Scott Weiland: 1967-2015

Scott Richard Weiland

Scott Richard Weiland

Compiling a list of adjectives to describe Scott Weiland is no easy feat, but in light of his recent passing I feel compelled to do so. The beleaguered soul, forever destined to be remembered as the troubled frontman of Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver was many things: vocalist, lyricist, music video chameleon, husband, father, addict, rape victim, but above all else he was a bona fide rock star, gifted with immeasurable talent and unparalleled stage charisma. Unfortunately, there seems to be some sort of cosmic prerequisite of pitfalls and trappings that all too often seem to curse the lifestyle of immensely talented performers.

For a moment, let’s forget all the negative connotations and remember what made Scott Weiland a permanent part of our musical landscape. Not only did he possess one of rock music’s most unique and instantly identifiable voices, he also had an amazing ability to assemble a group of ordinary words into profound poetry. His body of work is both enigmatic and contrasting, including hits “Interstate Love Song,” “Sour Girl,” “Plush,” and “Slither.”

I was lucky enough to witness Scott Weiland’s brilliance twice during his tenure with STP; once in 2002 while standing ankle-deep in mud during the band’s turbulent Shangri-La-Dee-Da era, and again in 2008 during the band’s reunion tour. Both shows are permanently etched in my memory as two of my all-time best concert experiences, showcasing on-point and captivating performances by Weiland, which made all of us in attendance feel lucky to be in the presence of greatness.

In retrospect, it’s almost unfathomable to comprehend all Weiland was able to accomplish despite his obstinate addictions in addition to his all too obvious bi-polar diagnosis; sold-out live performances, multi-platinum albums with both Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, four solo albums, a side project collaboration with Art of Anarchy, and his final incarnation as Scott Weiland and the Wildabouts.

Sadly, some artists are born destined to shine with a white-hot intensity, sustainable only for a brief flicker in time. Scott Weiland, the embodiment of an unadulterated rock star, was one such artist.

Sounds of the Season

Kylie

Kylie Minogue: Kylie Christmas – After previously teasing us with a few holiday treats in the past, Australian singer, songwriter, and actress Kylie Minogue finally delivers her delightfully eclectic full-length Christmas album. The internationally celebrated pop star’s long-awaited release fulfills its yuletide promise with playful classics and delightfully charming originals. Highlights include the Chris Martin-penned “Every Day’s Like Christmas,” a posthumous duet with Frank Sinatra, a celebratory cover of The Waitresses’ “Christmas Wrapping” (featuring Iggy Pop), as well as a surprisingly gorgeous duet version of Yazoo/Yaz’s “Only You” with James Corden.

Brian Setzer

The Brian Setzer Orchestra: Rockin’ Rudolph – Brian Setzer and company return with another snazzy jazzy Christmas offering. This latest holiday set (the band’s first in over a decade) once again finds the former Stray Cats vocalist and guitarist in full tilt yuletide mode. Rockin’ Rudolph‘s sprightly big-band bombast and holiday cheer is guaranteed to have your friends rockin’ around the Christmas tree. Noteworthy moments include “Rockabilly Rudolph” alongside the cleverly arranged “Yabba-Dabba Yuletide,” which puts a refreshingly festive holiday twist on the classic Flintstones theme. The BSO’s latest is a welcome addition to the band’s seasonal canon and is surely destined to be a full-fledged swingin’ hit at any Christmas gathering.

Patty christmas

Patty Smyth: Come on December – Former lead singer of rock group Scandal (and wife to tennis legend John McEnroe) returns to music after a lengthy 16-year absence with eight tasty seasonal melodic morsels. The songstress, best known for 80s hits “The Warrior” and “Goodbye to You,” gifts us with five traditional favorites alongside three originals, all of which are nicely nestled within a warm acoustic timbre. This short but sweet set is the perfect holiday soundtrack companion for Christmas tree gazing and fireplace cuddling. Completists will also want to seek out Smyth’s delicate but dazzling version of “Silent Night,” which is still available as a digital download at PattySmythAndScandal.com.

Train

Train: Christmas in Tahoe – After seven studio albums and selling 10 million records, Train’s latest effort is the band’s first full-length Christmas recording. The celebratory 15-track set features the band’s three original songs intermingled with a mix of holiday classics and cover tunes including: Chrissie Hynde’s “2000 Miles,” Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” Joni Mitchell’s “River,” and John Lennon’s “Happy Xmas (War is Over).” But don’t waste precious seasonal moments looking in stores for this holiday treat because it is available exclusively at Amazon.

David Cook: The Digital Vein Tour Live in Nashville

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(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’

Henley

Don Henley: Cass County

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

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.