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.


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,


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.

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.