250 word album review: Lucero – Among The Ghosts

Lucero - Among The Ghosts

Stars4.5

 

Lucero returns with more of what makes Lucero great. Honest, heartfelt lyrics bedded in whiskey soaked guitar licks with Ben Nichols signature rasp. The band doesn’t do anything here they’ve never done before but they are doing it as good as they ever have as well.

“Among The Ghosts” feels a little more stripped down than their excellent last album “All A Man Should Do” and even though Rick Steff is an essential part of the band at this point, the piano/organ/accordion parts feel less featured than on recent records. Steff is still the glue that puts Lucero in the upper echelon of bands. Guitarist Brian Venable also shines through too, his licks have always been the backbone of the band and it rings through clear on tracks like the excellent “Bottom of the Sea.” The perfect Nichols penned tune “Everything Has Changed” shows how great of wordsmith he is and really has always been. His scratchy vocals echo through “Cover Me” as the song sounds like a sequel to “Can’t You Hear Them Howl” off their last record. The sentimentality of “Loving” is undeniable as the longtime concert staple finally gets inducted into the Lucero songbook. The eeriness of “Long Way Back Home” provides a great mood change for the record and shows the versatility of the band.

Lucero is as consistent as bands get, they might not win over many new fans with this latest record but they are without a doubt as good as they have ever been here, the fans just need to find them.

Key Tracks: “Cover Me” “Bottom of the Sea” “Loving”

 

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250 word album review: Elias Black – Reclamation

Elias Black - Reclamation

Stars3.5

 

Elias Black’s “Reclamation” is a muscley industrial rock album that keeps hooks in mind but still keeps things heavy. The vocals are clear and on top of a mix of guitars and a thumping rhythm section, the singing is audible and are always well under control, even when screaming. Some singers know just how far to push their voices before they break, just look at Dave Grohl, “Reclamation” happens to be another good example of this.

The brooding growl and eerie sound of “Blood” sounds like a Mark Lanegan track with a heavy bottom end. On “Fire” you’ll hear the dynamics get toyed with, as they are throughout the album, as the music expands and contracts within the song. The guitar bounce gets dangerously close to punk territory on “Parasite” while other songs like “Hurt Is Power” could be mistaken for power-pop. The cover of Leadbelly’s “In The Pines” is definitely in the vein of what Kurt Cobain had in mind when he toyed with the song for Nirvana. Parts of the breakdown in the song get a little jammy before the yearning and pained vocals kick back in. The song sums up the mood of the record well, it’s filled with pain and trying to cope, but aren’t most albums after all?

This collection is a well rounded group of songs overall with enough dynamic changes to keep you on your toes. The wheel isn’t being reinvented here but sometimes you just need a solid rock album and this one probably won’t disappoint.

Key Tracks: “Blood” “Fire” “In The Pines”

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250 word album review: The Tillers -The Tillers

The Tillers - The Tillers

Stars3.5

The Tillers new record is filled with fiery bluegrass, aggressive flat picking and howling fiddle. The songs here rarely take a downshift in tempo from the opening song on. The closing number “Another Postcard” takes a deep breath after a ferocious affair but other than that this record is inspired and energetic.

Songs like “Like A Hole In My Head” really sum up what The Tillers are all about, the picking and some blue collar lyrics. The Woody Guthrie cover “All You Fascists Are Bound To Lose” fits in perfectly here with the scope of the album, the band was even bold enough to add some lyrics to the song which weld seamlessly. The fast tempo never gets overly aggressive here either and always keeps its composure. “Dear Mother” has an old timey timeless quality to it as again, it is all about the banjo. The fiddle added to the songs really ties everything together too, the flat out non-stop picking would probably be a little too much without it.

The Tillers are obviously among the finest of their peers here. Overall this record reaches a nice medium point between the obnoxious “speedgrass” album and the slow bluegrass records making for a very smooth listen.

Key Track: “Like A Hole In My Head”

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250 word album review: Stone Blind – Devils, Liars & Fools

Stone Blind - Devils, Liars & Fools

Stars3.5

Stone Blind pays tribute to heavy low-end rock with their debut album. This bare bones band makes a lot of noise with limited instrumentation by making the most of them. The low-end of bass and drums power the songs while the guitar struggles to fly away in spite of their weight.

On songs like “Jackknife Messiah” the bass lines and drums lock in together and let the guitar shred over the top. The vocals are reminiscent of early Black Sabbath and it matches the music perfectly. There are moments of Thin Lizzy-esque glam rock skuzz on “So Low” where the guitar licks are possibly the most interesting here. On the lengthy instrumental journey “Blue Dream” the band does their best to lock into a “Stranglehold” type of groove and nail it as the song is as vivid as any of the other songs with lyrics. Speaking of lyrics, “Joyride With The Devil” is a great story song here where the protagonist literally finds the prince of darkness as his ride or die and traveling far and wide, there’s no way that concept isn’t intriguing.

The 8 songs here blast for over 40 minutes and don’t let up much. They keep it simple but the riffs and grooves they fall into keep things interesting. If you like to crank up music in your car and tempt the speed limit, this may be the album for you.

Key Tracks: “Joyride With The Devil” “Blue Dream” “So Low”

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250 word album review: The Hold Steady – The Stove & The Toaster

The Hold Steady - The Stove & The Toaster

Stars4.5

 

The opening line “Let’s just say they owe me a favor…” is probably about as good as Springsteen’s “They blew up the chicken man in Philly last night…” The line leads to a typically twisted Craig Finn penned tale with the full force of his band The Hold Steady behind him.

The group has been sneaking out releases of digital singles every four months since late last year, compiling 6 songs now it seems the group is still as good as they ever were. The fact that this was released as an old school Tuesday release is cool too. (It is the reason new Vocals On Top album reviews fall on Tuesdays as well.) The Hold Steady still sound hungry here as “The Stove & The Toaster” is filled with an unpredictable Finn story and eager guitars and horns to set the mood. The great part is the specific details of cities and even the namesake here, putting “the stash in the stove and the cash in the toaster.”  “Star 18” is no slouch either, again the opening line is great as Finn rattles off “I know we made plans to meet in Spokane but the way I make plans you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt” before preaching his way through the rest of the song. There’s other lyrical gems here like “The dress she was wearin’ made a nice case for natural selection.” Lyrics like these just prove how truly great Craig Finn is.

These digital singles are all great songs with no throw-aways so far. We can only hope this is leading to a full album in the near future.

Key Tracks: “The Stove & The Toaster” “Star 18”

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Courtney Barnett at The Truman in Kansas City 7/18/18

WHO’S PLAYING?  Courtney Barnett (Melbourne, Australia) & Vagabon (New York)

Photo credit Pooneh Ghana

Courtney Barnett, photo credit Pooneh Ghana

WHAT TO EXPECT?  Jagged new rock and roll by the queen of slacker rock.

Courtney Barnett currently has the future of rock and roll on her shoulders. at one time Nirvana carried it, Limp Bizkit folded under it and Jack White propelled it, now Barnett has it. Just 3 full length records and a couple EPs into her career it is obvious she is here to stay and will be a driving force for record sales, concerts and radio play. Her two proper solo albums have each been among the best of that year… easily. Her sound can be as calm as a cat laying in the sun or as vicious as a dog trying to get off of his leash. Her music has that mass dynamic many others strive for and she is great at all of it.

Here is the Vocals On Top 5 star review of Barnett’s latest masterpiece:

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

Stars5

This album is exactly what the best case scenario was for Courtney Barnett. After a couple of successful EPs and debut album, then a solid release with fellow slacker rock icon Kurt Vile the stage was perfectly set for “Tell Me How You Really Feel.”

Barnett’s last record “Sometimes I Sit and Think…” was very, very good. It was hard to imagine her next solo album would eclipse it but it has. Right away “Hopefulessness” is a great brooding opener that builds to the songs that will soon follow. The line from the song “take your broken heart and turn it into art” sums up the record nicely too. The lackadaisical approach Barnett is known for is delivered perfectly on “Need A Little Time” as the electric guitars ring in the background. On “Nameless, Faceless” (hey, I wonder if she’s ever listened to Nirvana’s “Nevermind”) the tempo is more upbeat but the mood fails to lift. The Jeckyl/Hyde song’s chorus dips to a distorted darkness that starkly contrasts the verses. “Walkin’ On Eggshells” reveals even more heartbreak and as it sounds like a pacifist shoegaze version of Dylan’s “Positively 4th Street.” It’s not all mellow rock though, “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” sounds like one of those early amazing b-sides from the White Stripes with their brash guitar noise and ambiguousness.

Every songs here is a highlight, you won’t find a weak song that doesn’t possess something interesting. Barnett simply knocked her proper sophomore album out of the park. If she can continue to write songs this good and interesting her records will be must-buys for years to come.

Key Tracks: “Need A Little Time” “Walkin’ On Eggshells” “Nameless, Faceless” “City Looks Pretty”

This show is important and shouldn’t be missed, you’ll likely have tons more chances to see her but never at this exciting point in her career. Barnett has been playing this record in it’s entirety at all shows in addition to some of her other material afterward, tell me that doesn’t sound cool.

Courtney Barnett sounds like: The Breeders, Mudhoney, a closet of flannel shirts

Vagabon is an interesting opener for Barnett, her soft voice is far less rigid than Barnett’s and therefor creates a nice balance. The laid back style of dreamy indie folk rock still makes sense though. It will be a quiet set at times with tons of emphasis on lyrics. Vagabon’s new album “Infinite Worlds” came out in 2017 and will be exciting to hear live.

Vagabon sounds like: Mazzy Star, Waxahatchee, a wallflower’s headphones

WHERE IS IT?  The Truman (601 East Truman Road KCMO)

WHEN IS IT?  Wednesday, July 18th 2018; 8:00 PM, $29.50

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.

WHY SHOULD I GO?

  • Barnett is touring behind what will likely be the album of the year on many lists
  • Barnett is what is new and exciting in the world of rock and roll
  • She is the queen of slacker rock, go be around other slackers
  • The Truman is a cool new venue
  • You can pick up the coolest Courtney Barnett swag at the merch table
  • You can be on the ground floor of an artist who will be relevant for decades to come
  • Vagabon is a great opener, calm and introspective but carrying much power too
  • Barnett is from Australia, that isn’t close. Go see her while she is here
  • The future of Kansas City Courtney Barnett concerts could depend on this show’s attendance, the city should show their support.

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: Jenny Lewis and The Cactus Blossoms at The Truman in Kansas City, MO 7/10/18

The prospect of a Jenny Lewis show only gets more intriguing with time. She has carefully built her body of musical work to be interestingly diverse. By doing this she has eluded monotony and really keeps her sound fresh. With a new album clearly coming down the chute soon she has taken to the road and luckily stopped in Kansas City to check in with some old friends and play some new songs along with a few old.

In tow were The Cactus Blossoms, primarily a duo from Minnesota. This incarnation of the band would fill out as a five piece though with the two mainstays Jack Torrey and Page Burkum leading the band with their synched harmonies and acoustic strums. The backing band featuring a lead electric guitar, bass and drums helped the quiet duo entrance larger audiences while they open for Lewis on the road. The band did carry a few of their own fans to the show too though, most notably two guys both wearing Hawaiian style shirts with different cactus designs on them, this simply could NOT have been an accident.

The Cactus Blossoms bring their old school sound to Kansas City, Missouri at The Truman on 7/10/18.

The Cactus Blossoms bring their old school sound to Kansas City, Missouri at The Truman on 7/10/18.

For The Truman, one of Kansas City’s newest and hippest music venues, the crowd was mostly attentive. The down home country stylings of The Cactus Blossoms were just what the crowd needed as an opener on the night. They came out of the gate with what might have been there best song of the whole set with the Everly Brothers inspired new song presumably called “5 O’Clock in the Morning.” The upbeat “Stoplight Kisses” and the Cali-surf sounding “Change Your Ways or Die”  would also be highlights. Slower 50s sounding prom sounding songs would be the meat and potatoes of their set though. “You’re Dreaming” was slow dance worthy in the venue that had the feel of a high school gymnasium anyway and the closing “Powder Blue” was a somber and slow conclusion to the band’s evening.

The Cactus Blossoms at The Truman in Kansas City, MO 7/10/18 setlist:

  • 5 O’Clock in the Morning
  • You’re Dreaming
  • Stoplight Kisses
  • Gotta Lotta Love
  • Blue as the Ocean, Blue as the Sea
  • Change Your Ways Or Die (The Buffalo Song)
  • Mississippi
  • No More Crying the Blues
  • Please Don’t Call Me Crazy
  • Powder Blue

Jenny Lewis came out from behind the stage silhouetted by the lights behind her, her voice would be heard before she was seen on the night. Sitting on a barstool by the piano in middle of the stage she sang the first of six new songs on this night. When the lights came up the crowd erupted and Lewis was revealed to be unsurprisingly stylishly dressed. She would spend most of the show wandering the stage and working the crowd.

She would heavily hit her first solo record “Rabbit Fur Coat” much to the dismay of absolutely nobody. She would play 5 songs off the now classic record including the triumphant “Rise Up With Fists!!!” and the song with one of her best ever vocal performances, “Happy.” She would stay true to most of these older songs with the exception of “The Big Guns” that was definitely adapted to have more punch with a full band. Lewis was just as comfortable with more pop leaning material like “Just One Of The Guys” and the rocking “See Fernando.”

The show would shine its brightest with the small sampling of Rilo Kiley songs Lewis decided to pull out. “The Moneymaker” and “Silver Lining” had been part of the setlist for the first part of 2018 but the shocker came when for the first time in two years Lewis pulled out “Portions For Foxes.” The anthem was instantly recognized by the crowd who frenzied while singing every word of the tune. “Silver Lining” was especially impactful as Lewis commented afterward “Those were simpler times, don’t you think?”

Jenny Lewis captivates the crowd in Kansas City, Missouri at The Truman on 7/10/18.

Jenny Lewis captivates the crowd in Kansas City, Missouri at The Truman on 7/10/18.

The newer songs would bring just as big of a smile to her face though, the songs seemed more based around the piano as Lewis played it on a couple new songs herself. The best of the new songs would be called “Wasted Youth” with a tip of the cap to the piano laden “Do See Doh” as well. She would close the main set with a playful reading of her song “She’s Not Me” where she exited the stage like a rock star near the end of the song.

After another new song “Dogwood” opened the encore she would climax the show with a grungy version of “The Next Messiah” with the crowd screaming in response. The band would gather around one mic as Lewis took on “Acid Tongue” solo to close the show. It was a great closer as the crowd was on point for the philosophical tune. It was only hindered by one horribly rude concertgoer who requested “Come back to Omaha” during one of the quietest moments of the song, a totally classless move with the great momentum Lewis had built up. Lewis is a pro and took it in stride though and didn’t let it effect her delivery of the song. She seems to have perfected a great mix of new material while appeasing her old school fans as well. She has grown into a really great performer and her ability to weave her different styles together was terribly impressive.

Jenny Lewis captivates the crowd in Kansas City, Missouri at The Truman on 7/10/18.

Jenny Lewis captivates the crowd in Kansas City, Missouri at The Truman on 7/10/18.

Jenny Lewis at The Truman in Kansas City, MO 7/10/18 setlist:

  • Heads Gonna Roll
  • The Big Guns
  • You Are What You Love
  • Rise Up With Fists!!!
  • Melt Your Heart
  • Just One of the Guys
  • Slippery Slopes
  • Happy
  • Head Underwater
  • Hollywood Lawn
  • Party Clown
  • Wasted Youth
  • The Moneymaker (Rilo Kiley song)
  • Silver Lining (Rilo Kiley song)
  • Do See Doh
  • Portions For Foxes (Rilo Kiley song)
  • Pretty Bird
  • See Fernando
  • She’s Not Me
  • encore break
  • Dogwood
  • The Next Messiah
  • Acid Tongue
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