’ Down” “Cover Me” “Glory Days”

SpringsteenUSAShunned by RiffRaf’s list, I still embrace the massively popular album. Surely it is for “Dancing In The Dark” “Born In The U.S.A.” and “My Hometown” right? Not at all. Those tracks are great but are horribly overplayed on the radio. There are amazing gems here that get far less radio play like the brilliant “Cover Me,” the intense “Working on the Highway” and my personal favorite “I’m Goin’ Down.” I can still stomach the overplayed songs as well but I love listening for the hidden album gems on this one.

 

 

 

 

 



 

#3 Album: Darkness on the Edge of Town

Year: 1978

Stand-out tracks: “Badlands” “Adam Raised A Cain” “Candy’s Room”

SpingsteenDarknessFeaturing some of Springsteen’s most distinct work in songs like “Adam Raised A Cain” and “Candy’s Room” he stretched his limits even further and created a little bit quieter than Born To Run epic album. There are some ominous moments here but also the light horns that made his earlier work so great. It is a solid transition record for what his next decade of records would be like.

 

 

 

 

 

 



#4 Album: The River

Year: 1974

Stand-out tracks: “Out In The Street” “The River” “Cadillac Ranch”

SpringsteenRiverBruce seemed to have released the floodgates with The River, a sprawling double album that touched on all the styles of his previous records and put together a bunch of well written songs. Slow and brooding or rocking and fun, it is all here. It is almost too much, if condensed into a single album and the focus narrowed a bit it might have been his best album ever.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

#5 Album: The Wild, The Innocent and The E Street Shuffle

Year: 1973

Stand-out tracks: “4th of July Ashbury Park (Sandy)” “Rosalita” “New York City Serenade”

SpringsteenWildSpringsteen’s second record shows him with a fire in his belly that simply can’t be heard after his first three records. This album in particular seems to capture a time in Springsteen’s youth where things were magic in so many ways. It works as a time machine where you feel like you’re riding shotgun with Bruce back in 1973. This album just barely nosed out Nebraska for the #5 spot.

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

A special thanks to RiffRaf.net for the idea to do this.

 

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2014 in Lists, Top 5 Albums..., VOT Editorial

 

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Tim Kasher Living Room Show review: Kansas City, MO 3/22/14

Tim Kasher show directions sign outside of the warehouse where the show would take place inside of an off-season haunted house.

Tim Kasher show directions sign outside of the warehouse where the show would take place inside of an off-season haunted house in Kansas City, MO on 3/22/14.

A living room show is a bit of a scary premise, but you never could have envisioned it being scary like the Tim Kasher living room show in Kansas City on March 22nd. The five story climb up stairs at a warehouse in the West Bottoms of Kansas City would end with me and about 60 others standing in a haunted house in March. It actually made for a killer (no pun intended) venue for concert.

Tim Kasher is a solo artist but is much more notably the lead singer and writer for the bands Cursive and The Good Life. His songwriting is unique and his voice is even more distinct. This small living room tour for his second full length solo record Adult Film finds him playing songs from all his bands in a stripped down, rootsy form. This show at a haunted house will undoubtedly be one that will stick out in his mind for years and with the show he put on it will be memorable for the attendees as well.

Kasher sould play behind two giant silver hands extending from the ceiling while he would hit his two solo records the most, accounting for about half his set as most of The Good Life and Cursive songs are very band oriented and too loud to pull of acoustic. He and his one band mate for the tour, Patrick Newberry, would do their best to tackle the songs. Kasher would start with “No Fireworks” off of his first solo record The Game of Monogamy and would continue with similar down tempo tunes for much of his roughly hour and a half set. He would dig deep for one of the faster songs of the night with “Rabbit, Run” before going into one of the highlights of the show with The Good Life’s song “Keely Aimee” with it gentle acoustic splendor. He would also take on “The Recluse” off of Cursive’s The Ugly Organ to the massive delight of everyone in attendance.

One of his most ambitious attempts to transition a song to a bare form was tackling Cursive’s “Radiator Hums” and the great “From The Hips” back to back. What truly shone was his solo material however. The solo songs were closer to their truer form whether it was delicate songs like “Where’s Your Heart Lie,” the puppy love song “Strays” or the slow burning Good Life song “Notes in His Pocket.” The upbeat solo tune “Cold Love” woudl even find Kasher playing drums and being enthusiastic about his performance behind the kit.

He would play his planned 16 song set before tackling a couple requests which turned out to be heavy on The Good Life side of things. He mentioned he planned 20 songs so it would be $1 per song, just like iTunes. The lengthy “Inmates” didn’t fail to impress as a request before Kasher closed with the widely yelled “Album of the Year” off The Good Life’s album of the same name.

An autographed copy of the solo debut from Tim Kasher "The Game of Monogamy" on vinyl obtained at the living room show in Kansas City, MO.

An autographed copy of the solo debut from Tim Kasher “The Game of Monogamy” on vinyl obtained at the living room show in Kansas City, MO.

Tim Kasher living room show, Kansas City, MO 3/22/14 setlist:

  • No Fireworks
  • A Raincloud Is A Raincloud
  • You Scare Me To Death
  • Rabbit, Run
  • Keely Aimee (The Good Life song)
  • Strays
  • The Recluse (Cursive song)
  • Where’s Your Heart Lie
  • American Lit
  • Radiator Hums (Cursive song)
  • From The Hips (Cursive song)
  • Truly Freaking Out
  • Notes In His Pocket (The Good Life song)
  • Cold Love
  • Bad, Bad Dreams
  • For The Love of the Song (The Good Life song)
  • What Have I Done? (Cursive song)
  • Inmates (The Good Life song)
  • Waiting on Wild Horses (The Good Life song)
  • Album of the Year (The Good Life song)
 
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Posted by on March 23, 2014 in Concert Review

 

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250 Word Album Review: Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle – Nothin’ Like a Lincoln

Buffalo Wabs & The Price Hill Hustle - Nothin’ Like a Lincoln (EP)Guest album review by Dylan Michael Bentley

The freewheelin’ Matt Wabnitz and his merry band of Hustlers take their name after the Cincinnati area from which they originated. They play Folk-Americana music, and they do it in the kind of hellblazing, barnburning, footstomping way that rejuvenates, enriches and enlivens the intent and aspirations of that style of song. This is music that has a pulse and a heartbeat. This is music that breathes.

The six-song collection is entirely comprised of cover material, from Woody Guthrie to Willy Tea Taylor. To say they are merely reciting other people’s compositions and words is to turn a deaf ear to the miracles they are able to achieve. They inject such feeling, purpose, soul, meaning and combustible energy into each song you’d think you were right beside them, doing what they do, saying what they say, feeling what they feel.

Matt’s confident vocal deliveries strongly convey the heft of the lyrical material while managing to etch in subtle marvels (check out his almost-indiscernible chuckle as he confesses “I see the mornin’ light/Though it’s not because I’m an early riser/I didn’t go to sleep last night” on Bob Dylan’s “Walking Down the Line”). This is a man who knows and inexhaustibly studies the craft that goes into a song. And he’s chosen a group of singularly talented musicians who identify with that knowledge like it were a kinship. Together, they make it sound easy. They make it a good time.

You’ll want to take a ride in this Lincoln over and over; there’s nothin’ else quite like it.

A special thanks to Dylan Michael Bentley for the guest album review. It is a pleasure to add his contributions to Vocals On Top. You should go check out his music at https://www.facebook.com/dylanmichaelbentley.

 

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