Saturday, July 25, 2015

EP Review: Welcome to Cam Country by Cam

It makes me chuckle when people talk as if there aren't that many women in country music. It's amusing because that's so far from the truth. There are so many up and coming female artists out right now. Not even getting into women who have been in the public eye for years and are still putting out great music. We'll talk about some of them later on. Today it's all about an up-and-comer. Namely...

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Album review: Not so Black and White by Rachel Potter

Full disclosure: a while back I decided that I was going to stop doing album reviews. Out of everything I write, album reviews take me the longest to complete. Plus there's been some debate about whether album reviews are still relevant or not that factored into this decision. I've clearly changed my mind on this issue. This album being one of the reasons why - this is honestly one of the best albums I've heard in a while. I knew I had to write about it. Even more so in reading all of the responses to what is now being referred to as SaladGate. I'm not going to waste time getting into all of that right now, except to say that I feel like Keith Hill's comments were blown out of proportion and that most people completely missed the valid point he was making. We need to do a better job of supporting female artists. Period. If you ask me, there are three key ways to do that. Buy their music. Go to their shows. Talk about them.

So with those things in mind, I'm going to make a point of highlighting as many different female artists as possible from here on out. There's so many women making great music right now. Rachel Potter being one of them. If you've never heard of Rachel Potter, she was on X-Factor a couple of years ago and has performed on Broadway. You listen to her sing and you understand how she got there. There's no beating a Broadway-caliber voice, in my opinion. They voices have an excitement in them that captures you and Rachel is no exception. Not so Black and White is her first full length country album and was released about three months ago. Now, country music has always been present in my life, but I didn't start really loving it until high school. This was in the late '90s/early '00s, a great time for women in country music. Women like Faith Hill and Shania Twain, Martina McBride and Sara Evans, Lee Ann Womack and Leann Rimes - all making waves in the genre. Not to mention Reba, Trisha and Wynonna. It was kind of a golden age for women. Why am I bringing this up? Easy. Listening to Not so Black and White throws me right back to that time. 

It's a very strong album. Honestly, it's kind of hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that this is a debut album. This tells me that Rachel has a very clear vision of who she is as an artist and what she wants to say as an artist. This is something that I feel a lot of singers struggle with, particularly in the beginning of their careers. Sometimes it take a while for an act to find their true voice, but not here. This album feels very real and genuine to me. It seems honest in a way that an average album isn't. The lyrics are solid throughout and downright clever at times. Musically speaking, there's some really lovely playing on here. Great production; her voice is never overshadowed by the music. Although with a voice like hers, I'm not sure that's even possible. This woman's got some pipes, is what I'm saying. This brings me to my next point about the control Rachel has over her voice. Sometimes people who are capable with singing with this much power over-sing for no other reason than they can. Just because you can blast out a vocal doesn't mean that you should. There are, of course, times when it's warranted. Some lyrics simply demand to be belted out, but others require a soft touch. A good singer can hit the notes. A great singer can sing at many different levels. But it's a special kind of singer that knows when and how hard to push. Who knows when and how much to pull back. Rachel Potter is one of those singers. She sings these songs the way they need to be sung. It makes listening to them that much more enjoyable. 

I am going to address each song individually so anyone interested in that can keep reading. If you just wanted a short read, well, this might be goodbye for now. Your homework? Do your ears a favor and buy this album. It'll make them happy and, really, who doesn't want happy ears?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

The best songs that weren't singles: Little Big Town edition


The summer of 2005. The first time I ever heard Little Big Town. It was during CMA Fest or whatever it was called then and we were sitting pretty far from the stage and off to the stage so we really couldn't see them all that well. It was a few months before they would release The Road to Here. Little did I know that this group was going to end up making a huge impact on me. I had no idea how many roads I would drive on, how many Little Big Town miles I would tack onto my car over the next few years. Thousands. It has to be in the thousands. I've seen many acts more than once, but none anywhere near as much as I've seen them. I didn't know back then that I would end up meeting them time and time again and how much those meetings would mean to me. How much these four people would mean to me. Little did I know how frustrated I'd end up getting, wondering why they weren't more popular than they were then.


Things have changed a bit. I've watched these guys and gals go from playing clubs and fairs to headlining arenas and winning awards. Their popularity has sky-rocketed. Took everyone long enough. I'm just saying. Their music has changed over the years; they've pushed themselves in directions I never would've guessed they'd go. One of my biggest hopes is that the people who have become fans in the
past couple of years either already have or will go back and check out their earlier albums. It is that hope paired with my love for these four people that fueled my decision to make them my next featured artist in this series. You can bet your bottom dollar that they will be featured again. As was the case with Chris Young, it was so hard narrowing it down to just five, but I did it. So without further preamble, let's talk about some of my favorite LBT album cuts.

Starting with...

Saturday, April 18, 2015

The best songs that weren't singles: Chris Young edition

One of the biggest mistakes we can make as fans is assuming that the songs that get released to radio are the best songs that an artist has to offer. Now don't get me wrong. There are plenty of instances where the best songs on an album become singles. It does happen, just not all the time and not often enough. What people need to keep in mind is that most of the songs that get released as singles are ones that the record label believe will do well on radio. Now there are times where an artist will feel strongly enough about a song to fight for it to get released even if it's not the kind of song that normally gets played. But the truth of the matter is that some of the best songs never make it to radio. Speaking for myself, many of my favorite songs are album cuts. This leads me to yet another of my musical pet peeves which is when people think that they can properly determine who an artist is strictly by the songs of theirs that go to radio. Now I understand that if you don't like the singles, you're most likely not going to go out and buy the album. But you can also never completely understand and appreciate an artist until you hear the songs that never got released. I believe you learn more from the album cuts than you do from the singles. 

This is why I wanted to start this series. To shed some light on some of these songs. Each installment will feature the songs of one singer or group. Each installment will include five songs because that felt like a good number. This means that there will most likely be artists who end up getting featured multiple times, especially considering that new music is coming out all the time and thus, more songs to love. When I decided to start this, I instantly knew who was going to be up first. A man with a rich and golden country voice. A man who is horribly underrated and doesn't get the respect and appreciation he deserves from the industry. A man who has yet to release a song that I don't like. Just as easy on the eyes as he is on the ears, he is also one of the nicest singers I've ever met. Who am I talking about?  This guy.



Mr. Chris Young. It was hard to narrow it down to just five, but I did. Keep reading to see what I picked and why. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Sing Off Tour: Part 2 - the show itself

Quick heads up: this post will be fairly media heavy. There's some of my pictures from the show and there will be some of their videos included for your viewing pleasure. Please be advised that one or more of these songs might end up stuck in your head and could stay there for quite a while. Infectious music is infectious. If you missed part 1, it's just some thoughts I have about a cappella music in general. You do not need to read that in order to read this, but if you want to check it out you can find it here.

Now. 

The Exchange. VoicePlay. Street Corner Symphony. They are what this post is about, but before we get to that I'm afraid that I have a serious confession to make. My name is Kim and I am an a cappellaholic. Yes, I have what you might call an aca-addiction. I'd say I suffer from it, but that would be a lie. The truth is that I enjoy it. Which is good since I'm pretty sure I'm beyond help by now. If I've learned one thing lately it's that once you go a cappella, there's no going back. I say this for two reasons. The first is to offer up a warning that if you choose to keep reading, if you choose to watch all these videos, than you too might develop an aca-addiction. Don't say I didn't warn you.

The second reason I bring this up is because I've recently realized that there's two people in particular that I can blame thank for this. VoicePlay's Geoff Castellucci and Layne Stein. Everything kind of revolves around VoicePlay here for me. They were my original reason for wanting to go to the Sing Off tour in the first place. I was introduced to Street Corner Symphony through a video they did together to promote the tour. The tour that introduced me to The Exchange. If you read my article about Home Free (found here), you might remember my mentioning that finding them was kind of like falling into a magical rabbit hole into the magical world of a cappella music. I blamed them for this since liking them is what led to my VoicePlay discovery, but turns out it wasn't entirely their fault. 

See, Home Free just released a  hauntingly beautiful cover of Jake Owen's "What We Ain't Got" - which you need to check out if you haven't already done so because it's stunning. Afterwards it occurred to me that I'd been kind of neglecting them since falling into what will henceforth be known as the VoicePlay vortex. I decided to remedy this some by going back to my a cappella Snow White i.e, the one that started it all. The first Home Free video I ever saw: their CMA 2014 Single of the Year Medley. Don't ask me what made me look in the description box as I usually only read it the first time, but look I did. Most of Home Free's arrangements are done by either Tim Foust or Chris Rupp. Not this one. This one was evidently done by, you guessed it, Geoff Castellucci and Layne Stein. Seems I've been stuck in the VoicePlay vortex from the beginning and didn't even know it. Their medleys, people. That's how they get you. Prior to getting into a cappella music, my main two musical weaknesses? Country and Broadway. My first Home Free video: the CMA medley. My first VoicePlay only video: their Aca Top 10 Broadway medley. Clearly I never had a chance. Geoff and Layne are some kind of musical evil geniuses. 

We'll get back to them and their cohorts later, but first: The Exchange. Out of the three main groups, I knew the least about these guys going in. I did watch a couple of their videos before the show, but those didn't prepare me for what they'd be like live. What were they like? Two words...

Friday, March 27, 2015

The Sing Off Tour: Part 1 - general thoughts about a cappella music

Sometimes you think you know what you're going to write about and other times you end up going in a different direction that planned. That's what happened with this post. It was originally going to be me talking about what I thought of this tour and then it kind of snowballed into something else. I've long since learned that it's better to just go with it when it happens since it doesn't happen a lot. See, seeing this show made me realize a few things about a cappella music and I started off intending to just list a couple of those things. And ended up with practically a full post just talking about those things. So I decided it'd be best to split it up. This part being more about a cappella music in general and the second being about the three main groups on the tour. We had a couple of groups open the show here in Nashville and my thoughts about them will be included in this one,

Now.

I was lucky to grow up with parents who were both able and willing to take me and my brothers to all kinds of events and shows. The first concert I remember going to was Gloria Estefan; my first country concert was Reba McEntire and Vince Gill. I remember going to see A Chorus Line and West Side Story as a kid and Les Misérables in 7th grade. I was exposed to different styles of music from early on and absorbed it all like a kind of musical sponge. I've spent a good chunk of my life watching music performed in one fashion or another. But never had I experienced anything quite like what I experienced almost two weeks ago at the incredible Ryman Auditorium. Roughly two hours of music featuring absolutely no instruments other than the human voice. Or perhaps slightly more accurately, the human body as there was some foot stomps along with some hand claps and snaps. You do not go to the Sing Off Tour; you experience the Sing Off Tour.

I read a handful of reviews in the past week to see what people were saying about the tour and they were all positive. All of them. One thing that I kept reading over and over was how nothing can prepare you for how powerful a cappella music is live. I thought I had a pretty good idea how it would be and I was wrong. I was very wrong. It was so much more than I expected and I left knowing that I had no choice but to write about it. Hence the second post in a row that is not directly about country music, but that's okay. Because a cappella music is something that everyone can appreciate. If country music speaks to the heart than a cappella music speaks to the soul. So let's talk about it.

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.