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

The Hold Steady - The Stove & The Toaster



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


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.


  • 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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Album at a glance: Smash Fashion – Rompus Pompous

Smash Fashion - Rompus Pompous


These aging rockers still know how to have a good time. This album is sheer fun, never takes itself too seriously and maintains its high energy throughout.

The thunderous radio-ready leadoff track “Can’t Take You Anywhere” shows Smash Fashion’s knack for producing great hooks. This album is filled with the like as well. On “Soft As A Rock” the group takes their shot at power pop and channels a little Big Star to complete their throwback sound to the 70s where most of their music seems to live. You’ll get a lot of a glam rock vibe here too, it’s never more apparent than on the song “Rompus Pompous.” The track “The Proper Way To Eat A Muffin” may compete for the best song title you’ll hear this month and the music is pretty good too, it has a country tinge on the 70s rock vibe. The songs here could comfortably exist along side of lesser known rockers like The Wildhearts. While the music here may sound like a throwback (it does) it never sounds dated, the songs ring true and are just loose and fun.

Key Track: “Can’t Take You Anywhere”

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250 word album review: The 1984 Draft – Makes Good Choices

The 1984 Draft - Makes Good Choices


If you’re going to dabble in the indie rock scene, modeling yourself after The Hold Steady is a pretty solid game plan. The cleverly named The 1984 Draft seems to have done just that, from the jagged guitar licks in the wall of sound to the emphatic vocals, they seem to tip their cap to the Craig Finn led rockers across the board.

The straight forward rock approach is refreshing here, on songs like “Lately” and “Jan Kawolski” you get guitar riffs on top of a rhythm section with clear vocals on top of the mix, it’s a simple formula that is time tested and proven. On “Honest” the band pounds out a hooky anthem after a brooding start that builds to the songs peak. The toe-tapping opening bassline on “Megaphone” is a great draw in to when the thunderous guitars kick in. The literate lyrics always accent the rowdy songs and the snide vocal style of lead singer Joe Anderl fits perfectly with the songs. The song structures aren’t far off from the Replacements as the guitar licks are always leading to a vocal hook like on some of the catchiest songs here like “Morrissey of Mandys” and “Miss Ohio.”

The Replacements led to tons of bands forming like The Hold Steady and that band has inspired a new generation that sounds like it could well include The 1984 Draft and upon listening to this record you’ll realize there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Key Tracks” “Jan Kawolski” “Miss Ohio” “Honest”

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Coming Soon: Jenny Lewis to The Truman in Kansas City 7/10/18

WHO’S PLAYING?  Jenny Lewis (of Rilo Kiley) (Los Angeles, CA) & The Cactus Blossoms (Minneapolis, MN)

Jenny Lewis - Photo Credit Autumn de Wilde

Jenny Lewis – Photo Credit Autumn de Wilde

WHAT TO EXPECT?  Heart melting pop perfection and sweet rootsy country

Jenny Lewis is a lot of things, sure she has been in movies and on TV but now she is quickly climbing the ranks of career credibility in the music world. With her well established band Rilo Kiley she made quite the dent with several fantastic album becoming a princess in the indie rock scene. She is now spreading her wings as a solo artist. With three albums under her belt (along with an addition album under the name Jenny & Johnny) she has crafted another layer to her career.

If her previous 2018 tour dates are any indication a fourth solo record can’t be far off. Her setlists have included a group of new songs that can almost certainly be linked to a new record. She also hits some Rilo Kiley tunes during her set as well as a heavy dose of song off her beloved debut record “Rabbit Fur Coat.”

Jenny Lewis sounds like: Lucinda Williams, Stevie Nicks and the last voice you want to hear before you go to bed.

The Cactus Blossoms bring their blend of time warp country harmonies to Kansas City to open for Jenny Lewis and what a great pairing. The Cactus Blossoms have a waltzy old school vibe that will relax and tantalize the audience before the headliner and likely win over droves of new fans for the Minneapolis duo. Expect a relaxed set with plenty of audience swaying and an attentive crowd. For a band of this ire there may not be a much better town than Kansas City for them to spread their smooth country songs.

The Cactus Blossoms sound like: The Everly Brothers, The Louvin Brothers and harmonies in a dark whiskey soaked bar, likely with a mechanical bull in it.

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

WHEN IS IT?  Tuesday, July 10th 2018; 8:00 PM, $28.50

Here is a link to buy your tickets right NOW.


  • Lewis is continuing her stellar run a great albums and singing song from all her recent records
  • Have you seen Jenny Lewis? Wowza!
  • Her shows are notoriously high energy and entrancing
  • Lewis will be slinging tunes off of what is certain to be a new album
  • The Truman is one of Kansas City most exciting new venues
  • it’s a Tuesday, what else do you have to do? Keep in mind you have a DVR
  • Tickets are under $30… that isn’t bad for such a big show
  • The Cactus Blossoms are a great opener, some old school country on a Tuesday
  • You’ll get to see two groups at the peak of their relevancy, there’ll never be a better time

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

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The Vinyl Court: The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Time Out

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - Time Out

  • Artist: The Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • Album: Time Out (1959)
  • Purchased at: Red Racks Thrift Store (St. Joseph, MO) for $1

The used record shelf at Red Racks Thrift Store has never been too nice to me. I got a little gem here though with “Time Out” by The Dave Brubeck Quartet. It’s a quintessential jazz record and regraded across the board as a classic in its genre. It’s all because of my cool music guru/ride or die Sam Blumer that I even know of Brubeck’s existence, hence the purchase. The jacket was in good condition and the record had only minor surface scratches so dropping a folded up Washington to own this one was a given.

The music here is some pretty complex jazz yet is considered to be one of the most accessible records of its genre which is quite the accomplishment. The needle drop immediately takes to to a song with a 9/8 time signature (yes, 9/8) in “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and that isn’t terribly unusual for this group of songs. “Take Five” has a hypnotic rhythm that makes it hard to deny how good it is. Some more bee-bop tunes like “Three To Get Ready” prove that Brubeck and company are no joke.

Verdict: This album is far outside of my normal comfort zone but is never a boring listen. It’s also great atmosphere music for the background of a conversation or activities like writing, drawing or putting together a new nightstand from IKEA.

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