Rob Thomas: The Great Unknown
After waiting patiently for Rob Thomas to redeem himself following two lackluster efforts in a row (the easily forgettable North with Matchbox Twenty as well as his less than stellar second solo collection Cradlesong), alas he returns with The Great Unknown. Unfortunately, this is not Thomas’ musical apex we’ve been anticipating. Instead, what we get on his third solo outing is further proof the once “Smooth” hit maker seems to be all too comfortable toiling away within the fertile field of mediocrity.
Upon first listen, it’s easy to zone out while becoming bogged down in state-of-the-moment production tricks (once again Matt Serletic mans the board on most of the tracks) and lyrical clichés. Perhaps collaborating with the likes of hits-by-numbers tunesmith Ryan Tedder wasn’t exactly the best of ideas? However, if you’re willing to look past these palpable annoyances and mire through the fluff, there are some brilliant moments to be found. For instance, on the mellifluous title track, Thomas confesses “People are talking, what you can’t unknow/That what you wanted wasn’t real at all.” This is one of the set’s few occasions that remind us what the Grammy-winning songwriter is capable of when he digs down deep and manages to resist his twitterpated instincts to ride current radio trends.
Other engaging highlights are the upbeat “Heaven Help Me” (“A shot of whiskey and we’re young again”), as well as the lachrymose closer “Pieces,” the latter of which includes the prophetic sentiment “Didn’t I tell you, you were gonna break down/Didn’t I warn you, you better take it easy/Try to find a way out/Better start believing in yourself.” These all-too-brief flashes of ardor justify holding out hope that Thomas may someday deliver a solo effort worthy of his still promising, but unfulfilled potential.
Country megastar Shania Twain brought the house down when she played Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Friday night. The long-awaited concert was part of Twain’s current Rock This Country Tour and farewell trek across North America. Friday’s performance marked the country icon’s first proper Nashville show in 17 years as Twain hasn’t treated Music City to one of her trademark performances since her Come On Over Tour rolled through back in 1998.
The five-time Grammy winner opened the show with a blazing version of “Rock This Country!” as she emerged center stage grasping a blood-red microphone amidst a foggy, LED lit, multi-level band riser, as she was slowly hoisted to perilous heights while gazing upon a packed house of elated onlookers. Adorning flowing blond locks and dressed in black with fringed leather, thigh-high boots, and rose tinted shades, Twain served up an exhilarating musical olio with an impressive hodgepodge of wardrobe and special effects, which included up-close moments of being pushed around the arena floor in a Plexiglas Shania mobile, as well as later sweeping over the thunderstruck crowd while riding atop a flying saddle.
A nervously energized Shania expressed it felt great to be back in Nashville and how she wanted the special night to last forever. The singer then reminisced of making lasting friendships and having countless fond memories of Music City. Twain also seemed overwhelmingly taken aback at the warm reception, so much in fact, she stumbled over a few words and repeated the first verse twice during her 1995 mega-hit “(If You’re Not in It for Love) I’m Outta Here!”
The evening’s most personal moments included an impromptu rendition of “Happy Birthday,” which she sang to a lucky audience member, in addition to Twain comfortably cradling an acoustic guitar for an unplugged portion of the show. The brief acoustic set included stripped-down, but heartfelt renderings of “Today is Your Day,” “You’re Still the One,” and “No One Needs to Know,” the latter of which she confessed to writing way back before she’d secured a recording contract.
The former ACM and CMA Entertainer of the Year luminously sparkled throughout the night as she energetically bestowed her glitz and glamour to an all but sold-out show. Twain was in top form during the nearly two-hour non-stop extravaganza. Packed with career-spanning greatest hits (underscored with electrified guitars, amped-up fiddles, and chest-pounding drum beats), a dynamic duet with opening act Gavin DeGraw (“Party for Two”), musical interludes, stunning video effects, multi-colored lasers, an ample helping of pyrotechnics, and multiple costume changes, Twain seemed determined go out in style for her final Nashville tour date.
The awe-inspiring show literally ended with a bang as the explosive encore of “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!” brought the adoring throngs to their feet as the crowd (Which included Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves) was ultimately engulfed into a gigantic cloud of glitter, resulting in thunderous applause. By evening’s end, it was glaringly obvious Shania devotees had sorely missed the multi-platinum-selling artist as they eagerly embraced her return to Music City. The one and only artist responsible for the best-selling country album of all-time has undeniably come a long way since her youthful aspirations of becoming Stevie Wonder’s backup singer.
By now everyone not suffering from chronic ennui is well aware Apple has just ventured into the world of music streaming with the newly launched Apple Music. Sadly, there’s no point in denying that streaming is now the preferred format of choice for mass music consumption in the digital age. Apple’s latest undertaking officially kicked off on June 30 with star-studded Beats 1 radio shows featuring Elton John, Pharrell Williams, Drake, and a candid interview with Eminem. Even with all the swirling hyperbole and celebration, the real question you’re probably asking yourself right now is if it’s really worth changing your membership from your current streaming platform?
For a monthly subscription fee of $9.99 (or a six device family plan for $14.99 per month), Apple Music allows me access to its vast library of tens of thousands of tracks, coupled with my personal collection previously downloaded and/or ripped into iTunes. Alas, everything I already own in addition to Apples’ catalog live together in one place, without having to switch between multiple apps. Plus, there is a free three month trial period for new subscribers, which makes Apple Music a better bargain than Rhapsody, Spotify, Jay-Z’s Tidal, or Neil Young’s Pono.
The app consists of five major sections:
1) My Music – Here you can save music and playlists from songs within your own collection as well as Apple’s catalog of streaming tracks, all of which can be saved for on-the-go offline listening.
2) For You – This section goes beyond mere algorithms. It utilizes suggestions made by real music people including editors of Apple Music, Rolling Stone, and Pitchfork to help pick noteworthy music. It also retains your recently played tracks and uses them to create a custom made playlist. Also, you can ask Siri to locate and play specific songs and top 10 lists.
3) Connect – This social platform section is where you’ll connect directly with artists to find new and exclusive content including music, lyrics, pictures, commentaries, and videos. This is a great place to find new and unsigned artists.
4) Radio – Apple’s new radio station, Beats 1, features DJ Zane Love, broadcasting from London, New York, and Los Angeles. The station is a live, ad free broadcast Monday through Friday, with special events on the weekends.
5) New – Here you’ll find new releases, singles, and chart-topping hits, all compiled for you in one area. This is basically iTunes’ weekly update for new and recently released titles.
All of Apple Music’s features integrate seamlessly with iOS and Siri, allowing me complete access to both music libraries (mine plus iTunes) without wasting additional space through an external application. This reason alone was worth canceling my subscription to other streaming services as it freed up approximately two gigabytes of memory storage. Not to mention nearly 75% of my monthly fee is funneled directly back into the music industry, which is a higher percentage than other streaming companies.
Since Apple announced its new streaming service, I’ve read numerous comments attempting to cavil every speculated detail, as well as various malarkey concerning Apple’s perceived lack of innovation, causing me to ponder what exactly people were expecting. Perhaps the naysayers were waiting for Apple to reinvent music, or design a streaming app that’s capable of feeding them, wiping their asses and tucking them into bed!? Ultimately, Apple has once again succeeded in doing what Apple does best, which is smoothing out all the rough edges and limitations found in previous apps. In my opinion, a new streaming option that allows users to combine their already existing libraries and supports offline listening seems like a win-win scenario for Apple and its customers.
Creating and customizing personal playlists has never been this easy on other streaming apps, and I’ve tried them all from the worst (Rhapsody) to the best (Beats Music). It’s as if someone at Apple read my mind and added all the intuitive features I’d been wishing other music streaming services had included, i.e.: the color scheme of the album artwork incorporates into the now playing screen , the equalizer is already an innate part of the iPhone which negates wasting time maneuvering through an additional platform, plus gapless playback is actually gapless without sputtering, pauses, or hiccups.
Ultimately, not only did a subscription service finally get it right, but as an iPhone user it makes perfect sense to convert to Apple Music considering the two were made for each other. Moreover, I’m no longer subjected to Sean Parker’s affected playlists nor am I contributing to lining his pockets, which I’ll readily admit helps me sleep a little better at night.
The Rolling Stones: Sticky Fingers (Super Deluxe Box Set)
For those not willing to take out a second mortgage in order to score tickets for The Rolling Stones’ Zip Code Tour, take comfort in knowing you can still celebrate the band in all their grit and glory with a newly released 3CD/DVD/Vinyl super deluxe edition of their milestone album, Sticky Fingers.
With its infamous bulging crotch cover shot by Andy Warhol, this classic set from 1971 teems profusely with cocksure swagger, and highlights Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s ingenious songwriting. Underscored with Mick Taylor’s inimitable guitar work, Sticky Fingers features the ballsy classics “Brown Sugar” and “Sway,” as well as the timeless “Wild Horses” and the bluesy “Bitch,” all of which shimmer and shine better than ever on this newly remastered collector’s edition.
This newly released super deluxe edition includes the original album remastered, a bonus CD of previously unreleased early versions, outtakes, and live performances, a third CD of the Live At Leeds University concert, a 7-inch vinyl containing “Brown Sugar” and “Wild Horses, plus a DVD featuring two tracks from Live At The Marquee. This essential, must-have edition (complete with functioning zipper) also features a 120-page limited edition book chronicling the making of the legendary album, along with limited edition print, poster, miniature cutout of the band, and a set of 4 postcards, all of which make this the quintessential version of one of rock’s most significant recordings.
In 1968, the late great Dusty Springfield arrived in Tennessee to record what was to eventually become her career-defining masterpiece, Dusty in Memphis. Upon signing a new record deal with Atlantic Records, Springfield recorded three albums worth of material for the influential label from 1968 – 1971. However, when sales of her first two Atlantic efforts failed to live up to high expectations, Springfield’s third album for the renowned label was shelved and was fated to languish in the vaults for years without seeing a proper release…until now.
Real Gone Music has just released these infamous session tracks as originally intended in a new package titled Dusty Springfield Faithful. This set has been compiled from the original master recordings, initially believed to have been destroyed in a fire twenty years ago. Although tracks from these notorious sessions (produced and fortuitously squirreled away by legendary songwriter/producer Jeff Barry) have been previously released as random bonus tracks over the years, they have never sounded like this. Impeccably remastered by Mike Milchner at SonicVision, these long lost recordings sound better than any previously released digital versions, making this set not only a treasure for Springfield fans, but for true audiophiles alike. Currently, there are no plans to release a digital version of this compilation.
Compiled by reissue producer Jim Pierson , this historic 13-track posthumous release includes liner notes comprised of a new interview with Jeff Barry conducted by Joe Marchese (The Second Disc), as well as several rare photographs shot by Harry Langdon of the legendary singer herself.
Complete Track Listing:
“I’ll Be Faithful”
“Live Here With You”
“Someone Who Cares”
“Make It With You”
“Love Shine Down”
“I Believe In You”
“Have A Good Life Baby”
“All the King’s Horses”
“You’ve Got a Friend”
“I Found My Way Through the Darkness”
“Nothing Is Forever”
It’s nearly unfeasible to imagine that more than two decades have passed since Tori Amos released her seminal debut Little Earthquakes in early 1992. Originally considered too cerebral and magniloquent for mainstream, Amos was resolute in her refusal to be pigeonholed as merely a girl with a piano, as she more than eloquently proved two years later with her sophomore follow-up, Under the Pink. Not since the days of Joni Mitchell’s emotive Blue and Carole King’s confessional Tapestry two decades earlier had such an intimately revealing and distinctly female perspective been unleashed upon the unsuspecting masses.
Now Rhino Records has re-released Amos’ first two albums in deluxe, re-mastered, 2-disc sets, both packed with out-of- print B-sides and rare live versions as bonus tracks. Also, both titles have been concurrently released on 180-gram vinyl, which marks the first time Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink have been available on the heavyweight LP format in the U.S.
These landmark recordings contain the amazingly timeless “Silent All These Years,” “Winter,” “God,” and “Cornflake Girl,” all of which have endured as live staples throughout Amos’ career as well as endearing her to a multitude of die-hard Toriphiles. Raging with now famous Tori-isms such as the caustic “So you can make me come/That doesn’t make you Jesus” (from “Precious Things”), as well as the chilling re-telling of Amos’ own rape in the a cappella “Me and a Gun,” these two classic albums have eternally left a resounding and omnipresent impact upon popular music.
Madonna: Rebel Heart
What is there to consider regarding a new Madonna record that hasn’t already been discussed? Why bother saying anything at all? Not because she recently scored her 44th U.S. number one on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Songs chart, or her 71st Top 40 single in the U.K. Certainly not because her Rebel Heart Tour is currently commanding top dollar ticket sales and is on track to becoming the highest grossing tour of 2015. But just maybe it’s worth stating her new music is arguably as relevant as anything currently trending.
Nearly every Madonna review states the same tired phrases: she should record songs more age appropriate, she sounds like she’s trying too hard, or she sounds like some other artist, which is funny if you stop to think about when Madonna began making records in the early 1980s, not only were her contemporaries not born yet, but the dance-pop genre was barely in its infancy and had yet to attempt to crossover into the mainstream. Yet, if you actually take a beat to set aside all the bullshit that typically accompanies the release of new Madonna material and listen to the way her voice resonates on the confessional “Joan of Arc,” or the evocative “Wash All Over Me,” you might remember why Madonna has reigned as the Queen of Pop for more than three decades. Besides, what gives anyone the right to say she should stop being the kind of artist her legacy is built upon?
Originally intended as two separate records (one half upbeat and rebellious, the other half subdued and reflective), Madonna’s thirteenth studio album, Rebel Heart, which includes heartfelt pop ballads, trap, and house, is her most contrasting work yet. Ranging from heartfelt ballads, to the gospel-tinged “Living for Love” and the reggae-soaked “Unapologetic Bitch,” to the dubstep groove of “Body Shop” and the shit-stirring, tongue-in-cheek cunnilingus ode “Holy Water,” in which Ms. Ciccone boldly quips “Bitch get off my pole/Bless yourself and genuflect/Yeezus loves my pussy best.” Also noteworthy is the international bonus track “Auto-Tune Baby” (easily her Madgesty’s most annoyingly infectious pop confection since her True Blue era), as well as the super deluxe bonus tracks “Addicted” and “Beautiful Scars.”
This time out, Madonna chose to collaborate with such contemporary cronies as Diplo, Avicii, Blood Diamonds, Toby Gad, and Yeezus himself, Kanye West to help her flesh out her latest electronic dance-pop machinations, easily resulting in what can only be described as her best and most provocative set in years, despite being discriminated against by a multitude of self-righteous music snobs and closed-minded ageists. She came, she saw, she conquered.
The Great Affairs: Dream in Stereo
After teasing us with 2013’s 7-track EP, Nashville’s The Great Affairs finally return with their latest full-length set, Dream in Stereo. Denny Smith and company deliver yet another top-shelf collection of kick-ass material which begs to be featured within any play list that includes Kings of Leon, Counting Crows, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers, and their ilk. Thought provoking lyrics coupled with Smith’s raspy voice invite you inside the album as it often harkens back to the kind of grit and raw emotion of Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells a Story.
Manning the board alongside Grammy-nominated engineer Michael Saint-Leon seems to have been the right decision as TGA sound more confident and proficient than ever on each of the record’s dazzling 13 tracks. Dream in Stereo must not be overlooked by fans of no frills, balls out rock ‘n’ roll, especially since it’s getting harder and harder to find in these seemingly endless days of over produced, soulless, drivel.
Not to be missed highlights (among many) include: “Miss America, “Eyes in Every Room,” and a first-rate cover of Dave Mason and Jim Krueger’s classic “We Just Disagree.”
Vinyl sales were up 49% in 2014 from the previous year, totaling eight million records sold, the highest tally since the early 1990s. Demand is currently more than suppliers can meet with approximately only 15 record manufacturing plants currently existing in the U.S., the busiest being United Record Pressing in Nashville.
Thus, renewed interest in the vinyl record format has made the Internet ubiquitous with numerous music blogs and websites discussing the enduring format. Among the most noteworthy and entertaining I’ve found is Vinyl Rewind, which is hosted by wax enthusiast Eric Callero, aka The Vinyl Geek. The Vinyl Geek shares his insight of his latest groove-a-licious finds in an extremely entertaining and informative style. I always learn fascinating tidbits, as well as add new items to my wish list each time he uploads a new video. So, if you treasure collecting favorite old and new albums on this long beloved format as much as I do, then I highly recommend subscribing to The Vinyl Geek’s YouTube channel and checking out his website.
Recently, The Vinyl Geek was kind enough to take time to answer a few of my questions, and I thought I’d share his responses with others who not only appreciate vinyl, but are always on the hunt to score a good haul.
Q & A with The Vinyl Geek:
PopMartZoo: When did you first start collecting vinyl and why?
Vinyl Geek: Records have always been a part of my life, even when I didn’t own any. I used to spend hours just looking at the covers in my family’s storage cabinet. I wasn’t allowed to play them, [because I was] still too young. I first started buying cassettes, Weird Al mostly. When I started getting into classic rock, probably around JR. High, I wanted some Lynyrd Skynyrd, so I went down to the local used record shop and picked up a copy of Gold & Platinum. Kind of lame, I know, but it was the cheapest option, as CDs were $20 plus back then. Around when I entered high school, I started shopping at thrift stores for wardrobe, and looking through the records became a natural extension of my shopping experience. I first bought records for funny, strange, and weird covers. I would show them off to my friends, maybe even play them. As high school progressed, I started buying more for enjoyment and for DJing. My brother was big into the electronica/rave scene and still is in some sense, so he inspired me to want to DJ. I did some parties and a wedding; mostly all on vinyl. I bought a lot of 80s and disco music, anything you could dance too. By the time I was in college, I gave up on being a DJ and started collecting exotica, cocktail, mood music, and 50s/60s era oldies. Once I decided to move to L.A. around 2007, I started selling off my collection. I got rid of most of my novelty music: records that I bought for odd, strange or funny covers. I also got rid of most of my pop music. Besides the obvious fact that records are heavy to move, YouTube had finally hit it’s stride and so much of the music I was collecting for comedy’s sake was on there, no need to own it, just show someone the video. I didn’t see the point in having half of the records I had. What’s funny is that now I’ve started to buy back a lot of what I sold. I’ve even started to think about DJing again. Ha-ha, funny how life will do that to you. I will say that through it all, there was always a sense of a collector’s value in what I purchased. I don’t like to pay a lot for my vinyl, which is why I usually shop at garage sales and thrift stores. It’s the hunt that I really enjoy and if I could get a $20 record for a buck, that’s even better. I love record shops, but I usually only go to them if I’m looking for something specific. I’m the same way with vintage clothing stores. Otherwise, I feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff I want.
I have a collecting personality, but I don’t like to collect things that serve no purpose other than to collect dust on the shelf. Whatever it is that I collect, it needs to have another purpose. Vinyl is great because it satisfies the collector in me as well as the music lover. I love the hunt (dig), getting a good deal and it’s fun to see what something could be worth. I don’t collect because I’ll think I’ll get rich, but it’s nice to know that I could sell my collection if I ever needed the cash.
Another reason I collect vinyl is because it’s a window to the past. Sometimes you’ll get an album with some clues to whom the previous owner was. Sometimes it’s just their name, other times you’ll find a newspaper clipping that they took the time to save. One time I found an invitation to see Josephine Baker in concert in San Francisco tucked in the album sleeve. Stuff like that makes my imagination go wild. Who was this person? Why did they buy this album? Did they cherish the music? What happened to them? Even more personal are acetates, used in the record industry as a test pressing more or less. The technology was also made into a vending machine that [gave] normal folks [the opportunity to] record a personal message to loved ones and send it to them in the mail. Those to me, are amazing time capsules of everyday people. Not movie stars or TV personalities, just regular folks having fun. Those types of records are generally one of a kind because of how the technology worked. Granted, not all of them are that cool, but you get the idea.
Lastly, there’s just some stuff only available on vinyl. With every new advancement in media presentation, a lot of stuff gets left behind. Not every album has been transferred into the digital realm, nor are there plans to do so. So finding a hidden gem of an album or record is totally plausible and that’s what makes digging so exciting.
PMZ: How many pieces do you own?
VG: I must have around 500 LPs. I have maybe 2 picture discs. I might have 200-300 45s. I have about 100-150 78s and about 75 10-inch albums, my favorite to collect.
PMZ: Why do you prefer vinyl over digital media?
VG: I actually don’t prefer one over the other. Digital is fantastic because it’s so portable and you can check out a ton of different bands in one sitting. Plus, I love to make digital mix tapes. Way easier than converting vinyl. The down side is that the music is more disposable and you may have the tendency not to care about it as much. Vinyl is awesome because the artwork is massive, the sound is great and it makes you an active participant in the listening experience. The downside is that they are heavy and not nearly as portable. I love the fact that both are coexisting right now.
PMZ: What tips do you have for someone wanting to start vinyl collecting?
VG: L.A. has a ton of great resources, but your readers may not live in as fortunate of a city, so here are some great places to visit on the web:
1) Needle Doctor for new turntables and parts.
2) Discogs: a great place to go to buy vinyl, maintain your collection, and all around resource.
3) Vinyl Engine is a fantastic resource for turntables. They have manuals, reviews, and a great forum. Their members are super knowledgeable.
Also check out the Vinyl Community on YouTube. The men and women on there are some of the coolest cats I know and they will totally make you feel like you’re part of a family.
Ultimately, start small. Don’t feel the need to spend a lot of money to enjoy your records. Start with the basics, and as your ear develops, then upgrade your system and records. Records in near mint condition command high prices, but copies in good condition can be had for very reasonable prices.
PMZ: What one LP should everyone have in their collection?
VG: Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones, because it really showcases why physical media is so cool. You can’t get that experience from a CD or a MP3. Runner up would be The Velvet Underground’s debut, plus it’s just amazing music.
PMZ: What is your guilty pleasure album?
VG: For now it’s Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue.
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B.L.A.M! Following months of finger-crossing and swirling rumors, the official lineup for Bonnaroo 2015 is here! Who is headlining this year’s festival?
The roster of performers includes:
Florence + The Machine
Robert Plant & The Sensational Space Shifters
Mumford and Sons
Run The Jewels
Tears For Fears
Twenty One Pilots
Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals
Freddie Gibbs & Madlib
Medeski, Scofield, Martin & Wood
Moon Taxi, Odesza
For a complete list of artists and more information, go to Bonnaroo.com.