Friday, March 13, 2015

Stepping out of the country with VoicePlay

Brace yourselves, ladies and gentlemen. We're going to do something different. See, as much as I love me some country music, I listen to and enjoy all kinds of music. I've always had a hard time understanding people who really only listen to one style and one style only, whether that be country or something else. Why would you ever want to limit yourself like that when there's so much great music out there to discover? I truly believe that every genre has something worthwhile to offer. You can have your favorites. In fact, you will have favorites. Nothing wrong with that. But it's good to branch out every now and then. It's good to keep an open mind.

So in saying that, I'd like to introduce you to what will be an ongoing thing around here. This is, and will remain, primarily a country music blog. It's just that every now and then I'm going to pick an artist from another genre to focus on. This was something I wanted to do back when I started this blog a few years ago, but it just never happened. And then I discovered Home Free and that was a bit like falling down a rabbit hole into the magical world of a cappella music. Magical because a cappella music speaks to me on a level that other genres can't. Instruments are great and there are so many incredible musicians that I love; I'm not trying to take anything away from any of them. But nothing compares to the power of the human voice. Nothing. What you have to understand is that a cappella performers don't simply create or merely perform music. They are the music. A cappella performers have no choice but to embody the music. It won't work otherwise.

This, I think, is what makes it so effective. One of my biggest pet peeves in music is when the lead vocal gets drowned out by the instruments and/or background singers. But with a cappella music, you eliminate the instruments. That cuts out a lot of the possible clutter right there. Plus as versatile as the human voice is, a singer can only do so much at a time. You know an a cappella group is good when you don't even care or notice that there's no instruments. Hard to accomplish that if you waste one of the voices on a part that's nonessential. For the audience, it's easier to connect with a person than it is to connect with an instrument. When the other sounds you hear are coming from human voices, it's nearly impossible to lose the lyric - which makes it easier to connect with the lyric. And when you can connect with each of the performers and the lyric, well, that's really something special. You feel it on a deeper level. If an emotional lyric, you feel it more emotionally. If it's a fun, uptempo song, you're going to feel it on more of a physical level. In other words, it becomes nearly impossible to stay still. Which makes it good for both your ears and your waistline.

I think a lot of that has to do with the way these performer move while they're performing. Remember: they become the music instead of just singing it. This apparently makes for a more physical performance, Seriously, just watch any of their hands while they're singing. Be forewarned: you might start finding yourself moving your own hands in similar ways.

Now. VoicePlay. I have to say that I have never come across a group with a more appropriate name. Because it perfectly describes what these five guys do, namely, they play with their voices. It's hard to put these guys into one specific genre because they're more than capable of singing many different styles from many different eras. I think of them as musical chameleons. I believe that these men can sing absolutely anything. I believe it because they've proven it. I encourage everyone to watch each of the videos included and you'll be surprised at the amount of styles covered. I'm also going to go ahead and strongly encourage wearing headphones since there's a whole lot of things you'll miss if you don't. Though I'm adding a friendly PSA reminding you to check your volume levels beforehand. Now that all said, just who is VoicePlay and why should you care about them? Lots of reasons.

I'm guessing that some of you may be here because you already like VoicePlay and like reading things about them. To you all, I say welcome. To all of my fellow country fans, I ask you again to keep an open mind as we get off of that blasted dirt road everyone and their mother is singing about lately and step out of the country for a little while. I recognize this will be quite the departure for some of you. Worry not. We're going to ease into this. It'll be fine.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Covers wish list: Little Jimmy Dickens edition

Earlier this year we lost one of country music most beloved artists. Little Jimmy Dickens was truly one of a kind. A great artist, he had a special talent for delivering both a lyric and a story. He was so funny that you could hear him say the same joke more than once and it would be just as funny as the first time. Even when you knew what was coming, he would still make you laugh. Every single time. What made Little Jimmy so special, however, was not his musicality or his sense of humor. What made him special was the way he cared about and loved other people. People don't say nice things about Little Jimmy Dickens; they say wonderful and beautiful things about him. People light up when they talk about him. You didn't simply like Little Jimmy Dickens, you adored him.

I never had the privilege of meeting him in person, but I was fortunate enough to see him perform on the Grand Ole Opry several times. It didn't matter who else was on the line up. Little Jimmy Dickens was always going to be one of the highlights from the show. You'd see him in the program and you knew that you were in for a treat. One of my fondest memories of Little Jimmy Dickens is from one of the first times I saw him. People don't seem to do it as much anymore, but back then people would go up to the front of the stage to take pictures. This was always encouraged, the only rule was the stoop down so you don't block anyone's view. Anyway at this show I was one of the few who went up while he was singing and he made a point to pose for the picture. He even joked about how I obviously wanted the picture to put up on my mantle and he could probably fit on there himself.

Little Jimmy Dickens was great that way. He was always so aware of the audience and what was going on. He always did what he could to make the show as great as he could. A picture of genuine humility, he would almost always close out his segment of the show by saying that if you ever saw a turtle on top of a fence post that you know it had some help getting there. He was a legend in every sense of the word and he never lost sight of the people who made him one.

When I heard that he had passed, I knew that I wanted to do some kind of tribute to him, but I couldn't decide what exactly I wanted to do. And then it occurred to me that as well-known as he was there's probably a lot of people out there who aren't all that familiar with his music. Or maybe you know a song or two, but that's it. Let's remedy that, shall we? I don't know if we'll ever see any kind of Little Jimmy Dickens tribute album or not, but I have some thoughts as to which of today's artists would be good for some of his songs. Thoughts that I would now like to share with you. Little Jimmy Dickens had so many great songs and it was so hard to narrow it down. So I'm going to go ahead and say that that there will be at least one more installment of this somewhere down the road. I'll be including some of the pictures I got of him over the years. So let's get to it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Artist you should be listening to: Home Free

The musical thunderbolt. Partly inspired by an episode of The Golden Girls, this is what I've taken to calling those times when you basically love a singer or band from the very first time you hear them. I don't know about the rest of you, but it generally takes me a while to love an artist. Even if I like them from the beginning. The love usually comes in later. Usually. My assumption is that it's like this for most people most of the time. Which makes getting hit by the musical thunderbolt so powerful. It's like the stars have perfectly aligned themselves to bring you the perfect act at the perfect time.

To date I have had this happen six times. Rascal Flatts was the first. Little Big Town, Eric Church and Chris Young were the next three. Then there was Parmalee and now? Now there's Home Free. I've always said I was a sucker for harmony and I think this kind of proves it. It's been about a month since I first found out about Home Free, but they've already made a pretty significant impact on me. I'm loving music in a way I haven't in a long time thanks to these five guys. So let's talk about them.

First the basics. Home Free is an a cappella country group. You know what that means, right? No instruments. The exception to this being a song on their Christmas album that features a guest violinist. But everything else you hear? Just their five voices and the occasional hand clap. These guys were not only featured on NBC's fourth season of The Sing Off; they won it.

The line up. I find it slightly ironic that the last time I was hit by the musical thunderbolt was with Parmalee. Why? Because both they and Home Free include a pair of brothers, one of whom is responsible for the drums and percussion. Parmalee has the brothers Thomas and Home Free has the brothers Rupp. Chris and Adam Rupp to be exact. So what are their roles in the group, you ask? Find out after the break.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Favorite Christmas Originals

So we've covered Christmas carols and Christmas standards and now it's time to focus on originals. And by that I'm really talking about Christmas songs that you may have heard, but that aren't anywhere near as well-known as the carols and standards. Starting with...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Favorite Christmas Standards

Ah, the Christmas standards. You really can't have Christmas without any of these. It wouldn't be the same. So what are my favorites? Keep reading and find out.

Favorite Christmas Carols

Well, it's the middle of December and y'all know what that means: Christmas is right around the corner. Which means that we've all been listening to Christmas music since about Thanksgiving, if not sooner. I've gotten a few new Christmas albums recently and it occurred to me that my collection of Christmas music is fairly large. So I've been listening to all the different versions I have of a bunch of these songs and decided that it might be fun to write about my favorites. Guess what this is?

This will be divided into three categories and thus, three posts. This one focusing on traditional Christmas carols, as it states in the title. The other two? Christmas standards and original Christmas songs. Please note that these are in no particular order and not every artist listed is a country act. Most of them are, but not all. There are a bunch of songs to get to and respecting that, I'm not going to go into too much detail about why I picked each song. I'll also include a link to go check the songs out on iTunes, if you're so inclined. Or if the song/album is not on iTunes, I'll add a link to somewhere you can purchase the song/album if possible. Let's jump in.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Great Albums from 2013

I don't know about anyone else, but I can't believe that it's February. There's been some new albums already released by country acts this year and I'm probably going to be writing about a few of them in the next couple of weeks. But first, I want to revisit 2013. I do have a top 13 albums of 2013 post coming. Better late than never, eh? I must say that I didn't realize how hard it would be to narrow it down to 13. I got a lot of albums last year and loved a bunch of them. I had to make some tough choices. So who made the cut? Well, you're going to have to wait for that. For now I want to take some time to highlight some other albums from 2013. Three to be exact.

Now, hold on, you might be thinking. Why would I take the time to write about these albums when they didn't make the top 13? Here's the thing: I loved all three of these albums. Enough to want to give them a little love. But it didn't seem fair to include them in my top 13. Why? Because all three of these albums are full of songs that have previously been recorded. You know how many albums I bought last year? 69. Most of them country, some bluegrass and a couple of Americana albums thrown in there. And more to this point, most of the songs on those albums were original songs. Save for a few remakes here and there. I decided that it was only right to keep my top 13 reserved for albums featuring original songs. But it also seemed right to take the time to highlight these three albums. Because they were all fantastic and deserve some attention.

What are they? Well, keep reading to find out.