250 word album review: Marie/Lepanto – Tenkiller

Marie/Lepanto - Tenkiller


Marie/Lepanto was really a logical thing to happen. Songwriter extraordinaires Justin Peter Kinkel-Schuster (Water Liars) and Will Johnson (Centro matic) joined forces and in retrospect it almost made too much sense not to do. They have similar songwriting styles, similar voices and hail from roughly the same area. This is where the name comes into play, Marie and Lepanto are two towns about 20 miles apart in Arkansas just south of the Missouri boot heel.

When it comes to the 10 songs on their debut album it’s mostly a quite acoustic affair as can be expected with these two. Songs like Johnson’s “Famished Raven” and Schuster’s “Tenkiller” are about as stripped down as they can get, relying on each singer’s songwriting ability and the mass of their vocals to fill the songs. That’s not to say this album is a sleeping pill though, “Inverness” is a squealing jammy romp reminiscent of Centro-matic and has more edge than anything else here. Some electric guitar adorns songs like “High Desert” and “The Rail” as well but are used in a less aggressive way. “Features/Fights” by Johnson and “Simple Scenes” by Schuster show each writer’s strengths and why this album gels as well as it does. The record flows well with each singer taking turns throughout the tracklist because they compliment each other so well.

At times the album doesn’t feel like much of a collaboration though, each writer definitely makes it clear which songs are theirs, luckily for the sake of the album their styles are so complimentary of one another and it plays very smooth front to back.

Key Tracks: “Famished Raven” “Simple Scenes” “Inverness”

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250 word album review: Dreamgirl – Dreamgirl

Dreamgirl - Dreamgirl


Dreamgirl blindsided 2018 with the release of their first full length album on New Year’s Day following a couple single releases and the brilliantly titled “Illuminaughty” EP in 2015. The Midwest band’s take on dreampop is as west coast as anything made there. The focus on textures and clean production on the album make it fit perfectly with any preconceptions of their sound.

On the opening track “Forever Between Us (Pt. 1)” you’ll have a microcosm of what this album represents. The bouncy guitars seem to fight rhythms as it creates them and the coated keyboards make a gentle atmosphere for the songs to live in. On “Mythos” you’ll find the band engaging in some clever wordplay with the great chorus of “Don’t think if I call you back right now, it doesn’t mean I’m not hanging up on you.” The song’s playfulness is infectious and pushes it to be a standout here. On “Bollywood” vocalist Austin Marks gives Hopkins a break all while bunking any monotony the album might have. Hopkins’ high pitched vocal style fits the album’s mood perfectly with her smooth delivery and Marks’ singing compliments it nicely. The duo double teams the track “Just Friends” with it’s waterbed rythm, Hopkins builds some tension with her vocal part just as the chorus by Marks slowly releases it.

This west coast pop sound is very modern and fresh sounding here and this record is playful and polished in all the right spots, this album proves a great followup to their strong debut EP.

Key Tracks: “Forever Between Us (Pt. 1)” “Mythos” “Bollywood”

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Album at a glance: Ladygod – Rock N Roll Kaliphate

Ladygod - Rock & Roll Kaliphate


Ladygod is a groovy band, meaning they absolutely relish in a good groove. “Rock & Roll Kaliphate” is filled with simple guitar licks repeated to make sure everything drops into a comfortable groove.

On “Pretty Clean Tramp” to lead off the album it is clear what the band is going for, the smooth minimalist sound speaks for itself. The short rhythms are reminiscent of what Mike Doughty has built a career doing. The best part about these songs is that the band never tries to overcomplicate things. On tracks like “Trans Am” they seem to put a higher stock on finding a groove than lyrical content or anything else, they keep it their first priority. On “For All The Stars” the lyrics get a little more light to shine on them but overall the album is dominated by sheik, ultra cool guitar riffs and grooves and to be quite honest there is really nothing wrong with that.

Key Track: “Trans Am”

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250 word album review: The Deslondes – Hurry Home

The Deslondes - Hurry Home


The Deslondes are making quite a wake with their first two records. Their extremely old school country style paired with great songwriting has carved themselves quite the niche in modern music. Their second record “Hurry Home” is more than a follow-up to their debut, it’s an improvement on it.

Having multiple songwriters and singers really pays off in shaking any chance of monotony for the group. Sam Doores and Riley Downing are quite the 1-2 punch here making sure the album is refined and has no filler during its 13 song run. The true to life porch country folk of “Muddy Water” may be what the band does best but it’s far from all they accomplish here. “(This Ain’t A) Sad Song” is an excellent run-thru of Animals style 60s rock but never wanders too far from the twang that defines the band. The band indulges in some New Orleans swing on “Nelly” paying tribute to one of several places claiming to call them their own. They even roll the calendar back to the 1950s for the rave up “Hurricane Shakedown” providing and important up-tempo number. The band is easily at their best doing sweet folk like on “Beautiful Friend” and the waltzy “Just In Love With You.” Their porch country dominates throughout, with strong tracks like “She Better Be Lonely” it’s hard to resist this band.

As long as this songwriting team is together it’s difficult to envision their records ever getting old, this band shows the potential for a long, successful future.

Key Tracks: “(This Ain’t A) Sad Song” “She Better Be Lonely” “Muddy Water”

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Vocals On Top’s Top 10 Albums of 2017

This list is my favorite part of this website, every year I toil through reviews and my iTunes and record collection to select my very favorite albums of the year and it is always a blast. Eight years running I’ve had a top 10 list and I wish I had them for the last 20, I’ll just build them one year at a time from here. Craig Finn wins out this year, this album was played so much this year for me it would be impossible to name anything else #1.

1.Craig Finn – We All Want The Same Things

Craig Finn - We All Want The Same Things

Criag Finn has finished at #4 and #2 in my rankings with his previous two records, once again he moves up, this time to #1. From the beautifully done mostly spoken word song “God In Chicago” to the rocking “Tracking Shots” Finn is at his best here. On “Be Honest” he creates a new moniker for himself and writes a pretty damn good song as well. At times enthralling and at times confusing (see “It Hits When It Hits”) this album just doesn’t get old. Every song is a story and every story leaves much of it up to the listener to decipher, it’s simply a captivating album.

Key Track: “God In Chicago”


2. Will Johnson – Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm

Will Johnson - Hatteras Night, A Good Luck Charm

Will Johnson used the dissolution of Centro-matic to expand the sound on his solo records. He uses some harsh electric guitar on songs like “Every Single Day of Late” but is still at his best using acoustic strums and his massive voice on songs like “Ruby Shameless” and “Predator.” Johnson has a way with words to draw you in and his vocal performances are always top notch, he always releases good albums but this one is his best solo record and among the best he has ever recorded.

Key Track: “Predator”


3. Deslondes – Hurry Home

The Deslondes - Hurry Home

The Deslondes are incredibly unique in their current niche. With multiple singer-songwriters in the band their sound is always fresh. It’s not just the vocal performances, it is also the style of the songs, sometimes old school folk/country and other time 50s bop or even drawing on the The Animals for 60s style pop, this group has an incredible range. The best songs here are the country tunes still, “(This Ain’t A) Sad Song” and “Muddy Water” being the cream of the crop.

Key Track: “(This Ain’t A) Sad Song”


4. Beck – Colors

Beck - Colors

What the hell is Beck doing making a dance pop album at his age? Once you let that question stop festering you can enjoy this album because it is actually very good. Beck has always had the tendencies to do these kinds of things but he went all in here and it paid off. This is best enjoyed as an album because when served as singles the songs can really be held out of context. This album shouldn’t be good… but it is. It is likely the most fun record of the year.

Key Track: “No Distraction”


5. Queens of the Stone Age – Villains


This was supposed to be my album of the year. It isn’t. It is still a great album though, my expectations were simply too high. It is great dance rock, “Feet Don’t Fail Me” and “The Way You Used To Do” simply rip. It is everything Queens of the Stone Age is supposed to be and time will probably reveal how important this record was to rock music. The best hard rock band in the game is still killing it and we should all be grateful for that, this one feels like it missed the mark of greatness but just barely.

Key Track: “Feet Don’t Fail Me”


6. Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator

Hurray For The Riff Raff - Navigator

This album came out of nowhere for me, a complete album that really was a surprise. The sweet vocals and powerful songwriting are really impressive. The Dylanesque “Living In The City” and the great pop triumph of “Hungry Ghost” carry this record. “Rican Beach” is politically charged and “Pa’lante” is one of the more interesting songs here. There is a lot to digest on this record and that richness really pays off.

Key Track: “Living In The City”


7. Ashley Raines & The New West Revue – It Could Be Worse


Ashley Raines & The New West Revue - It Could Be Worse

The Midwest’s greatest kept secret released another great record this year. The most produced sounding record in Raines’ long catalog stands out. His songwriting is always top notch but on “It Could Be Worse” he brushes off the rust he normally wears with pride and works on the shine of the songs. Songs like “Better Days” and “Desperate Man” are all the better for it. On many songs like “Old Time Religion” you can still see the festering negativity shining through but it wouldn’t really seem like an Ashley Raines record without it.

Key Track: “Better Days”


8. Justin Townes Earle – Kids In The Street

Justin Townes Earle - Kids in the Street

Justin Townes Earle gets the “comeback album of the year” award. After a couple lackluster efforts that seemed a little aimless he got back to what made so many people be entranced by him in the first place. On songs like “What She’s Crying For” you can hear the same old JTE that wrote “The Good Life” so many years ago. With songs like “Champagne Corolla” he seamlessly makes old timey country-folk sound modern, this is how you can tell he is in the zone.

Key Track: “Champagne Corolla”


9. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit - The Nashville Sound

For Jason Isbell to receive praise at this point is redundant. Vocals On Top has touted him long before he was decorating his house with Grammys and it’s no surprise to see him cashing in on tons of year-end lists. “The Nashville Sound” is a very good album but far from his best. “If We Were Vampires” may be one of his best songs though, he also has some rock songs return to his palette with “Cumberland Gap” and “Hope The High Road” which are a very welcomed sound. There are a couple songs that don’t live up here but the album is still easily one of the best of the year.

Key Track: “If We Were Vampires”


10. Spoon – Hot Thoughts


Spoon are no strangers to putting out good records. “Hot Thoughts” is stacked with good songs but has a very different sound. The guitars are pushed back a bit for a more electronic sound but Spoon still pulls it off. The acoustic strums are gone but the powerful hooks that define the band are as strong as ever. “Do I Have To Talk You Into It” and “Hot Thoughts” are great, “Shotgun” is a riffy stunner but what the heck is with “Us” to end the album? It pulls the whole album down into the spiral it alone created.

Key Track: “Shotgun”


Every Year a few albums just barely miss the cut. This year those albums for Vocals On Top were Travis Meadows – First Cigarette, Langhorne Slim – Lost At Last Vol. 1, Liam Gallagher – As You Were, Toadies – Lower Side of Uptown, Mastodon – Emperor of Sand, Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett – Lotta Sea Lice, Tim Kasher – No Resolution

Here are my past lists:

My list from 2010, headed up by Jason Collett’s Rat-A-Tat-Tat

My list from 2011, headed up by Tom Waits’ Bad As Me

The 2012 list belonged to The Divine Fits – A Thing Called Divine Fits 

The 2013 the top of the mountain belonged to Queens of the Stone Age – …Like Clockwork

The 2014 list belonged to Lucinda Williams – Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone

The 2015 list was spearheaded by Courtney Barnett’s – Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit.

2016 was then ruled by Wilco and their brilliant Schmilco album

Now it is time for former Hold Steady lead singer Craig Finn to take his turn on top with his phenominal “We All Want The Same Things.”

Thank you – Clint at VocalsOnTop (vocalsontop at gmail.com)

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Coming Soon: Travis Meadows at Knuckleheads in Kansas City 1/25/18

WHO’S PLAYING?  Travis Meadows

Travis Meadows, photo credit Joshua Black Wilkins

WHAT TO EXPECT?  Travis Meadows is a heartbreaking story and an inspirational one all wrapped together. Meadows beat cancer (losing most of one leg in the process) and started his long battle with alcoholism before his 20th birthday. Turning to music wasn’t the rest of the story either. He traveled for several years making Christian music and preaching all over the world.

After not finding the answers he was looking for preaching he started looking in the bottom of a bottle in a war that took him through rehab 4 times before it finally stuck in 2010. He then wrote the heartbreaking album “Killin’ Uncle Buzzy” based on his experiences in rehab and his career finally found traction. The album got his foot in the door for several huge acts that recognized his songwriting chops. This list includes Jake Owen, Blackberry Smoke, Eric Church, Hank Williams Jr, Wynonna Judd and even Lynyrd Skynyrd. Upon writing songs for these big name acts he is embarking on his first ever label backed album release and tour at age 52 with the first date being in Kansas City on January 25th, 2018.

The album cover of Travis Meadows' new album "First Cigarette" released in October 2018

The album cover of Travis Meadows’ new album “First Cigarette” released in October 2018

Just because he is now “backed” by a label doesn’t mean he’s new to the touring life. Over the last two years alone he has strewn dates all over the east coast to The Midwest, occasionally hitting Texas and working over to California a couple times. So his latest record titled “First Cigarette” not only contains some of his most accomplished work yet but songs that are repeatedly road tested.


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

WHEN IS IT?  Thursday, January 25th 2018; 7:00 PM, $10

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.


  • Tickets are $10… that’s pretty much the price of a meal
  • Meadows deserves the attention after all these years, who says your career can’t peak after 50 years old
  • His new record “First Cigarette” not only was recently released in October but even charted in the US Heat and US Indie Billboard categories
  • Look at that album cover, isn’t that endlessly interesting?
  • It’s a Thursday night in January, what else do you have going on? Maybe take Friday off and make it a 3 day weekend
  • Knuckleheads is a honky tonk haven, the place oozes honky tonk from the classic pictures and posters on the wall to the train tracks not 25 feet from the venue
  • This is Meadows’ first show in Kansas City in a long time if not ever
  • It will be the official start of his tour supporting the new record
  • He will be selling the album at the show, be the first on your block to own it

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

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Album at a glance: Scott Hrabko & The Rabbits – Summer

Scott Hrabko & The Rabbits - Summer

Scott Hrabko & The Rabbits is a fun little project with plenty of twang and a whole lot of swing. The band trolls the dancy country music line with upbeat songs like “Anne Boleyn” and “Eyes of Bonny Blue.” Things slow down occasionally like on “The Ogre’s Waltz” which really helps the album flow but the group is strongest when hammering out bluesy country stompers. The album may be highlighted by the sweetly done “Corrina (Don’t Take The Long Way Home)” as the song strolls patiently with some soft guitar and gentle vocals. Overall the record may not be the best album you’ve heard all year but there is simply nothing not to enjoy here, it’s just fun americana.

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