Artist of the Month

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November 2015
The Old No. 5s
The Old No. 5s’ second album, Steam, is first and foremost a blues record. But it shouldn't be pigeonholed. A self-proclaimed rock/roots trio, members Brock Alexander (guitar/lead vocals), Derek Tucker (bass/vocals), and Aaron Thomas (percussion/vocals) prove they can play the blues with the best of them, but also have the chops to bust out some serious soul, bring the funk, or simply construct a nice power pop song.
The majority of the 11 tracks are fairly straightforward blues rockers, beginning with the album's first song, “Going Nowhere.” A perfect appetizer, it gives listeners a taste of what can be heard throughout the album: solid vocals, nimble guitar, and one of the best rhythm sections you'll find on a local or national release this year. There is an undeniable Stevie Ray Vaughan influence on this and several of the other true blues tunes, including “Starting to Show,” “Easy,” and the harder rocking “Hill Country.” While few guitarists can match his licks, Alexander certainly dials in Vaughan's tone, and has plenty of salty riffs himself.
Alexander's vocal style varies. On “Easy” he is confident and powerful, channeling a cocky Jimi Hendrix. He shows off a deep soul sound during “Keep Lovin' Me Baby.” On “Little Man,” a jazzier number, he is a bit more transparent and vulnerable, much like a young John Mayer. While he is very capable at each, I couldn't help wondering which one is Alexander’s real voice.
The standout track on Steam has to be “Barn Party.” A tightly wound ball of energy, it combines ferocious slide guitar (sounding very similar in this case to a pedal steel), brilliant bass, and a shuffling beat to create foot-stomping fun. Reminiscent of Robert Randolph and the Family Band, it starts uptempo and only gets faster, ending at a blistering pace. Be sure to have your air instruments handy for this one.
The Old No. 5s display a more unique style on the album's final track, “Just the Way I Am.” While remaining true to the band's bluesy vibe, the song has a catchy pop sensibility—with an impressive jam in the middle—and should appeal to a wide audience. The trio seems to find their own identity here, something I hope to hear more of on future recordings. 
Steam is filled with truly fantastic music that taps into several genres. The songwriting and execution is top-notch. The expertise and use of each instrument, tempo changes, and drawn-out solos make it one of the most enjoyable local albums I've heard in some time. As the band continues to mature and distinguish itself, The Old No. 5s should become a force to be reckoned with—both locally and beyond.

--Brad Scott 

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Album review: The Blackbird Revue - Glow (EP)

Album review: The Blackbird Revue - Glow (EP)

2013 is shaping up to be another very fine vintage for local music, with several quality releases already available and a slew of eagerly-anticipated albums coming soon to fine retailers and Bandcamp pages near you. Add to this list Glow, the third EP (and first since 2010) from The Blackbird Revue. Husband-and-wife team Jacob and Danielle Prestidge have established themselves as purveyors of an ear-pleasing sound that combines Americana, folk, country, and indie pop in various layers, and their vocal harmonies continue to astonish and devastate. Glow shows the twosome, with the help of several skilled musicians, bringing these skills to the listener in fine form.

The lead track, “When You Are Mine,” shows The Blackbird Revue at the height of its harmonic powers. Those of you who have taken singing lessons or been involved in choral music for any number of years will understand this: both Jacob and Danielle show great ability at singing over the notes. Coming at the music from above gives the vocals an airy, lilting quality during the softer moments at the beginning of this song (and throughout the EP), but the second half sees the tempo change from a gentle breeze to a howling gale, lifting the listener up and carrying said listener on a Thelma and Louise-esque ride straight over the cliff …
… where the title track awaits to catch you and cradle you in its gentle comfort. Glow paints a lyrical landscape with such verses as “fade / our sunsoaked yesterdays / to sepias and grays,” with the intertwined voices alternating in the roles of both palette and canvas. “Winter Rest” is the most pop-sensible track of the four, with undeniable hooks that make toe-tapping a near certainty. The EP concludes with “Lone Swan,” a winsome ballad that offers an encouraging word and a shoulder to lean on for someone whose burden has grown heavy (“this world is cruel this world is kind / and sometimes love is hard to find / so if you need to clear your mind / take the keys and take your time”).
When you listen to Glow, you hear music that pleases with its honesty and directness, but the notes that spring from your speakers don’t tell the entire story. Listening to Danielle and Jacob work together, harmonize together, and just be together, you realize that they have … something … indefinable, yet unmistakable. This isn’t just a musical duo, and this isn’t just a married couple. This is a union of two spirits and souls that complement each other perfectly as no other could. The underlying intensity and obvious passion shine brightly throughout this 14-minute love letter from the Blackbird Revue.
I hope someday we all get to experience that same glow.
The group’s next performance will be next Friday, March 8 at River’s Bend Restaurant and Bar in Parkville with Jason Craig and The Wingmen at 8:00 pm (Facebook event here). The Blackbird Revue will also be a part of the HomeGuard Festival VIP party on Saturday, March 16 at The Midwestern Musical Co. at 7:00 pm.
--Michael Byars

Michael Byars may or may not be pickling things at this moment. It’s possible that he’s already had four or five bottles of Mountain Dew by now. There’s a chance that he is at a hookah bar somewhere. You may say he’s a dreamer. But most of all, he spells pretty well and he works for free, so we let him write stuff for us sometimes. 

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