Author Archive: Eric Allen

David Cook: The Digital Vein Tour Live in Nashville


(Photo by: Eric Allen © 2015 Popmartzoo)

David Cook played to a packed house when his Digital Vein Tour made a stop in Nashville on Wednesday night. The 2008 winner of American Idol was in rare form during the 90-minute set, which was filled with fist-pumping rockers and emotional ballads. The left-handed guitarist instantly took control of the room with his commanding, but amiable stage presence.

Cook (a Music City resident since 2012), was both charismatic and comical as he brought the room to its feet during the night’s intimate performance, which included a healthy dose of selections from his latest album, the self-produced Digital Vein, which recently debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Pop Album Chart. The set list contained songs from the platinum-selling artist’s repertoire such as fan favorites (“Paper Heart,” “Heroes” and “Declaration”), radio hits (“Come Back to Me” and “Light On”), and a smoldering cover version of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”

The “Time of My Life” singer and left-handed guitarist seemed noticeably eager to play a hometown show as he shared a humorous anecdote of being forced to dance on national television during his Idol days, confessed his desire to play 3rd and Lindsley’s stage after catching a recent performance of Los Angeles rock band Failure, and requested score updates of his favorite baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. Midway through the show, Cook noticed a girl in the balcony who was engrossed in her cell phone and shouted “Are you ordering a pizza on that thing? She’s probably thinking, I can’t believe that asshole just called me out,” he humorously remarked. The enthralled crowd, as well as Cook himself, seemed to relish the evening’s numerous candid moments.

By night’s end it was clear Cool held the audience in the palm of his hand, as the multitude of  “Cook-ies” reciprocated the pop star’s personal outpourings with swooning sighs, overexcited yelps, and booming applause throughout the evening. The show ultimately climaxed with a vivacious encore which included current single “Criminals,” resulting in a standing ovation as undeniable proof Cook had skillfully managed to captivate spectators with his uniquely honed musical mix of cock rock and panty pop.


Don Henley Returns with Cass County


Don Henley: Cass County

Rating: A-

Don Henley has returned with Cass County, his first album in 15 years. The legendary founding member of the Eagles recently delivered his fifth studio effort after a lengthy absence from his solo career. Titled after the Linden, Texas county of his childhood homestead, the revered country-rock icon charmingly duets with Dolly Parton (“When I Stop Dreaming”), Merle Haggard (“The Cost of Living”), and Martina McBride (“That Old Flame”), without sounding forced or contrived. Predominantly recorded in Nashville and Dallas over a 7-year span, Cass County leans decidedly more towards country than rock while featuring stellar guest appearances by Alison Krauss, Vince Gill, and Jamey Johnson, as well as recurrent collaborators Trisha Yearwood and Stevie Nicks.

“The majority [of the album] was done right here in Nashville and I can truthfully say that I enjoyed making this record more than any record I’ve made in my career,” Henley recently boasted.

An exquisite cover of Tift Merritt’s “Bramble Rose,” featuring the unlikely pairing of Miranda Lambert and Mick Jagger, sets the tone for this country-pop flavored collection. Henley’s instantly recognizable voice is a bit more seasoned, but the 68-year-old rock star sounds as if he was born to perform this new material. After all, Cass County isn’t too far a leap from his tenure with the Eagles nor his own solo work, wherein Henley has recurrently and effectively blurred the lines of pop, rock, and country throughout his five decade career.

Other album highlights include the sardonic “No Thank You,” the woeful “Waiting Tables,” and the alluring “Take a Picture of This,” all of which are greatly stamped with Henley’s distinctive vocal style and songwriting acumen. However, it can’t go without pointing out the atrocity of relegating “It Doesn’t Matter To The Sun” (featuring Stevie Nicks) to bonus track status (available exclusively on Target’s deluxe edition), as this poignant duet definitely deserves its place among the album’s proper track list. This glaringly obvious oversight, plus Henley’s cover of Jackson Browne’s “Here Come Those Tears Again,” make it all the more prudent to obtain a physical copy of the aforementioned 18 track disc.

Despite the lengthy time period since Henley’s previous solo set, 2000’s Inside Job, Cass County managed to sell an impressive 87,000 copies in its first week of release, as well as landing atop Billboard‘s Top Country Albums chart, making this his first number one solo LP.

Rob Thomas: The Great Unknown

Rob Thomas

Rob Thomas: The Great Unknown

Rating: C+

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.

Shania Twain Rocks Music City!

ST review

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.


Apple Music: to stream or not to stream is no longer the question

Apple Music

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)

RS sticky dlx

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.

Dusty Springfield: Faithful

Dusty faithful

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”

“Natchez Trace”

“All the King’s Horses”

“You’ve Got a Friend”

“I Found My Way Through the Darkness”

“Nothing Is Forever”

Tori Amos Redux: Little Earthquakes and Under the Pink Deluxe Editions

Tori dlx both2

Little Earthquakes                                       Under the Pink

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: The Dichotomy of Her Rebel Heart


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


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.”



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