Wednesday, November 30, 2016

EP Review: Simply Christmas by Rachel Potter

First things first. You may have heard about the terrible wildfires that have been plaguing parts of the South. I've been to Gatlinburg, TN a couple of times and it's such a beautiful part of the country. It's a wonderful place to visit and so seeing all the footage of it burning broke my heart. As of right now, three people have been killed and who knows how many buildings have been destroyed. They could really use our help right about now. If you can, and feel led to do so, here's where you can donate to the American Red Cross: You can also donate to The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee who will be giving grants to nonprofits helping out. If you're unable to give at this time, please keep the people of Gatlinburg in your thoughts and prayers. Everything helps.

Now, today's EP isn't new, but it's a good one. I mean, it's Rachel Potter.  I've said it about her before, but Rachel is the kind of singer that makes me want to become a better singer myself. She has so much control over her voice. One of those singers you listen to and it's so clean and precise, it's almost like hitting notes on piano. Take that ability and combine it with her skills as a performer and you have something special indeed. She's worked at Disney and performed on Broadway, if that tells you anything. Voices like her are my favorite kinds of voices. It's so versatile. She can make it sound delicate and sweet one moment and then she'll hit you with a power note that'll make your jaw drop the next.

I guess you could say that I'm a fan. I feel like I've said this every time I've written about her, but her voice sounds better live. This is a woman who could sing anything and have it sound great. That said, there's something especially wonderful about her singing some classic Christmas songs. Simply Christmas was the perfect title for this EP. That's what the instrumentation is: simple. It's interesting because a few days ago I reviewed Brett Eldredge's Christmas album and he went with the full orchestra treatment. Instrumentally, this is almost the exact opposite. I love both. I outlined what all I loved about him in that review, so if you missed that, you can go back and read it. As far Rachel, this EP is as beautiful as it is soothing. The simplicity of the music itself lets her voice really shine.

Though, let's be real. Her voice shines in general. This just keeps it at the forefront. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with that at all. So, let's talk a bit about each of the tracks.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Album review: Full of (Even More) Cheer by Home Free

Leave it to the talented men of Home Free to do something that usually kind of annoys me, but doesn't when they do it. You see, Full of (Even More) Cheer is more or less a re-release of their album Full of Cheer. My issue with re-releases is that most of the time, they throw on a few new songs without doing anything to the rest of the album. In those cases, I'd rather they just put out an EP of the new songs. I do recognize that there are various reasons for doing this and I think a lot of the time, it's out of the hands of the artist. Even still, I usually end up giving your average re-releases the side-eye.

This album, however, gets a nod of approval from me instead. Partly because I love Home Free too much to ever give them the side-eye. But mainly because they actually changed things up. Bless 'em. The first big change? Well, Full of Cheer came out before Chance joined the group. So into the studio he went so that this new album would reflect the current line-up. It's so interesting what a difference one voice can make. That right there makes for a good change. They then took off a few of the songs that were on the last album, put a couple of new ones and changed the order of the tracks around a bit. Thus, side-eye successfully averted. Nicely played, gentlemen. Nicely played.

Full of (Even More) Cheer is a wonderful album, from the very first note to the very last. It's Home Free; you know it's bound to be good. Honestly, I don't think they could make a bad record if they tried. The arrangements are fantastic and the harmonies are out of this world. It's worth every penny and so I hope I can inspire you to buy it. How about we look at it track by track?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Album review: A Little Bit of Christmas by Chris Rupp

I said that I would be reviewing this and there's no time like the present. In listening to this, I've concluded that Chris Rupp is basically the musical equivalent of a chameleon. Especially when thinking about some of the other videos that he's put out this year alone. His taste in music is evidently quite varied and part of the fun of being a fan of his is seeing what he'll do next. He's not one to be pigeonholed into one style of music. This is perhaps an odd comparison, but in some ways he reminds me a bit of Eric Church in that respect. Namely, that he basically makes whatever kind of music that he wants. 

Luckily for those of us who follow him, we live in a time where he's free to do this. Thanks to Patreon, content creators are able to produce any kind of content that they want without needing the support of a major label. It really is a wonderful thing. It also makes you think about how limiting being on a major label can be. Aside from having the freedom to do as he pleases, Chris is also able to put out as many videos as he feels like putting out. Contrast that to a major label act who may put out 2 or 3 videos a year. If that. Assuming I counted correctly, Chris has put out 20 videos this year. On his own channel. There's 5 official videos on 7th Ave's channel. That's not even counting the unplugged duets that he's in on their channel. Speaking of 7th Ave, in case you missed it, here's my review of their debut album Debut.

Of course, while we can certainly credit Patreon with helping him create all of these videos, the fact is that Chris has an incredible work ethic. He obviously loves creating music; that's apparent with every new video or song that he puts out. It's not just that he releases a lot of music, it's that he releases a lot of great music. A Little Bit of Christmas certainly falls into that category. This is a great album. One that would make a most wonderful addition to your Christmas music collection.

Let's talk about it.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Album review: Peppermint Winter by VoicePlay

Man, there's been some great Christmas albums that have come out recently. I've reviewed three of them so far. To recap: we've talked about A Hollens Family Christmas - and I've just added in Peter's most recent video from it. I gushed over the gorgeousness that is Voctave's The Spirit of Christmas album and I've raved about Brett Eldredge's Glow. Today's album, however, is from 2012. Sadly, I was living a VoicePlayless existence back then. Now that I've become a full-fledged VoicePlaya, there was no way I could let this holiday season go by without talking about their holiday album, Peppermint Winter. I mean, how could I? It's a great album and one that needs to be heard and purchased.  

No, really, you should buy it. This is VoicePlay doing what they do best. Taking songs - several of which have been done countless times - and making them their own. This collection of songs is so distinctively VoicePlay. It's fun and downright silly at times with a few surprises thrown in because that's what they do. Peppermint Winter features some wonderful vocals and intriguing harmonies. Not a surprise, considering who we're talking about.

Having not listened to Peppermint Winter in its entirety since last year, I forgot just how great these arrangements were. I'll keep saying it: Geoff and Layne are fantastic arrangers and I wish that all arrangers would approach music the way that they do. If only I had a dollar for every time I heard a song and wished that they'd arranged it instead. I'd be a wealthy woman, I'll tell you that.

Meanwhile, it's the day before Thanksgiving as I'm writing this part and one of the things that I'm most thankful for this year? VoicePlay. It's been roughly a year and 8 months since I saw them live. Back then, while I loved them, I didn't realize how important they'd end up becoming to me. How they'd end up being such a wonderful source of light and joy for me. I don't believe that I could ever properly express how much that means to me. What a difference it has made. 

Before we continue with Peppermint Winter, I ask that you indulge me first. This fall, I got to be a part of very special project for these guys. This project was headed by a couple of wonderful ladies who I'm going to embarrass and call out: Ashley and Nancy. A bunch of us were upset to find out that our guys had been getting some hate which is completely unacceptable. These girls took it upon themselves to pull as many VoicePlay together as they could to shower the guys with love.

There were 21 of us altogether. The rest of us sent in letters, pictures and whatnot for the guys while these two ladies spent who knows how many hours putting it all together. They worked so hard on it and did such an outstanding job with it. The end result was absolutely beautiful. This was truly the most special fan project I've ever been a part of and I'm so grateful to them for both coming up with the idea and for carrying it out so well. 

Here's the thing: I've never met any of the other people who participated in person. I've been getting to know a few of them through the wonders of social media, but not all. Not as of yet anyway. But while we might not all know each other personally, I know this. We all have different backgrounds, experiences and stories. We come from different places and I think some of us from different countries. We all have our own belief systems and priorities. I'm willing to bet that those of us who voted in the presidential election didn't all vote for the same person. And you know that? None of that mattered. 

Because for all of our differences, we have one very special thing in common. We all love VoicePlay. And that is the only thing that mattered. Loving these guys who have come to mean so much to all of us. Anything else was inconsequential. We just had to love these guys and want to do something nice for them. Something to make them feel our love. Something to let them know that though there might be those who will hate on them, but that they have a group of people who have their backs. Who will support them and believe in them and will always be there to lift them back up whenever they need it. Don't hate on our guys, people. Just don't.

Actually, how about we go one step farther and not hate on each other either? Let's try loving each other instead. Not just during this time of year, but all year. We can have our differences and you know what? That's okay. Really. But recognize that just because someone doesn't agree with you about something, it doesn't mean that that person isn't worth knowing. It doesn't mean that you can't still have other things in common. More important things.

Don't write someone off simply for having a different viewpoint. Look for the person behind the opinion. Odds are that there'll be something about them that you do like. Something that you have in common. Like, say, a shared love for a group of five lovably goofy and talented men. And their subs (i.e. the people who fill in for them as needed), for that matter. You know what? That really is enough.

In other words? Let's all try being nice to one another and see what comes out of it. 

Okay. Lecture over. Stepping off my soapbox now and getting back to what I'm actually supposed to be writing about. Peppermint Winter.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Album review: Glow by Brett Eldredge

I've thought that Brett Eldredge is among the best male singers in country music for a while now. After listening to Glow, my opinion has changed a bit. I think that Brett Eldredge is among the best male vocalists in music, period. Glow is Brett's third album and he's never sounded better. Considering how good he sounds on his other two albums, this is indeed saying something. In case you weren't aware, Brett is a big fan of Frank Sinatra. I've heard him sing some Frank Sinatra before, on his YouTube channel and on his Snapchat Bedhead Jams. I always love when he does, which is one of the reasons why I adore this album.

To say that Brett is channeling Frank Sinatra on this album is an understatement. There's times when you'd swear you were listening to Frank. This is largely due to his vocals, but the fact that he's singing along with a full symphony doesn't hurt. Out of all the different directions he could've gone with Glow, he decided to go with the classic Big Band sound and, boy, was that a fantastic choice. This album in a word? Outstanding. It's full of warmth and charm and Christmas cheer. What started off as what seems like a lifelong dream of Brett's has become one of my - and no doubt many others - favorite Christmas albums. It's that good. 

Let's look at each of the tracks, shall we?

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Album review: The Spirit of the Season by Voctave

I first wrote about the men and women of Voctave back in August during my month of Disney. I did a video spotlight on their beautiful "Disney Love Medley" that featured Kirstin Maldonado and Jeremy Michael Lewis. You can find right that post right here. I definitely recommend checking that out, if only to watch the video. This is another a cappella group that I've basically fallen in love with and one that really makes me miss being in a choir.

Voctave consists of Kate Lott (soprano), Tiffany Coburn (soprano), Ashley Espinoza (alto/soprano), Sarah Whittemore (alto), Chrystal Johnson (alto), E.J. Cardona (tenor), Tony De Rosa (tenor/director), Kurt von Schmittou (baritone), JC Fullerton (bass) and James Ray (tenor/arranger). They're a bigger group than most of the other a cappella groups I listen to and they put out this wall of beautiful harmonies when they sing. Honestly, the word beautiful doesn't even do them justice. They are vocally stunning and captivating. To have an entire album of them singing is just fantastic.

Voctave is the kind of group that manages to weave a magical, musical spell over you that makes you stop whatever else you're doing and just listen. If you've been reading my blog for a while, you may have seen me say that sometimes it seems like people have kind of forgotten how to listen to music. No, you don't always have to dance around like a lunatic or cheer like a crazy person while listening to music. Not to say that there's something wrong with doing so; I do a fair amount of both myself. But one of the most frustrating things about so many of my concert experiences is how it almost seems like a good chunk of the audience is more concerned with trying to prove that they're the biggest fan than actually paying attention to what they came to see. When you're screaming so loud that neither you nor the people right around you can hear the music, that's a problem. Granted, some shows are more about having a party than really listening to what's going on. That's perfectly fine.

Just as long as you can also take the time to fully take it whatever it is that you're listening to on occasion. That's one of the best things about this album. Like I said, Voctave skillfully puts you under their spell and all that matters in those moments is the music itself. I don't think they do a ton of concerts; save for some performances here and there. That said, having never had the privilege of hearing them live, I imagine that it's rather like watching a symphony or a musical where the audience remains mostly silent during their songs. I've said this before: the magic is in the silence. When you're so captivated by the music that you can't speak. That's when you know that you've seen something truly special. I am fully confident that hearing these men and women sing live would have that kind of effect on me. I say this because just listening to them on my iPod does that to me. This has actually posed a unique problem in trying to write about them. I always listen to albums on a loop while I'm writing about them - I have to do that. But I keep getting swept up in the harmonies that I forget that I'm actually trying to review it. Oops?

Suffice to say, this review is going to be pretty positive. Glowing, even. It's a gorgeous album. Kind of like the musical embodiment of Christmas itself. That might be a ridiculous statement to make, but I'm standing by it. Listening to this makes me want to bundle up and go ice skating or sledding and then come back and have some hot chocolate while decorating the Christmas tree with a fire in fireplace. And I'm saying this as someone who has never managed to get the hang of ice skating and who lives in Nashville where it hardly ever snows enough to be able to sled on successfully. Although, considering how the last time I remember going sledding we ended up crashing straight into a bush of some sort (ouch) this might be a good thing.

I also say this as something who, as you may recall if you read my review of A Hollens Family Christmas  by Peter Hollens, I'm one who usually only chooses to listen to Christmas music in December. Yet here I am, all ready to decorate a Christmas tree before Thanksgiving. I realize that there's many people who always get their trees up before Thanksgiving and if you're one of them, power to you. You do you. But our tree always goes up in December. Always.

These a cappella artists, I'm telling you. It's albums like The Spirit of the Season that really highlight the beauty of a cappella music. Now don't get me wrong, I still love my non-a cappella artists and instruments, but it's hard to beat the human voice. Especially when you have a group full of beautiful voices like Voctave. And especially when there's so much negativity in the world at large. The way I figure it - no matter how bad things get - as long as beautiful music like this exists in the world, I know that everything will be okay. In thinking about that, this album also showcases everything that's beautiful about Christmas music too. 

So perhaps now would be a good time to talk a bit about each of the tracks?

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Album review: Debut by 7th Ave

This is going to be part album review and part an introduction to a group that some of you might not be familiar with yet. With some videos thrown in for fun. First things first: who is 7th Ave? It's a new quartet founded by one Chris Rupp. You know, as in the guy who also founded an a cappella group that I'm quite fond of: Home Free. Yeah, him. Earlier this year, he announced that he would be leaving Home Free to pursue other musical interests. I'll be honest and admit that this news made me sad at first. It's always sad when someone leaves a group that you love. I've had it happen multiple times.

That said, I think that this departure was the easiest to handle for me. I say this because Home Free is still very much intact and making great music with new member Adam Chance. And Chris has more or less been a music making machine; we never really had time to miss him because he's been producing so much content. Let's recap: he put out a beautiful piano album last December called Setting the Stage: An Evening with the Masters. He released a solo country project, Shine, in January of this year. And then came the announcement that he was leaving Home Free and starting up this new project 7th Ave. This album, Debut, came out last week and on November 2nd, Chris put out a Christmas album called A Little Bit of Christmas (stay tuned for a review of this one). Oh yeah, he's also been releasing various other singles throughout the year. He also made me incredibly happy by collaborating with some of my other faves VoicePlay on their ACA Top 10 Bro-Country Countdown. I wrote a fairly ridiculous post about that which you can find here, if you're interested. It's been months and I'm still excited about that one. I'm not even kidding.

As you can see, Chris has been quite busy this year. I'm starting to wonder if he ever even sleeps. You know what makes this even better? He's not just releasing a lot of content; he's releasing quality content. 7th Ave has quickly become one of my favorite groups.

So, how about I introduce you to the other three? First up, there's Kelley Jakle, a very talented singer who has been involved in all kinds of projects. Perhaps most notably, she was one of the Barden Bellas in both of the Pitch Perfect movies. Sidenote: if you've never watched those, you should because they're great. Next up is Tristin Rupp - yes, her and Chris are related. She's his sister. For those of you keeping score, their brother Adam is the beatboxer for Home Free. Crazy talented family there. Tristin has all kinds of credits to her name: acting, modeling and is co-runs the "TNT Dance Factory", an online dance fitness channel. To name a few. Last, but in no way least, we have Adam Bastien. He's sung in multiple a cappella groups and on many cruise ships. Among other things. This group, y'all.

7th Ave is not an a cappella group, though they do sing a cappella every now and then. They are my favorite kind of vocal group. Namely, one where everyone is talented enough to be a solo artist which makes it even more special to hear them sing together. They each bring their own experiences and tastes to the table to create something very exciting. I've really enjoyed everything I've seen from them so far and can't wait to see what they're going to do.

That all said, how about we talk about their debut album, Debut?