Thursday, February 11, 2016

Video spotlight: "Burn" by Evynne Hollens

If you know me or have been following my blog than you know that last year I fell in love with a cappella music. I've been a music lover for as long as I can remember, but a cappella has made that love feel brand new again. This love has also led me to discover all kinds of different groups and singers. Some of whom have joined the ranks of my favorite artists. Evynne Hollens being the most recent addition to that group. There are few things better than listening to great singers singing great songs. Especially emotional ones. In a culture that seems to value flashiness and over the top stage antics, I sometimes feel as if many of us have lost the ability to truly connect with a lyric. Now don't get me wrong; I can appreciate a huge production. Some of the videos I include in this series will probably fit it that category. It can be fun to get lost in the spectacle of a big, showy number. But consider this: oftentimes the flashiness is just a way to cover up the lack of talent and substance. Take all that away and you're left with nothing of any true value. Not always, but often. Too often.

The best songs don't need much: a lone guitar or piano and a voice. Or perhaps only a voice. This is true for singers as well, the best ones can captivate an audience with nothing more than their voice. Combine the two - the song and the singer - and wait for the magic. The video in this post doesn't have a lot going on visually. The entire video consists of Evynne, pianist Nathan Alef and his piano against a black backdrop. That's it and you know what? It is phenomenal. The song is "Burn" and it from the Broadway musical Hamilton: An American Musical which is about Alexander Hamilton. This show is the hot show on Broadway right now and I had never heard of it until Evynne posted this marvelous cover. I, like apparently a lot of Americans, didn't realize just how little I knew about Alexander Hamilton. He's one of our founding fathers and yet most of is don't know anything about him. Something that this show is changing. I've since purchased the cast album and listened to it and holy smokes.

Lyricist Lin-Manuel Miranda - who also wrote the book and did the music for the show - deserves a lot of credit. For his dedication to the story, for starters. He did his homework, wanting to make the story as historically accurately as he could. He did this while making it incredibly accessible to audiences of today. The music is largely hip-hop influenced, though there's elements pulled from various musical composers. Now hip-hop is not something I listen to all that much, but it's perfect for this show. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. The lyrics are truly something - "Burn" being one of the best examples of this. In the show, this song is sung by Eliza Hamilton, the wife of Alexander Hamilton.  

I have more to say about this particular performance, but first, take a few minutes and watch the video.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Video spotlight: "Loch Lomond" by Peter Hollens

Ah, the music video. I have long believed in the power of the music video. I can't even tell you how many artists I discovered through their music videos. It is my love of said videos that inspired me to create this blog in the first place. Well, there's been a plethora of great new videos posted over the last few months and some older ones that I've just recently come across. As such, I've been feeling a need to spread the word about them. Hopefully in the process of doing so, you'll find some new artists to love. Or perhaps get reconnected with a former favorite. Either way, if you see something you enjoy, please hop on board and share it with your family and friends. It really is one of the best ways to support the singers you enjoy.

What with all of the wonderful videos that have come out as of late, I have quite a lot to choose from and there's brand new videos coming out all the time. Meaning that there's many, many video spotlights to come. It should have been tough to pick the one that would kick things off, but it wasn't. Not in the slightest. You see, once I watched this video I knew I had to share it. We'll get into why momentarily. But upon sharing it, two very cool things happened as a result. Things that I knew I had to share. So time to get to it. The artist? Peter Hollens. The video? "Loch Lomond".

Thursday, January 14, 2016

15* Favorite Country* Albums from 2015

Preparing for this blog has renewed my commitment to listen to each album I get right when I get it. I don't know about y'all, but I'm actually pretty bad about that. Unless it's an album I've been really looking forward to, there's a very good chance that I'll hold off on listening to it. I don't know why I do it, but I do. Which is okay, so far as it goes - until you decide to make a best of 2015 list, but can't until you go through and listen to all of them. That's right. These past couple of weeks, I've been going through and listening to every album and EP that I got in 2015. I don't recommend doing this. Especially when it involves roughly 80 full-length albums and over 40 EPs. 1,360 songs total, according to the iTunes playlist I created. Yep. I repeat: I do not recommend doing this.

Now, I've been reading a bunch of these kinds of lists and just about all of them focus on one kind of country music only. Like mainstream popular country or Texas country. There's lists of the best alternative country albums and the best bluegrass albums. I'm one who appreciates different styles and sub-genres of country music. Hence, the * attached to Country in the title. So I decided to throw them all together and pick the ones I liked the best, regardless of sub-genre. This was not an easy feat. The truth is that I genuinely liked most of the albums and EPs I got last year. As such, I had to be brutal. There's albums I loved that didn't make the final cut. Ultimately, it was a question of which ones made the most impact. Be it lyrically, musically, emotionally or whatever else. Some of these made it on other best of lists; others didn't, at least as far as I've seen. Worth keeping in mind that all of these lists are pretty subjective and should be taken with a grain of salt. This list consists entirely of full-length albums; there might be a separate post for my favorite EPs coming down the road. For now, we're going on a bit of a musical journey here. This list covers some ground. I believe that there is at least one album on here for everyone. Maybe even more than that. Now I would say that I enjoy every album on here pretty equally which made ranking them difficult. So difficult, in fact, that I decided to just list them alphabetically by first name. 

 Let's get started.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas Favorites: Patreon edition - Part 2

You can find Part 1 directly under this post or right here if you're feeling lazy. No judgement here. I'm going to keep up the pattern I started in part 1 meaning that we're kicking things off with...

Christmas Favorites: Patreon edition - Part 1

Merry Christmas everyone!

Last Christmas, I  wrote about my favorite versions of Christmas carolsstandards and lesser known originals. This year, I knew I wanted to do some kind of Christmas post, but couldn't pinpoint exactly what that would be. Then it hit me: this would be a good opportunity to promote the artists that I support on Patreon. I've written a fair amount about a couple of them, but not all. That's about to change. I know some of you are familiar with Patreon, but others of you aren't. So first things first: Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that helps content creators create content on a regular basis. It's not about funding one big project; it's about helping them make multiple projects over time. This is done through the use of subscriptions. You choose your level of support and each level comes with its own perk. You also have the option of not receiving any perks, if that is your preference. Worth nothing that you can change your level of patronage or opt out at any point. You can also set a monthly cap on your donations to help you stay within your budget.

All kinds of content creators use Patreon, but all of the artists I support use it to create music videos. People, this is a game changer. See, it's usually the record labels who pay for the music videos. As such, they usually have the final say in which songs become singles and which get music videos. But Patreon puts this power in the hands of the artists. Why is this significant? Well let's look at two of my favorite vocal groups: Little Big Town and Home Free. Since 2002, Little Big Town has released 19 singles from 6 studio albums. 18 of those singles got official videos. 10 points to anyone who can tell me which single did not get a video.

Now Home Free on the other hand? 20. Big deal, you might be thinking. That's only two more than Little Big Town. Oh wait, I forgot to mention that those 20 videos? 21, if you count the lyric video for "I've Seen"? All released in 2015. Yes, I counted. 38 total since 2013, if you go by their official music videos playlist on their YouTube channel. About 30 of these were Patreon funded. I'm telling you: Patreon = game changer.

Back to Christmas. I'm currently supporting six acts of Patreon: Home Free, VoicePlay, Peter Hollens, Evynne Hollens, Pentatonix and the Hound + the Fox. All of them have released Christmas videos. Several Christmas videos in a couple of cases. Some of these were Patreon funded, but not all.  I must say that trying to narrow it down to my favorites was pretty difficult. So without further ado, here's some of my favorites.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A musical dream come true

Yes, it's another post about Home Free. What can I say other than my name is Kim and I am a Home Freeaholic. Not only can I admit that, I do so with pride. Good thing too since I'm pretty positive that there is no cure for this. Now, I first wrote about these guys back in March. You can read that post in its entirety here if you wish, but here's a rather pertinent excerpt:

"Home Free is also like Little Big Town in that they favor more intricate harmonies over basic ones and said harmonies are rock solid. Neither of these groups would work anywhere near as well if anyone was missing. Each person is great on their own, but their true strength lies in the combined sum of their parts. I truly believe that if you like one of these groups, you'd probably like the other as well. Especially if you enjoy any of the LBT albums that Wayne Kirkpatrick produced. Just because Home Free sounds closer to how LBT did then. I also believe that Home Free needs to cover at least one Little Big Town song at one point. I'm just saying.

Well. Guess what? Turns out Cinderella was right when she sang that "If you keep on believing/ The dream that you wish will come true." That's right. Ladies and gentlemen, Home Free has covered a Little Big Town song! Okay, so it's not the entire song and it is mashed up with another song. Namely "Fishin' in the Dark" by Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. But even still. Home Free has covered a Little Big Town song. Dreams can come true, y'all. I'm not sure I can adequately describe how thrilled I am about this, but I am sure going to do my darnedest. In doing so, you'll also get an idea of what exactly both of these groups mean to me. As such, with absolutely no disrespect to Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I'm not going to be focusing on "Fishin' in the Dark" other than to say that I really like the way Home Free blended these songs together. They work so well together! 

But first, I need to clear something up that has been driving me insane. This mashup is listed as "Fishin' in the Dark/Down in the Boondocks". So many people seem to be under the impression that Little Big Town remade a song by Billy Joe Royal that *is* called "Down in the Boondocks" and that *that* is the cover. Those people are wrong. That is another song completely. Little Big Town doesn't even have a song called "Down in the Boondocks". Their song? Simply called "Boondocks". Just "Boondocks". It is not a remake; it is an original Little Big Town song. Not only that, it is their signature song. Seeing it referred to as "Down in the Boondocks" makes the LBT fan in me twitch a little. Now, it's important to note that Home Free is aware of the mistake, but by the time anyone realize it, the liner notes had already gone off to the printers. These things happen. In the meantime, just remember: "Boondocks". Just "Boondocks". 

Whew. I feel better now. So without further ado, take a second and watch the awesomeness that is "Fishin' in the Dark/Boondocks".

"Boondocks" just got funky. Let's talk about it.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The lullaby of Broadway

September 17th, 2014. Unbeknownst to me, a group that I had never heard of uploaded a video that I wouldn't come across until sometime in January of this year. The group? VoicePlay. The video? Their ACA Top 10 Broadway countdown. Confession: I originally started this about a month or so ago and was going to use it as a way to explain my love of musicals. Upon realizing that the one year anniversary of its release was approaching, I determined that this would become more of a tribute. One in which I'm going to dissect a bit in an effort to explain why I like it so much. Now this countdown was not my introduction to VoicePlay; that was "Survivor", their collaboration with Home Free. That video made me like VoicePlay enough to watch their other videos. Starting with this one. The one that made me love them. It remains my favorite of all their videos, which is saying something since I like all of them. Seeing it performed live was worth the price of the tickets to the Sing Off tour. I'm serious.

Why do I love it so much? Three main reasons and they are as follows.

Reason #1: it's a fantastic piece of music, plain and simple. Everything works. It shouldn't; I knew all but one of these songs prior to watching this and they shouldn't fit together this well. This is what great arranging looks like, folks. This is how it sounds. I have no idea how long it took Layne Stein and Geoff Castellucci to arrange this, but it had to take a fair amount of time and thought. If it didn't, well, these guys might just qualify as musical genuises. Which they might anyway. In any event, they picked great songs, stuck them in the right order and chose the perfect guy to sing lead on each. Every member of the group gets their moment to shine and they all take advantage of it. If you've never heard them before, this is a great introduction. You get a good feel for what they can each do individually and what they can do as a group.

Reason #2: it hits me on a surprisingly personal level. I've seen versions of all but two of these and multiple versions of a couple. I do have cast recordings of each though. I've been moderately obsessed with a couple of them and others were live versions of movies I loved as a kid. Listening to this countdown has brought back a lot of memories. It puts me in a happy place. Largely due to the songs and shows themselves, but also due to VoicePlay's performances. They're always entertaining, but they take it to another level here.

Reason #3: it does a pretty terrific job of summing up what's so great about musicals. All while helping me notice some similarities between them and the country music genre. See, they both revolve around people and their stories. People tend to write them off without ever having actually seen or listened to them. People seem to believe that once you seen/heard one show/song that you've seen/heard them all. The reality is that just like there are various sub-genres that exist under the country music umbrella, there are all kinds of musicals out there. Every show is not Oklahoma. Not trying to knock Oklahoma here; the point is that different shows use different styles of music. They speak to different kinds of audiences and do so in different ways. Don't believe me? Watch the countdown. No, seriously watch it.

Watch it so you have a frame of reference when I dissect it after the jump. Here: