250 word album review: Jerry Forney Blues Band – No Exit

Jerry Forney’s legacy as a midwestern bluesman is a given, his guitar licks have rang out of stereos and smokey bars for decades. Something that has always been slightly underrated about Forney how much country runs in the bluesman’s music.

His latest album “No Exit” shows this country side shining through like with his take on the traditional “Run On(God’s Gonna Shut You Down)” and the twangy “Silver Saddle” where Forney embraces the ways of a cowpoke. His strength is always the still the blues though and how he presents it. The bluesy guitar runs just flow from his amp like on “Mean Mistreater Blues” and obviously “Blues Blues Blues.” No great blues record would be complete without some love for trains too. Forney highlights this on “Old 39” “Train Thru Here” and on what is likely the best song on this collection; “Just To Ride The Blinds.” On this leadoff track Forney glorifies jumping a train so much you’ll start packing a bag so you can try it yourself. It isn’t even all raunchy blues licks, the delivery on “Feather in the Wind” is as delicate as the songs title as he showcases another strength of his arsenal.

Forney has blues licks flowing through his veins and country resonance in his heart. On “No Exit” he continues to display what he has made look so effortless for years.

Key Tracks: “Just To Ride The Blinds” “Blues Blues Blues” “Silver Saddle”

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250 word album review: Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy – Dirtflowers

Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy - Dirtflowers

“Dirtflowers” is the latest release from the incredibly prolific Lawrence, Kansas trio Til Willis & Erratic Cowboy and they continue to push the boundaries of their own music. The music here shares a lot with many bands and songs but its makeup as an album is one all its own.

The scratchy-voiced Willis starts the album with the slow burning “A Better Depression” before the band kicks hard on the anthemic “American Questions” where the chorus of “why won’t you love me?” rings loud and firm. The album is carefully structured around such keystone songs as this and the equally impactful “Sons of Decent Children” with some thinkers carefully slipped in-between. The band can be(forgive me) erratic and noisy at times but also create greatly structured pop landscapes like on “When It Happens.” The latter being one of several political nods on “Dirtflowers,” the album seems to be equally socially conscious and personal. The most impressive part of the record is the diversity of the songs and how carefully a listening experience is structured between the guitar dissonance on songs like “Sleep Driving,” the folk-rock push of “It’s A War” and the hard edge of the rockers present here like “Sons of Decent Children.”

“Dirtflowers” is another album in a long line from Til Willis including a handful from this outfit(Erratic Cowboy) but this album feels very careful and attentive. The music and songs are better for it and it seems clear that this is Til Willis and company’s best work yet.

Key Tracks: “American Questions” “Sons of Decent Children” “When It Happens”

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Concert Scorecard: Mt. Joy at The Madrid in Kansas City, MO

The Vocals On Top concert scorecard is an attempt to quickly and concisely review a live concert. The scoring system is intended to encapsulate not only the performance but the venue, audience and overall value of the show among other factors. Here are my thoughts on a recent show:

  • Artist: Mt. Joy
  • Openers: Wilderado
  • Date: 10/14/19
  • City: Kansas City, MO
  • Venue: The Madrid

Overall Score 68/100



Venue: 6/10

The Madrid is a cool theater that has just touches of the fanciness of The Midland and The Uptown in Kansas City but on a much lower scale. It has the feel of an old high school gym actually but it’s appropriate for concerts. Seating the in balcony and standing room on the floor, the floor wins out most times as it did for the Mt. Joy show.

Crowd: 7/10

The crowd wasn’t as young as I anticipated but still stuck mainly to patrons in their 20s. Some emphatic fans but not much distracting behavior, they definitely weren’t the best crowd the band has seen but gave a good effort toward filling the venue.

Openers: 6/10

Wilderado are buddies of Mt. Joy and worked as nice openers here. Nothing to blow people away but they are a solid indie band much in the vein of the headliners.

Merch: 6/10

Mt. Joy has a pretty specific look to their merch, it matches their album art and for the most part were a bit of a let down. The band definitely gets extra points for selling a super cool tour poster.

Sound: 7/10

The Madrid sound from the few shows I’ve seen there is pretty standard, it seems like a bit of a hard room to control but everything seemed balanced and the vocals were clear.


Mt. Joy performs live at The Madrid in Kansas City, MO on 10/14/19.

Setlist: 9/10

Mt. Joy is already sticking to a standard setlist, with just one album out it is hard to add much variety. They did mix in 4 new songs from an upcoming album and while none of them were fantastic live they all seemed to fit the esthetic of the band and none of them were a disappointment. The setlist was heavily loaded with many  of the best songs like “Bigfoot” “Astrovan” and “Sheep” right at the beginning of the show.

Performance: 7/10

The young group appears still a bit stiff, likely still honing their musicianship. They zeroed in on their songs and stayed true to the versions everyone knows from Spotify.

Showmanship: 6/10

The band can hit their spots on their songs but the extra focus on this made showmanship minimal. Singer Matt Quinn really shows he is the driving force behind the band being a very good singer and being able to use his bandmates well.

Uniqueness: 8/10 

The beauty of seeing a band this early in their career is you really get to see the phases of the band develop fast and see them grow as a group. They seem to have good control of what the audience wants to hear and mixed in some interesting parts of covers of “Clint Eastwood” by Gorillaz, Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” and “Do You Realize” by the Flaming Lips. One new song, “Vibe” was performed for the first time ever.

Value: 6/10

Cheap tickets helped soften the blow of the really unfairly high beer prices at The Madrid, it’s probably the biggest problem with the venue. A small venue charging Sprint Center prices for alcohol seems unfair but it isn’t really a bar and they appear to do this at every show.

Final Score 68/100



A really great rising star band that is building its fanbase by the day was great to see at this stage of their career. They created a fun evening and a great set of songs with a few new songs for the first few performances ever.

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Concert Scorecard: Chris Stapleton at the Sprint Center in Kanas City

The Vocals On Top concert scorecard is an attempt to quickly and concisely review a live concert. The scoring system is intended to encapsulate not only the performance but the venue, audience and overall value of the show among other factors. Here are my thoughts on my latest show:

  • Artist: Chris Stapleton
  • Openers: Kendall Marvel, Brothers Osborn
  • Date: 10/26/19
  • City: Kansas City, MO
  • Venue: Sprint Center

Overall Score 66/100


Venue: 6/10

The Sprint Center seats over 19,000 people for a concert and this show was sold out. For such a large show getting in and out of my upper deck seating are weren’t bad. The seats are comfortable enough and there are always drinks and restrooms pretty close.

Crowd: 7/10

The crowd for such a large show was very well behaved in the upper tank. Most stayed seated the whole show and there were no drunken shenanigans immediately noticeable. The crowd was into the show and most stayed through the encore.

Openers: 6/10

The opening acts were Kendall Marvel, and old school Nashville songwriter who was really excellent and Brothers Osborn who were a lot more generic bro-country than either of the other two acts on the night. Their set had solos and raunchy radio friendly country hooks and a lot of the other things that make me limit my exposure to country music concerts.

Merch: 4/10

The merch booth for Chris Stapleton was pretty solid, $35 shirts are always way too high, if a local band can make them and sell them for $20 each a big artist such as Stapleton is robbing his fans blind by charging $35. The shirt selection was decent though, a few designs and my favorite merch item, shirts with tour dates on the back were available.

Sound: 9/10

As with most big shows the sound was pretty spot on. A lot of preparation goes into these shows and their stuff is dialed in. Even in the huge crowd Stapleton’s vocals were still clear and the overall sound wasn’t muddy at all.


Setlist: 8/10

Stapleton’s setlist was quite good, all the hits were there and a few songs were played that weren’t standard on his recent setlists. “Tennessee Whiskey” is the big crowd pleaser but a song about his recently deceased dog brought tears and a couple acoustic performances really tugged some heart strings.

Performance: 8/10

The guy can really sing well, he can also flat out rip on guitar. He was personable and really nailed the songs. You could tell he and his band have a great rapport and the show was tight without sounding stiff. One close person in proximity kept exclaiming how much he sounded like the CD, I guess that is probably quite a good thing for this audience.

Showmanship: 7/10

I hate over-the-top arena shows and this one was nicely subdued. There were a couple video boards but not over the top lasers or props, again this is probably because of the style of music performed.

Uniqueness: 6/10 

It’s difficult to perform shows of this size across the country and not create a certain uniformness to them. The setlists are all similar and each night probably appears much like the next that is a lot like the last.

Value: 5/10

By the time you figure in parking, tickets, merch and beer these kinds of shows get insanely expensive. I’ll never score a show at a big arena very high here but you also can’t see Chris Stapleton at a 2000 seat club either.

Final Score 66/100


It was a fun show with a great musician playing, Stapleton is the real deal and deserves to be playing arenas, I don’t know if I would have said that before seeing this show. Big shows are always odd because you totally miss any intimacy you get a bar shows but you get a really professional show almost always.

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Coming Soon: The Bottle Rockets to Knuckleheads in Kansas City 11/9/19

WHO’S PLAYING?  The Bottle Rockets (St. Louis, MO)

The Bottle Rockets (Left to Right: John Horton, Mark Ortmann, Brian Henneman and Keith Voegele, Photo By Cary Horton

The Bottle Rockets (Left to Right: John Horton, Mark Ortmann, Brian Henneman and Keith Voegele) Photo By Cary Horton


WHAT TO EXPECT?  The Bottle Rockets are the elder statesmen of the alternative country scene. With their first record landing in 1993 they are a strong 25 years and 11 albums into their career. From their gritty debut self-titled album to the rock crossover hit “The Brooklyn Side” and then later on to their political masterpiece “Zoysia” they are a career band. Now with the 2018 release of “Bit Logic” they are treading on new territory but in old ways. The album has gotten great reviews with a couple strong singles off of it. The Missouri based “Highway 70 Blues” is sure to be a nice hit in Kansas City and the great “Bad Time To Be An Outlaw” is earmarked as a staple for all their shows for years to come. Their set should be heavy on “Bit Logic” with a nice sampling from their entire career as well.

Here is the 250 word album review of the brand new release “Bit Logic” from The Bottle Rockets:

Bottle Rockets - Bit Logic


The Bottle Rockets proved they weren’t done making great music with 2015’s “South Broadway Athletic Club” and have returned in late 2018 with a record that is actually a little bit better.

The americana pioneers can come off like a bit of a curmudgeon at times here but it’s only understandable. The title track details the struggle with the digital age as does the song “Lo-Fi.” You’ll also find them complaining about how their career doesn’t pay the way it used to on “Bad Time To Be An Outlaw” and even about traffic on “Highway 70 Blues.” Luckily the songs are good enough to overcome the downer topics. On “Highway 70 Blues” they soundtrack the tough St. Louis to Kansas City trek with some good bluesy boogie. On “Outlaw” they get stompy and in a way only Brian Henneman can, the lyrics flow perfectly with the jangly music, so much so if it weren’t for his twangy delivery you might think he could rap the lyrics. On another Henneman gem, “Saxophone” is a great relationship song about trying to process the feelings when things start to fall apart. The slowed down delivery really helps drive the point home. The predominant mood is still bluesy country rock though with songs like “Knotty Pine” and the semi-mindless barroom rocker “Stovall’s Grove.”

You won’t be very surprised with what the Bottle Rockets deliver on “Bit Logic” but it’s also the band on par with the best they’ve ever been.

Key Tracks: “Highway 70 Blues” “Saxophone” “Bad Time To Be An Outlaw”


WHERE IS IT?  Knucklehead’s Saloon (2719 Rochester Street, Kansas City, MO)

WHEN IS IT?  Saturday, November 9th 2019; 8:00 PM, $15

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.


  • Tickets are $15… that’s pretty much the price of a meal
  • The Bottle Rockets are alt-country pioneers
  • The band’s latest album is one of their best
  • You get to hear one of the best americana/alt-country bands of all-time
  • The band plays songs off of all if not multiple songs from each record live
  • You can pick up their new album on cd or delicious vinyl
  • It’s a Saturday night, time to put your boots on and let your hair down

You should RSVP on facebook to the event so you don’t forget, here is the link: FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE

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Concert Review: The Lost Dog Street Band in Lawrence, KS 8/14/19

“We’re the Lost Dog Street Band and it’s a slow Wednesday night but whether we are playing for a hundred people or a thousand people the mission is the same; we’re gonna get emotional.” lead singer Benjamin Tod stated before playing one note of his set in Lawrence, KS on a unseasonably cool August night. Ashley and Benjamin would detail their sorted history with the town later in the night with tales of busking on the streets and hitchhiking though.

They have earned more esteem and clout in the town now, there is no need to play on street corners anymore as a sorted group of varying people were happy to see the band play during this mid-week night. Some people looked like they came straight off the farm, melanoma be damned with burnt skin and towing a powerful cloud of body odor while others looked as if they checked out of a local keg party to stop by. A healthy mix of muddy work boots and Converse All-Stars were all happy to take in the deeply personal set by the storied troubadours. Benjamin Tod’s appearance is less sorted, his distinct neck tattoos almost touch his chin and a buck knife hangs from his belt and you can probably fill in the rest of the visual yourself.

The Lost Dog Street Band performs live at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS on 8/14/19.

The Lost Dog Street Band performs live at The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS on 8/14/19.

Fellow hard luck songwriter Matt Heckler would open the show appropriately and belt out a set that would be almost as long as the headliner’s on the night. His powerful voice dominated the crowd and controlled just as much attention as Lost Dog would later int he evening. His mixture of banjo and fiddle accompaniment just accented his songs that almost always built to an emphatic peak. He would sing his own stories of addiction and alcoholism as Tod would later. He also mixed in a lively cover of Utah Phillips’ “Rock Salt & Nails.”

They belted out “To Heaven From Here” to start off their latest and probably best album “Weight of a Trigger” and followed it appropriately with a Townes Van Zandt cover. As far a tempo goes, the show would peak with the opening song. The set would get decidedly more intense and quiet for the most part afterward other than a rousing cover of Steve Earle and the Del McCoury Band’s “The Mountain.” Emphatic sing alongs occurred on the band’s original songs “Terrible & True” and later “September Doves” right before the encore break.

The encore performance of “I Will Rise” from Tod’s solo album of the same name is noteworthy because it was a true encore. The stage lights came up and the house music was cranked after the band’s short 10 song set. A “one more song” chant by the hungry crowd coaxed the band to re-rush the stage and perform one last number that almost certainly wouldn’t have been performed if the crowd wouldn’t have insisted.

The Lost Dog Street Band setlist from The Bottleneck in Lawrence, KS 8/14/19 

To Heaven From Here
Nothin’ (Townes Van Zandt cover)
Terrible & True
Coming Down
Using Again
The Mountain (Steve Earle and The Del McCoury Band cover)
The War Inside Me
Lazy Moonshiner
September Doves

I Will Rise

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Concert Review: Vandoliers at the Riot Room in Kansas City, MO 6/11/19

The Vandoliers set up their June Kansas City show at The Riot Room’s small but fun outdoor stage three months prior. They visited Kansas City with troubadour Austin Lucas and played Knucklehead’s Saloon, the only problem was that their night was cut short. Lead vocalist Joshua Fleming was very sick and couldn’t sing and it was obvious that show was a bit of a low point for the Texas band.

The Vandoliers play the Riot Room's outdoor stage in Kansas City, Missouri on 6/11/19.

The Vandoliers play the Riot Room’s outdoor stage in Kansas City, Missouri on 6/11/19.

Just three short months later they play a early show on a Tuesday night at the Riot Room and of course rain is in the forecast for the outdoor show. The band started the show about 40 minutes early to make sure Kansas City didn’t get cheated out of another Vandoliers show. This time the new and improved Joshua Fleming (now sans cigarettes and booze) dominated the stage with his enthusiastic performance and strong voice. Their country-ska sound is mostly upbeat and requires a lot of energy and the band was more than willing to deliver. The full sound complete with keyboards, trumpet and violin accented the more traditional instruments to fill out the sound.

They hit their latest release “Forever” extremely hard, hitting all the high points like opening with “Miles and Miles” and closing with the sing-along anthem “Bottom Dollar Boy.” Some autobiographical songs were mixed in the middle with “Troublemaker” and “Bluebonnet Highway” as well as a fair share of casino sagas with “Shashone Rose” “All on Black” and later a blistering cover of the Wilco classic “Casino Queen.” The six piece blasted through a set of 14 songs in under an hour to beat the rain. The driving “Sixteen Years” was an obvious highlight as was a rare set changup for the band in “Cigarettes in the Rain.” Right on queue the rain started to fall during the most rocking part of the set with the closing combo of “Juke Joint Lover” and “Bottom Dollar Boy” the end the night before the clock even hit 9:30. All was fine though because the Vandoliers gave Kansas City their redemption show.

Vandoliers setlist from the Riot Room outdoor stage in Kansas City, MO 6/11/19:

Miles and Miles
Fallen Again
Bluebonnet Highway
Rolling Out
Endless Summer
Shoshone Rose
All on Black
Sixteen Years
The Native
Cigarettes in the Rain
Casino Queen (Wilco Cover)
Juke Joint Lover
Bottom Dollar Boy

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Coming Soon: Vandoliers at The Riot Room in Kansas City 6/11/19

WHO’S PLAYING?  Vandoliers (Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas)

Vandoliers photo by Mike Brooks

Vandoliers, photo by Mike Brooks

WHAT TO EXPECT?  The cutting edge of country music, not the Thomas Rhett crap you hear on the radio but rather the true blood flowing through the veins of America. This band is traveling the country and sleeping on floors for a chance to play their honest, fiery music across The States. Their last show at Knucklehead’s in March was cut short due to singer Joshua Fleming’s illness; now a short couple months later they are back for redemption.


Vandoliers will be the headlining act on the small outdoor stage at the Riot Room in Kansas City. The newly signed Bloodshot Records band is taking their fresh and energetic take on Americana to the road. The six piece band has a tinge of a mariachi sound with their horns and upbeat, bouncy rhythms but don’t think they aren’t in it for keeps, the punk edge of the band has a way of coming out. Their new album “Forever” is a shining example of the group’s versatility. From the great, eye-catching album cover of the upside down railroad tracks to burning songs like “Cigarettes in the Rain” and the sing-along favorite “Sixteen Years” it’s clear Vandoliers are prepared to turn some heads.

WHERE IS IT?  The Riot Room’s Outdoor Stage (4048 BROADWAY ST., KANSAS CITY, MO 64111)

WHEN IS IT?  Tuesday, June 11th 2019; 7:30 PM, $12

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.


  • Tickets are $12… you’ll spend more than that on beer
  • Vandoliers are young and hungry and put on a good show
  • The show is OUTSIDE
  • Vandoliers light up the stage with a six person band overflowing with energy
  • It’s not the weekend so the Westport TSA won’t be in full effect
  • It’s going to be a nice night, did you hear it’s outside?
  • The Vandoliers need their redemption after their last show was cut short
  • The band promised they’d make it up to Kansas City after the short show last time and it only took them 3 months to make it back

You should RSVP on facebook to the event so you don’t forget, here is the link: FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE

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Coming Soon: Simon Fink’s “Lullabies Till Dawn” album and book release in Kansas City 6/8/19

WHO’S PLAYING?  Simon Fink (St. Joseph, MO) and The Wires (Kansas City, MO)

WHAT TO EXPECT? A carefully choreographed concert featuring music and visuals from an exciting and innovative new project from composer Simon Fink and a small group of calibrators. Simon Fink and The Wires Alternative String Duo will perform music from “Lullabies Till Dawn,” an illustrated songbook about fatherhood, sleep deprivation, and music-making with art by Benjamin Parks.

LTD Logo (1)

Composer Simon Fink found himself in a new layer of life a few short years ago as a stay at home father. As artists tend to do he used the opportunity to create art from this new challenge in his life and the result is a steadfast collection of lullabies. The merciful songs play as they should, smooth and flowing. Even being backed by Kansas City string duo The Wires that feature Laurel Morgan on violin and Sascha Groschang on cello and additional help with harmony vocals by Cheyenne Dorrell, the songs still aren’t the full scope of the project. A full book with striking illustrations by Benjamin Parks is added as well, making for an multi-layered collaborative effort.

The book and album in question is a great pairing of visually magnetizing drawings by Parks, lyrics and sheet music for the songs as well as Fink’s own take and explanations of the songs. Included are references to the original lyricists of the songs and text giving some insight on Fink’s arrangements of the songs. The book, of course, also comes with audio accompaniment as well.

Here is the lead track from the album: “Heap of Horses” https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=800119880372128

Simon Fink’s Lullabies project sounds like: James Taylor, Andrew Bird and the last thing you remember hearing before you fall asleep.

Visual artist Benjamin Parks and composer and author Simon Fink.

WHERE IS IT? St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran (Marshall Hall) (3800 Troost Ave, Kansas City, Missouri 64109)

WHEN IS IT?  Saturday, June 8th, 2019 8:00 PM, $15

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.


  • There will be only one proper album/book release show for “Lullabies Till Dawn”
  • Fink likely won’t have many shows promoting this project because of the complexity of all of the elements
  • This will be an interesting mixture of different types of art, visual and music, just like the project itself
  • The Wires are fresh off an album release of their own less than a month ago named “Wilder”
  • Benjamin Parks’ artwork will be an added feature to the concert
  • The event will start at 8 and be over by 9:30, enough time to feature the project prominently but not take up your entire Saturday evening

You should RSVP on facebook to the event so you don’t forget, here is the link: FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE

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Coming Soon: The Yawpers to Record Bar in Kansas City 4/22/19

WHO’S PLAYING?  The Yawpers (Denver, CO) and In The Whale (Greeley, CO)

WHAT TO EXPECT? Energy. Lots and lots of energy from two live bands who are known for loose and erratic live shows.

The Yawpers, photo by Megan Holmes

The Yawpers, photo by Megan Holmes

Denver, Colorado’s The Yawpers are one of the more interesting bands touring right now. Their image and live performances may be erratic and eccentric but the band is made up of very refined musicians. With The Yawpers new album “Human Question” they continue to prove they have one of the wider dynamics you’ll hear with any band around as proven by the raucous opener “Child of Mercy” which is completely compensated for by the soul sounding burner “Carry Me.” At times it seems like the wheels are about to fly off and other times they seem more sincere and accessible than you could imagine. The new powerful pop gem “Reasons To Believe” is probably the band’s best composition to date.

The Yawpers sounds like: Howlin’ Wolf, The Replacements and realizing it’s the last day of school.


In The Whale

Another Colorado band, In The Whale bring their intensity east to Kansas City as a noisy two piece band that creates every bit of the sonic footprint of a full band. They can range from mosh pit inducing rockers to driving acoustic numbers, expect far more of the much louder category for their Kansas City set.

In The Whale sounds like: Husker Du, Placebo, losing your sense of direction in a mosh pit

WHERE IS IT?  The Record Bar (1520 Grand Blvd, Kansas City, MO)

WHEN IS IT?  Tuesday, April 16th, 2019 7:00 PM, $10, 18+

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.


  • Tickets are $10… you spend more than that on popcorn at the movies
  • In The Whale seems like one of those cool underground bands you might only hear about seeing them as an opener
  • The Yawpers are releasing their third (an possibly best) record the Friday after
  • The Yawpers will probably be playing a lot of that album live
  • Live rock shows are a rare freeing thing, you should really indulge
  • The Record Bar sells beer… if that’s your thing
  • The most sinister of minds love rock shows, so do the least sinister… so what’s your excuse

You should RSVP on facebook to the event so you don’t forget, here is the link: FACEBOOK EVENT PAGE

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