Thursday, April 21, 2016

Video spotlight: "High Class" by Eric Paslay

I had the pleasure of going to the UMG showcase at the Ryman during the Country Radio Seminar (CRS) week back in February. It is one of the coolest events I've ever been to and an interesting peek into the business. It was a star-studded lineup that featured one great performance after another with a few that managed to outshine all the others. Not an easy thing to accomplish at this showcase! One of these standouts was Mr. Eric Paslay. Now I saw Eric at 3rd and Lindsley here in Nashville a few years ago and really liked him. Great voice, great songwriter and comes across as a cool guy. I was looking forward to seeing him again, even if it was only one song. As is the case at the UMG showcase. All but one of the perfomers (Keith Urban being the exception; he did a second song to close out the show) only did one song. The whole point of the showcase is to entice radio to play all these artists. It's kind of part concert and part boardroom meeting. It's a pretty fascinating event to attend.

In any event, I was looking forward to seeing Eric. I figured he'd be good. I did not expect him to completely blow my mind. Nor did the majority of the audience. There were a whole lot of people buzzing about it afterwards and for good reason. The song was "High Class". The performance was high energy. And the audience lost their minds. Turns out that Eric Paslay's got some moves! My jaw actually dropped. There's some videos of the performance floating around online and they're worth looking for, but they only give a taste of what the crowd reaction was like. Y'all, he lit that place up! I can't even describe just how much fun it was to watch. I was thoroughly entertained and didn't want him to leave. He had that audience in the palm of his hands and there's a lot of artists out there who could learn a few things from that. Namely, that incredible things happen when you project energy into the audience. Not just to the first few rows either, but throughout the entire venue. It's so infectious. Energetic performers will always be my favorite kind. Always.

Given the energy of both the song and Eric himself, I was expecting this video to be a blast to watch and I was right. Check it out.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

EP Review: Two Story Road by Two Story Road

Two Story Road is the husband and wife duo of Brandon and Jamelle Fraley. Brandon has toured with Gretchen Wilson and Danny Gokey while Jamelle used to sing backup for Carrie Underwood. They met each other while they were both attending Belmont University and the rest is history. They released their self titled EP last December. The trouble was I first listened to it while I was listening to all of the other music I got in 2015. It sort of lost in the shuffle after having listened to so much other new stuff. Please note that that is in no way a reflection of the EP itself; I did like it quite a bit. It was more a case of listening too much new stuff too close together. I'm a little ashamed to say that I hadn't thought about it in a while until the opening song, "Arson", came on when I had my music of shuffle.

I'd had my music on in the background while focusing on something else so I hadn't really been paying too much attention to what was playing. At least not until "Arson" came on. The music grabbed my ear immediately and then I got completely caught up in the story that was unfolding. I had to go back and listen to it again. From there I had to go and listen to the rest of the EP which I ended up loving. So here's this great EP that's just been casually chilling out in my music library over the past few months. "Arson" coming on that day was like a musical slap upside the head. You need those every now and then. 

The past couple of days I've been spending some time not only listening to Two Story Road, but watching some of the videos they have on their YouTube channel and some on Facebook - as always, links to all of their socials will be included at the end of the post. But in watching their videos and hearing them talk about these songs, it's given me an idea of what they're like not just as artists but as people. And you know what? I like them a lot. There's something very endearing and charming about them. As a couple, they're kind of adorable. Musically speaking, their voices were made for each other. They remind me of Thompson Square that way, though their music has elements of Little Big Town and even Trick Pony to it. Considering how much I love all three of those acts, that is high praise indeed. So let's talk about each of the songs.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Video spotlight: "Misty Mountains" by Peter Hollens featuring Tim Foust

One thing I really like about a cappella artists is how open they are to fan requests. It may help that many of them are independent and so either don't have a record label to go through or have their own label. They can pretty much do whatever they want, especially what with all the various crowdfunding websites out there. The most significant one being Patreon, in my personal opinion. With Patreon, the fans become the support system for the artist. It gives its creators a way to create whatever it is that they create. Music videos, in this case. I believe that this makes them even more open to fan requests.

Don't get me wrong. I think that artists can and should have the final say when it comes to the music that they make. A song has to be a good fit for them and all the better if it's one that they genuinely enjoy doing. But as a fan, it's nice to feel like an artist values your opinion. It makes you feel like you are truly a part of their musical journey. Even if only a small one. As Peter Hollens constantly says, he does the music that his fans request. Over the past couple of years, Peter has done a few covers of songs from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies because people kept requesting them. Earlier this year, he announced that he would be putting out an album of 12 of these songs. Some of which he'd already done, but he put new spins on them. Said album came out in March and it's great. He's already released a couple of videos of songs from this album. One of them being "Misty Mountains" which is one of the songs he had done before. This time, he recruited Mr. Tim Foust. The bass singer of country music's first a cappella band Home Free. You may have seen me mention them once or twice or dozens of times. 

If you remember the first Hobbit movie, "Misty Mountains" is the song that Thorin (played by the very talented Richard Armitage) and the other dwarves in his company sing by the fireplace at Bilbo's house the night before they embark on their mission to win back their kingdom. It is one of my favorite scenes in all of the Hobbit movies. It's a fantastic scene. The song is dark and solemn and does a great job driving home the importance of their mission. Worth noting that they only perform two of the stanzas in the movie. I really like Peter's other version of this that's just him, but adding Tim takes it to another level entirely.

Watch. As always, headphones are strongly recommended.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Album review: Let It Go by Eileen Carey

Country. Pop. Rock. Eileen Carey's music blends all three styles together in a way that feels uniquely hers. I've just been trying to think if there's any other artists out there like her right now and I can't think of any. Eileen grew up in Ohio and relocated to California over 20 years ago. An independent artist, she has made quite a name for herself in California. That said, she spends a fair amount of time in Nashville and come to find out, she used Nashville musicians to track the songs of Let It Go with all of the vocals recorded in Los Angeles. Oh, what a world we live in. I feel like you can hear influences of both places throughout the album.

Let It Go is Eileen's fourth album and features three covers and eight originals. Five of which Eileen co-wrote and I was pleasantly surprised to see that another artist I like, Amy Dalley, co-wrote the other three. She (Amy) wrote "Anything That Reminds Me Of You" with her husband, Jack Sizemore, who is one of Jason Aldean's guitar players. Funny how things work out.

The best thing about Let It Go is how positive and enpowering all of the songs are. The songs are all about letting go of the things that weigh us down so that we might be able to move on to something better. This is a strong album and one that I would definitely recommend taking the time to check it out for yourself.

So how about we take a few minutes to look at each of the tracks?

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Video spotlight: "Love Yourself" by VoicePlay

Silliness ahead.
You have been warned.

Considering that the last two videos featured were both heavy and incredibly sad, it seemed appropriate to lighten things up this time. A lot. So I turn back to VoicePlay. Or rather, part of VoicePlay. For this is the first of a new series called Part Work that VoicePlay has started as a way to give their fans more content. As much as I love how the five of them sound together, it's interesting to hear how just parts of the group sound together. In this case, Eli Jacobson and Geoff Castellucci. There's some video trickery involved in this video. 

Either that or we've just learned that Geoff has an evil twin and they figured out how to clone Eli. All so they could launch the most nefarious and dastardly plot in the history of all nefarious, dastardly plots. 
Step 1: Oust Earl, Layne and Tony from the group. Much easier to control clones. 
Step 2: Make the unsuspecting public love the songs of the one called Bieber. Yep, this is a Justin Bieber song, folks.
Step 3: Laugh maniacally. Because every good villain needs a good maniacal laugh. Am I right or am I right?
Step 4: Try to take over the world! I mean, isn't that the end goal of all nefarious, dastardly plots? 

Honestly, speaking as a total non-Belieber, if these two can make me like a Bieber song this much, this might not be a bad thing. Just think. All mediocre music suddenly becoming palatable and musical. Guys, I think I'm on board. Aca-world domination for the win! 

Nah, I'm just being silly. Obviously, this is the first of their new Part Work series. In fact, they've recently launched another new series called 1 Minute Musicals where they perform an original musical in one minute. It's a fantastic concept and they've already released two with all five members present and accounted for. The first is Stuck in Traffic, music and lyrics by Layne and Tony, in which Tony speaks, er, sings for us all. The second came out last week and is called Lightbulb, music and lyrics by Eli, and is all about the ever-so-wonderful lightbulb. Never did I imagine I'd ever hear the phrase "indoor incandescent safety" in a song, but Eli did it.

So no, of course Eli and Geoff aren't evil geniuses bent on world domination. And if they ever did decide to try to take over the world, it would surely be as a group. Then again, Eli did write their newest musical and they did set Earl on fire in it. Hmm...

I need a minute or two to ponder this. Y'all go enjoy "Love Yourself".

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Video spotlight: "You Should Be Here" by Cole Swindell

I'm going to be completely honest and admit that I've been on the fence about Cole Swindell. I have liked some of songs and he comes across like a genuinely good dude. I've only heard nice things about him from people I know who have met him. It's not that I've disliked him by any means. But I just haven't been sure how I felt about him as an artist. I've needed to see more from him, especially in the way of emotional depth. And, well, now I have.

"You Should Be Here" is a song that Cole wrote with Ashley Gorley about his late father and you know what? It's a great song. It truly is. The chorus especially. He's said that he thinks this is the song that he came to Nashville to write and I believe it. It's obviously a very personal song for Cole, but anyone who has ever lost someone can relate to this. You know how it feels to miss someone, especially when something happens that you know they would have loved to be a part of. When the best thing that can happen to you happens and it'd be perfect if only that person was here. Or maybe it's multiple people that should be here. This song does what very few can do. It speaks to and from the hearts of not only its singer, but anyone who listens to it.

There's some who will brush him off for no reason other than because he's considered to be bro-country. Because if someone is part of that movement, than obviously they have no substance. That is, of course, a ridiculous thought process, but it's how some think. A lot of those guys do, in fact, have substance. Cole Swindell has proven that he's one of them. As I've said, one of my favorite things is when an artist can change my mind about them. I didn't have a bad opinion of Cole, but I've been stuck on that fence. Not anymore. This is among the best songs I've heard lately. The video goes along with it perfectly.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Video spotlight: "Fire Away" by Chris Stapleton

One of the greatest things that happened in 2015 was the rise of Chris Stapleton. He released his fantastic album Traveller in May and would go on to win not one, not two but three CMAs in the fall. It was fun watching people freaking out over him who had never even heard of him until then, even though he's been around for quite a while. A wonderful songwriter with that incredible voice to match, Chris has been a Nashville favorite for years. At this year's UMG showcase during CRS (Country Radio Seminar), Vince Gill came out and compared him to George Jones, saying something along the lines of wondering if people react to hearing Chris the first time the say way the did with George Jones. I think it's a fitting comparison. George Jones was the voice of country music in his time and it's not hard to imagine Chris Stapleton assuming that role in his. As wonderful as it is listening to his voice on his album or on TV, it is so much more powerful live. Chris sweeping the CMAs was fantastic. It was exactly what the genre needed and it is my fervent hope that it may be a sign of things to come.

One of my favorite things about Chris Stapleton is how accepting he is of all styles of country music. When people try to goad him into insulting, say, the bro-country movement, he doesn't take the bait. Instead he talks about how there is room for different kinds of music. If someone has both him and Sam Hunt on their iPods, that's just fine with him. He makes the point that so many miss: people like what they like and trying to convince them that they shouldn't like it is a waste of time. I just love that Chris, the man who has been referred to as a savior of sorts for the genre, thinks that way and isn't afraid to say so. This man gets it. 

In some ways, it's weird to think that "Fire Away" is his first official music video. It only just came out at the end of February. For those who haven't heard the song, it is a song about a relationship that has grown cold over time. The music video for "Fire Away" does what I wish more music videos did, which is to add a different and maybe even deeper meaning to the song. I feel it's fair to say that after the CMAs people have been waiting on pins and needles to see what he would do next. Well, out of all of the directions he could have gone with his first music video, he decided to partner with The Campaign to Change Direction, a coalition dedicated to mental health awareness. The charity was brought to Chris's attention by actor Ben Foster, who stars in the video along with Margarita Levieva. Chris had a vision for the video and that vision was brought to fruition by director Tim Mattia. The video highlights the five signs of emotional suffering. Namely, change in personality, agitation, withdrawal, decline in personal care and hopelessness. You can learn more about The Champaign to Change Direction here.

This video is gritty and raw and heartbreaking. Near the beginning of the song Chris sings, "choose the words that cut like a razor" and that's pretty much what the video does. It's not an easy video to watch, although nearly impossible to tear your eyes away from. Because it is so utterly real. Things like really happen and they happen every single day. There are so many people struggling with various mental illnesses, which is why it is imperative that people watch this. This may be a big statement, but it is my belief that this will end up being the most important music video of the year. It's not pretty. It's not fun. But it is important and it deserves your attention.

So here we go.