Saturday, December 31, 2016

My Favorite VoicePlay Videos from 2016

Once again I've gone and saved the best, i.e. my absolute favorites, for last. If I were to make a royal court out of my favorite artists, VoicePlay would be King. Given the way that they have catapulted themselves into that position this year, it seemed only right to end 2016 with them. After all, I did write about them 22 times this year - this post included. Granted, some of those weren't exclusively VoicePlay, but still. I think it's safe to say that my love for this group is pretty well documented!

One of my favorite parts of 2016, aside from the guys themselves, has been the friendships that I've gotten to make because of them. I'm slowly getting to know more VoicePlayas and I know I've said it before, but this is a wonderful group to be a part of. We might be different in many ways, but we can bond over a love for a group. This love is always supportive and fun and it doesn't just extend to the guys, but also to anyone who considers themselves a fan.

That's one of the reasons why VoicePlay became my favorites. In a perfect world, it would only be about the content, but there's other things that play a part. Likeability is one. I've said it many times, but liking a singer (or group) as a person (or people) makes it all so much better. If you like your fellow fans too? That's the best. I'm sad to say that there's some acts that I've been put off from due to the ridiculous drama that exists within the fandom. It shouldn't play a factor, but it does. This is not a problem I have with VoicePlayas. Not at all.

You know, earlier this year I decided that I wanted to write about how VoicePlay helps me deal with my rheumatoid arthritis. Only to come thisclose to not actually posting it because it ended up being super personal. The most personal thing I've ever shared publicly. You know what? As of this moment, it is my most viewed VoicePlay post to date. I even got a few really sweet comments from a few of my fellow VoicePlayas that took me completely by surprise and touched my heart. This is the kind of group that you want to be in. You can find that post here, if you're interested.

Suffice to say, while 2016 was a really hard year in some ways, these guys helped make it better. They, and their fans, were a bright light even when things seemed pretty dark. Especially then. So, it shouldn't surprise anyone that I would save them for last.

Not only that, but being VoicePlay, I decided to change things up a bit. See, with my lists of my favorite Hollens Family videos (found here) and my favorite Home Free videos (found here) from 2016, I picked a few of their videos from the year and listed them in the order in which they were released. But with VoicePlay? All of their videos are represented in some fashion. Well, assuming that I didn't miss any by accident. What's more? I decided to rank them. You could argue that this is kind of like my take on an ACA-top 10. Sort of. In a way. Although, some got lumped together. You'll see what I mean. I might have cheated a little.

Before we start, let me make something clear: I really like all of these videos. I definitely have my favorites, but that's because I just love them more. Not because I don't like the others. We'll start at #10 and work our way down. If it was one of the videos I wrote about this year, the link to the write-up will be included (with the video in question in it). Let's do this.

Friday, December 30, 2016

My Favorite Home Free Videos from 2016

Continuing my little series on my favorite music videos of the year, we have Home Free. It was a good year for Home Free, albeit one that came with a brief period of uncertainity as we adjusted to the revelation that Chris would be leaving and Adam Chance would be coming in. But as I've said on here more than once, this worked out about as perfectly as it could have. Chris is doing great things and Chance fits in seamlessly. I say this with absolutely no disrespect intended towards Chris, but in a way it feels like Chance has always been there. That's how well he fits in.

The men of Home Free definitely gave their Home Fries a lot to be happy about. All of the videos they released were wonderful. So much so that trying to narrow it down to five felt pretty impossible. So, what did I end up doing you ask? Narrow it down to seven. Which is almost half of the videos they put out in 2016, but no matter.

How about we get started?

Thursday, December 29, 2016

My Favorite Hollens Family Videos from 2016

After deciding that I did not want to do a best albums of 2016 post after all, I knew that I still wanted to do something to commemorate the year. I first came up with the idea to highlight my favorite music related events from the year and you can find that post right here. While working on that, I realized that I wanted to do something else. But what?

Finally, it hit me. 2016 was a terrible years in some respects, but a great one in others. For instance, it was a great year for me musically speaking. I learned about some new acts that I've come to love. What's more, I ended up becoming a bigger fan of some acts that I loved coming in. So, why not find a way to honor those acts? And why not do so by highlighting some of my favorite videos of theirs from the year? After all, 2016 was the year that I decided to launch my video spotlight series. In fact, it was my love for the music video that first inspired me to start this blog in the first place.

The decision was made. Aside from my new music related loves, there were four acts in particular that really stood out to me this year. If you've been hanging out on my blog this year, you can probably guess who they are. I don't think it'll be much a surprise to any of you. But if you're new here (and if so, welcome!) or didn't pay that much attention (and if so, that's okay), let me tell you. The four acts that really stood out to me this year? VoicePlay, Home Free, Evynne Hollens and Peter Hollens. Between the four of them, they released a crazy amount of videos this year. 85 total on their combined channels, assuming I counted correctly. 87, if you add in videos that live on other people's channels. Yes, I actually went through and counted. I think I got everything, but it's possible that I didn't.

Actual number aside, it's still a lot of music videos. Not just that, but they're all good. Great, even. That made trying to narrow it down to a select few quite difficult. Hey, there's worse problems to have. Ultimately, I ended up just going with my gut because I figured I could drag this out forever if I didn't. I decided to break this up into multiple posts to make it simpler. That and considering that I'm including all the videos, that felt like the best choice.

Considering that the first two videos I featured in my video spotlight series were by Evynne and Peter Hollens, it felt appropriate to kick this off with them. Keep reading if you'd like to know what my top five favorite Hollens Family videos were from 2016.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Top 10 Live Music Experiences of 2016

This year I decided against picking my favorite albums from 2016. The truth is that I have way too many albums left to listen to and didn't feel like trying to do a mass listening of them all like I did last year. Instead, I've decided to pick some of my favorite music related things - starting with this. My top 10 favorite live music experiences from 2016. Some of these are regular concerts and some aren't. I will say that while there were a few other great shows I went to this year, it was actually very easy to narrow it down to my ten favorite experiences. These were all shows that just stood out to me. I went through and made some photo collages of some of the pictures I took at most of these events. Six, to be exact. Out of the remaining four, two of them were musicals I saw. One was a show where I only got a few pictures that were, frankly, terrible. The last was a show where I could have taken pictures, but was too caught up in the show. Although looking back, I wish I would've gotten a few.

No matter. Without further ado, here are my top 10 favorite live music experiences from 2016.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Video spotlight: O Little Town of Bethlehem by VoicePlay

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful day, whether you celebrate or not. 

I am now more convinced than ever that the men of VoicePlay do in fact possess some sort of magical powers. Today's video is their most recent. Part of their Partwork series, this video features everyone but the Tony. One of the best perks of being a VoicePlay patron is that we get to see their videos a day or two sooner than everyone else. On the day that this video was released, I was chatting with a fellow VoicePlaya and friend about how ballads aren't really their thing. Then, later that day, an email arrived from their Patreon. Sidenote: their messages to their patrons are the greatest. They have a way of giving me the feels. Warm and fuzzy feels, to be specific. The one that accompanied this email legitimately made me "aw". 

A new video - this video - was posted. I couldn't tell you what song I may have been anticipating, but seeing that it was "O Little Town of Bethlehem" came as a surprise. Leave it to them to release a slow Christmas carol on the same day we would be talking about them not doing slower songs. Their timing is quite impeccable, I must say.

As is always the case when they do a song that I'm already familar with, I was curious about what they did with it. Because if you've paid them any attention at all, you know that they're ones to reinvent a song to make it their own. I talked about this in my video spotlight on their version of "The First Noel", if you missed it. So I knew that they would do the same with this song. 

What I didn't know was that this was going to be quite the departure for them as well. It's funny. Usually it seems like artists go the other direction when they try something new. As in, doing something that's more out there. Not always. Not with VoicePlay. In this case, a departure for them meant going back to the basics, in a sense. No vocal percussion; just some beautiful four part harmony. It means doing something more classic and understated and beautiful. We've never seen this side of VoicePlay and I love it.

This is my third VoicePlay post in 8 days. All three of them were Christmas related video spotlights. I linked the last one above and you can find the first one here. I decided instead to start with the silliest. From there, it was their upbeat take on a classic with almost no silliness - the little silliness that was there was at the very end. Now we have this. They have traded silliness for solemnity and they wear it well. Versatility, thy name is VoicePlay. Every time I think I finally know how incredibly talented they are, I'm wrong. And you know what? In this case? It's great to be wrong.

I want to paraphrase something my dad said when he shared this video with his friends. All of the men of VoicePlay are great lead singers who are also great at harmonizing and who sing great arrangements. That's it. That's them in a nutshell. 

"O Little Town of Bethlehem" is another Geoff arrangement and  I think it might just be his prettiest. The perfect thing to listen to on what is hopefully a terrific Christmas day for all of you.

Watch. Listen. Enjoy.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Video spotlight: This Christmas by Two Story Road

If you've never heard of Two Story Road, you're in luck because this is the 3rd time I've written about them. You can check out my review of their great self-titled EP right here and my video spotlight on their a cappella version of their song "Arson" here. But the quick introduction to Two Story Road is that they are the talented husband and wife duo of Brandon and Jamelle Fraley.

I've come to like these two a lot. They make great music and they're so entertaining to watch, as you're about to see. As soon as I watched this, I knew I was going to have to feature it. They're not afraid to be silly and those of you who know me know that I love that.

So here's their fun version of "This Christmas".

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Video spotlight: The First Noel by VoicePlay

Guys, I think we need to talk about Patreon. Specifically, VoicePlay's Patreon. Quick explanation for those of you who still aren't familiar with Patreon - it's a crowdfunding website designed to help creators create content over time. Unlike other crowdfunding sites (like, say, KickStarter), Patreon is an ongoing relationship between a creator and their fans (i.e. Patrons). As opposed to only raising money for one big project (like an album) over a specified amount of time. Patreon is one of the best things to happen that's happened to creators in a long time, in my opinion.

Being a patron allows you to support your creators in a way that essentially makes you a small part of their creating process. Whether you donate $1 or $100 per creation, you are helping your creator(s) do what they love to do. You are helping them make their content. Every little bit helps. 

Here's what's been driving me crazy about VoicePlay's Patreon. The website allows creators to set milestones, usually based on how much they make per creation. Reaching these milestones is great for everyone. So what's my problem? My problem is that VoicePlay is really close to hitting their next milestone. Close to the point that it's kind of killing me that they haven't hit it yet. Killing me, I say. Maybe by the time this post goes public, they will have magically hit that milestone and that would be fantastic. I don't really expect that it will, but I would be thrilled to be proven wrong.

Either way, they deserve more patrons. I want to see them hit this milestone and all of their other milestones. Shoot, I want to see them having to create new milestones so they can crush those too. So, to that end, I offer to you a plea. A plea set to a song that you might remember from Frozen

Do you wanna be a patron?
Come on, you know you do
You can help these five handsome bros
Make their videos
Come on, support VoicePlay

I promise that they're worth it
They really are
And the perks; they are super great!
So do you wanna be a patron?
Oh, won't you please become a patron?
Join today

Deciding to become a VoicePlay patron was such an easy decision for me to make and what a fantastic decision, too. I'll say it as many times as I have to: they are so good to us. They appreciate all of us and make a point of telling us so often. You can see the difference in their videos since they launched their Patreon campaign and trust that they put the money they get to great use. You can join for as little as a $1 per creation. You can also set a monthly cap on your donation to stay within your budget. Every dollar helps. Considering how much joy they bring me and how much that helps me deal with things, well, how could I not want to support them on Patreon and urge others to do so as well? 

I could come up with so many more reasons why you should at least consider supporting them on Patreon, but you know what? Their content speaks for itself. As does their talent. So, this is their take on "The First Noel". Enjoy.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Video spotlight: Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer by Home Free

Ah, you gotta love the men of Home Free. One day they might bring you to tears with a gorgeous, heartwarming arrangement full of those luscious harmonies of theirs. The next they come out with something like this. I know many of the people reading this will have already seen this video, but for those of you who haven't? Given what song it is, it will not surprise you to see that this is a funny video. One that managed to keep my giggling pretty much the entire time.

Before we get to it, though, I want to take the opportunity to talk about their Christmas tour, a Country Christmas. I got to see it when they came to the TPAC here in Nashville and it was great. As expected. This was the fourth time I've seen them, but two of those times were sets at CMAFest that only lasted for roughly 40 minutes or so. I also got to see their Grand Ole Opry debut where they, like everyone during their Opry debut, just did two songs. Making this show the first full length Home Free concert. They sang for about two hours, a mix of Christmas songs and some of their country covers. Their live show is such an entertaining one and once again I managed to be surprised by how much better they sounded like. I didn't think it was possibly, but vocal percussionist Adam Rupp has completely stepped up his game. His solo was just insane. He's so incredibly talented and I'm not convinced that he's completely human. Watching him is like watching a master class in vocal percussion. The shows are worth it for his solo alone. When you add in the beautiful harmonies of the other four, you really do have something special. 

Now, how about the video? Well, Home Free's video for "Grandma Got Runover by a Reindeer" features the guys attempting to sing for some folks. After getting the doors slammed in their faces, they decide that a home invasion is the way to go. Hilarity ensues. See for yourself.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Video spotlight: Wookiee for Christmas by VoicePlay

If you happened to read my album review of ECHO's self-titled album, you know that I declared Geoff to be the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a cappella music. Not even a VoicePlay post and he walks away with a new title. That's because Geoff has played an integral role in this, my aca-addiction. Or, if we're going to go full on ridiculous (and we are), we could also refer to him as Geoffobi-Wan Castenobi. Castellunobi? Or...maybe we'll just stick with Geoff. That might be best. 

In any event, that declaration paired with the recent release of new Star Wars movie, Rogue One,  made the choice to write about this particular cover next pretty easy. Although VoicePlay, in true VoicePlayish fashion, almost made me change course. Again. How? By releasing a Partwork that I think is the prettiest thing they've ever done. Rest assured, a spotlight on that in more than likely coming. In fact, there's also a chance of a spotlight on their version of "The First Noel", but I decided to start with the silliest video first. 

See, we're getting down to the wire here. Christmas is fast approaching and, thus, the Christmas shopping window is beginning to close. Some of you may be stuck wondering what in the world you're going to get that difficult person on your list and if you happen to know any Wookiee's, well, VoicePlay has you covered. They're helpful like that. 

So get ready for a video that could not be more VoicePlay if it tried. It's silly. It's kind of ridiculous and it's super entertaining. Here's the boys with their take on "When Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)" 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Album review: It Must Be Christmas by Chris Young

Every time I listen to Chris Young sing, I wonder how it's possible for all of the country music award shows to ignore him. Oh sure, he has been nominated a few times, but he gets snubbed more often than not. I'll never understand it. He is one of the best male singers that the genre has to offer and all of his albums to date have been wonderful. He's a great performer and as nice as they come. So what gives? 

Of course, when all is said and done, Chris is doing very well these days. His popularity has grown so much since I first saw him on Nashville Star and it's been fun to watch. It Must be Christmas is his first Christmas album and it's a great one. True to form. That wonderfully warm and rich voice of his is on full display. He doesn't take too many risks on this, choosing to go with a more traditional approach. It suits him well. Very well indeed. 

So let's talk about each of the tracks. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Video spotlight: Home for the Holidays by ECHO

In getting ready to write this, I had to chuckle at how Christmasy November turned out what with all the Christmas albums I ended up reviewing. This, from a person who usually prefers to only listen to Christmas music in December. Yet here we are about midway through December and none of the posts so far this month have had anything to do with Christmas. Time to remedy that, I think. What better way to do so by saving ECHO's Christmas for the end of our little ECHO trilogy? The first two installments are right below this one on the main page. But if you're feeling lazy, the first installment about their album can be found here and the ECHO mishmash can be found here.

"Home for the Holidays" is a beautiful medley. The perfect medley to bring us back to Christmas, if you ask me. So how about we get right to it?

Sunday, December 11, 2016

An ECHO mishmash

For this second installment of this mini-ECHO series or whatever you wish to call it, we have a mishmash of things. This was originally only going to be a song review, but where's the fun in that? Actually, I was thinking that this would be a good way to cover as many ECHO related things as possible. Because sometimes you need to go all out with something. In this case, that something would be introducing the world (well, my readers) to the wonders of this group.

We have an EP review, a mini-video spotlight and a song review all mixed up together. This is the first time I've attempted something like this, so we'll see how it works out. Go with it.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Album review: Echo by ECHO

All a cappella roads appear to lead back to Geoff Castellucci.

I say this because it seems like a bunch of the a cappella artists that I've come to love have had something to do with him. Those of you who know the story of how I became such a fan of a cappella music know that it all began with a medley. A medley that was performed by Home Free. A medley that I would later learn was arranged by Geoff and his arranging and rhythm producing partner in crime, Layne Stein. A medley that sparked my love for Home Free which in turn led me to VoicePlay. If you've spent any time on here over the past couple of years, you are well aware that I am a full-fledged VoicePlayaholic. It was through Geoff that I learned about ECHO earlier this year. Geoff Castellucci, the Obi-Wan Kenobi of a cappella music, y'all.

It is here that I feel obliged to offer a word of warning for anyone who may dare to keep reading past this point.  If you choose to proceed, you must do so with the utmost caution. Believe me when I say that once you experience the magic of a cappella music, you will never be the same. I'm serious.

Those of you who know me know that country music has always held a special place in my heart and I would say that I know way more about it than any other genre. It's long been my favorite kind of music. That said, I seemed to have been born with an appreciation and love for music in general. If you were to look through my iPod, you would see several genres represented. I'm more likely to listen to one of my playlists on shuffle than to listen to an album all the way through. I like the contrast. 

That's one of the many things that appeals to me about a cappella music. The groups tend to pull from a variety of influences and sounds. The best ones don't do covers that are identical to the originals; they find some way to change it up. The nature of a cappella also cuts out so much of the unnecessary noise that often clutters "regular" kinds of music. Stripping away the instruments has a way of creating more of a connection between a group and their audience. It's so wonderfully human.

I still love music that combines singers and instruments. I love instrumental music, as well. But a cappella hits me on a level that the other kinds of music can't. Not even my beloved country music. As such, I find myself listening to more a cappella all the time. 

Aca-addiction is a real thing, my friends. 

A wonderfully delightful thing, mind; one that leads to increased happiness and musicality. Incidentally, this makes it a powerful ally in the fight against things like chronic illness, depression and anxiety. Trust me; I speak from personal experience. I struggle with all of the above and there's been times when a cappella music is what helps me keep it all together. It's a powerful thing. Especially when you factor in how cool other a cappella fans can be. 

So, if that appeals to you, you may proceed with the knowledge that your life is about to get a little more awesome. Don't say I didn't warn you.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Video spotlight: Don't Stop Believin' by VoicePlay

Earlier this year, I wondered if Eli and Geoff were evil geniuses or not. Now, I can't help thinking that the group has some kind of weird magical ability. This year, I've been making an effort to plan things out better in an attempt to avoid having long stretches of time go by without any updates. It's worked out well. Some of the time. The rest of the time? Not so much.

See, I'll have my notebook full of ideas and make up a schedule that makes sense to me. Then it happens. Something great gets uploaded, more often than not by these guys, and bam. Schedule? Out the window. See, once again I was going to wait just a bit longer before writing a new VoicePlay related post. Once again, I had decided what the next VoicePlay post would be. And it wasn't this. I'll give the guys extra credit for this one: they also managed to somewhat change another upcoming post about them. This is, of course, entirely coincidental. It just happens...and keeps happening. Over and over again.

Granted, I could obviously choose to resist the impulse to change things around and stick to the aforementioned schedule, but I never do. Oh, I might be able to get another couple of posts done. Usually when I've already had said posts more or less completely planned out or had already started writing. That was actually the case with the last two about Rachel Potter and Home Free. There were a couple of other non-VoicePlay related posts I was contemplating writing next. Before the, shall I say, roguish VoicePlay decided to release this little nugget of delightfulness. I knew I had no choice but to write about it next. None, I tell you!

Because that's exactly what this video is: delightful. It's wonderful and full of beautiful harmonies. This is also quite possibly the best that I have ever heard Earl sound. I've known he was a great singer from the beginning, but my goodness. In my book, Earl singing "Don't Stop Believin'" is on par with Tony- excuse me, The Tony - singing "The Phantom of the Opera". You know, those magical moments where the voice and the song are a match made in musical heaven? Yeah. These are the kinds of moments that the heart-eyed emoji was created for, y'all.

Some of you may recall that I dubbed Earl the High Note Slayer earlier this year and let's just say he earned that title for a reason. There's one note in particular right at the end that's insane. That's what I'm talking about. That's our Slayer!

You want to know what else I love about this? Short answer: everything! Interested in the long and potentially long-winded (long-typed?) answer? Then keep reading!

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?

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Album review: A Hollens Family Christmas by Peter Hollens

Something strange has happened to me. I used to have a fairly strict rule about waiting to listen to Christmas music until December. Or rather about choosing to listen to it on my own, since it seems like the stores start playing it earlier and earlier. But generally, I like to save Christmas music for December. Now as you're of course aware, it is definitely not December yet. It's definitely still November. And yet, I find myself writing a review of a Christmas album.

This is mainly for three reasons. The first being that it seems like there's a lot of Christmas albums coming out. I know that I, in all likelihood, will not be able to write about all of them. But there's a few that I'm definitely planning on getting to. Seemed like a good idea to start now. The second reason I wanted to write about this album? It's the first new album that I've listened to in its entirety and it's great. The third reason? Peter has worked so hard getting it right and has even set a world record for the most names in the album notes of an album. My name being among them. He's said how proud he is of this project, as he should be. He did a fantastic job! And as if the album wasn't great enough on its own, Peter is apparently going to be releasing a music video for all of the songs on it. Yep. All of them. One new video a week for the rest of the year. I'll be including the ones he's already released. Perhaps I'll add the rest of the videos as he releases them. This man's work ethic is incredible.

Peter's also been so super excited about it and you know what? It's contagious. Not to mention wonderfully endearing. As a person who loves music, I love when artists are excited about their music. After all, it all starts with them. If they're lukewarm about it, how exactly do they expect other people to get excited about it? Granted, a great album is a great album, regardless of how happy an artist is with it. But when you know that they love it, it just seems to give it a little something extra. Something special. Because you know, beyond a doubt, that they gave it everything that they had. They believed in it that much. Worth noting that Peter is an independent artist. Which goes to show that, no, you really don't need the support of a label to produce quality music. This album is overflowing with musicality and heart. Peter Hollens is seriously one of absolute favorite artists and this is a great example of why. I love his voice so much and he is such a lovely, genuine human being. I'd love to be able to meet him someday.

A Hollens Family Christmas is such a treat to listen to and features some pretty cool collaborations. So how about we talk about each of the tracks? Starting with...

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Video spotlight: Scars to Your Beautiful by Evynne Hollens

This was originally not going to be my next post, but seeing as how negative pretty much all of my social media feeds have been over the past few days made me want to write about this now. See, this song was originally done by Alessia Cara and it's all about body image and loving yourself. No matter what the rest of the world thinks.

This is an important message these days. Especially lately. I'll be honest and admit that it annoys me that I feel a need to write about this because it shouldn't be this way. But it is. Denying that truth changes nothing. I never wanted to get political on my blog and I'm not. Not exactly. But right now the country is in a state of turmoil. The election is over and the hate is flowing. Friendships are ending because apparently learning someone voted differently than you did means that you're all of a sudden some kind of evil person. At least that seems to be the implication. As if they suddenly aren't the same person that they've always been. And let's make something clear - there is hate to be found across the board. Honestly, I've been struggling the past couple of days. See, I've seen comments who think that people like me should kill themselves. Because of how we voted. It got me thinking about how quick we are to turn on one another.

Not just in regards to politics, either. These days it seems like no one can have a different opinion about anything without having someone jump down their throat. I've seen people suggest that if people didn't like a certain song, they should hurt themselves. Take a second to process that: in this culture, there are people who would wish harm on another person for having different musical preferences. It's horrible and heartbreaking. Especially considering all of the people out there who already feel badly about themselves. Who already don't feel like they're worth it. Who don't feel valuable or beautiful. People who do, in fact, end their lives because they couldn't take it anymore.

Y'all. We need to be better than this. We need to do better than this. We'd all be a lot better off if everyone could admit that not everyone on their side is a saint. And not everyone on the other side is a villain. As Sirius Black told his godson in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, "Besides, the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters. We've all got both light and dark inside us." It's true.

Here's the thing: I know some wonderful people who voted for Trump. And some wonderful people who voted for Clinton. Some voted third party and maybe some didn't (or couldn't) vote at all. It doesn't automatically make them bad people. I know nice people of all races. Sweet people from different social classes. There's wonderful people who listen to country music and wonderful people who hate it - or any genre. Look, I get being frustrated or angry. I understand the urge to lash out without thinking and have done it myself. I am very much including myself when I say that we need to do better. I need to do better. Lately, I've been making a point of praying for the people who are being hateful. Admittedly, there are times when I have to force myself to do so. It's hard to do sometimes. In fact, there's times when I lash out despite my best efforts not to.

You know what though? While I always feel bad for jumping down someone's throat, you know what never makes me feel bad? Praying for that person. Sure, the prayer may start with gritted teeth but then it turns into something else. As a Christian, I believe that we are all made in God's image. And that alone gives us value. That alone makes us beautiful. It's amazing what remembering that can do. It can seriously change everything. You know what else? Odds are that the most hateful people need prayer the most.

So my challenge to anyone reading this is to do better. To understand that we all matter and to not be so quick to attack. To take a moment to just breathe before responding. To say a prayer for the person you disagree with. Or, if you don't pray, to try to find something good in them. Because there's good to be found in just about everyone. Sometimes you have to look harder than others, but most of the time, it's incredibly easy. Maybe take it one step further and make a point of saying something kind to that person instead. To see their beauty, even among their scars (or what you perceive to be their flaws).

And to that person reading this who has been hurt over the past few days (or however long). That person who doesn't feel loved or enough or beautiful. Know that you are. You are loved. You are enough. You are beautiful. Never let anyone else make you feel like you don't matter because that's simply not true. You do matter. No matter how you voted. No matter where you live or what you do. No matter what you look like. You matter. You were created for a purpose. Your worth comes from above; not from other people. You are beautiful and you are valuable. Believe that.

Now, that all said. Here's Evynne Hollens with some musical encouragement.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Video spotlight: How Great Thou Art by Home Free

After uploading my last video spotlight, I realized that the next thing I posted would be my 200th blog post. I uploaded my first blog on January 6th, 2012. I've gone through periods where I was writing a lot and then there'd be weeks or even months that would go by where I wouldn't write at all. Falling in love with a cappella music near the end of 2014 has done wonders for my writing, as evidenced by all the a cappella related things I've written about over the past couple of years. That love started when I happened across a video by a group that I'd never heard of. The video? The CMA Single of the Year Medley. The group? Home Free.

As soon as they uploaded this on October 28th, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I wrote about it. Because how could I not take the time to write about this one? Upon realizing that this post would be my 200th post, I couldn't think of a more appropriate video to talk about. I mean, it's a video by the group that sent me into the wonderful world of a cappella. But more than that? It's their take on what is easily one of my favorite hymns, "How Great Thou Art".

I'm going to be honest and admit that though I am a Christian and have been for roughly 15 years, I go through periods of doubt. Times when I question everything I've believed. In the past, there's even been times where I doubted the existence of God. Even though I know better. I go through periods where I'm either angry at God or feel abandoned by Him. Of course, in those times, it's not God who has wandered. It's me.

See, I understand what it's like to be knocked down. I've been thrown into my share of pits over the years. Pits of despair or depression. Of fear or anxiety. But if there's one good thing about being tossed into a pit? It's that sooner or later, you have no choice but to look up. The circumstances might not change right away, but something will happen to remind you that you're not alone. It's funny how it happens. Sometimes I get struck by an overwhelming urge to read my Bible or put on some worship music. I'll hear about something wonderful and miraculous, something that can only be explained by the power of God at work. Or I'll be feeling down for whatever reason and one of my favorite groups will release an incredible version of one of the most beloved hymns in existence.

I know I make this point a lot, but it remains true. I have no idea what anyone reading this might be going through. But I would guess that at least some of you are having a tough time. Some of you are stuck in some kind of pit. My hope for those of you is that you might find the same comfort in this video that I do. "How Great Thou Art" was filmed by the talented people of FifGen Films (namely, Reilly Zamber, McKenzie Zamber and Jimmy Bates) while Home Free was in Austria. The visuals? Stunningly beautiful. What a wonderful setting to show how great our God is. When I watch this I wonder how I could have ever doubted the existence of God. Only He could have created something so beautiful. This video is more than a treat for the years; it's one that touches my heart and gives me an overwhelming sense of peace.

As I'm writing this, it is November 5th and "How Great Thou Art" already has over 2.5 millions views on YouTube. So people seem to be liking it. You know. just a little bit. I'm going to talk more about Home Free themselves afterwards, but for now? Here's their version of "How Great Thou Art".

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Video spotlight: Grim Grinning Ghosts by VoicePlay

Happy Halloween, everybody! We're going to kick this one off with what I'm calling Life Lessons from VoicePlay. Because in the time that I've been a fan of theirs, they have taught me some things. Granted, some of these lessons were taught inadvertently, but still. Here we go.

Lesson #1: Eli and Geoff inadvertently taught me that googling things from your childhood is not a good idea (see my write-up of their version of "Love Yourself)". Unless you're in the mood to feel as old as dirt. I feel like this one seems less traumatic as you get older, but I've now reached a point where I can remember things from 20 years ago. I'm not okay with that just yet.

Lesson #2a: Eating and/or drinking with viewing and/or listening to VoicePlay is dangerous, to yourself and possibly any electronics in range. I've warned about this before, but it's important.

Lesson #2b: You are no match for Earl. Because most of my near-choking VoicePlay induced moments have come from him. He cracks me up, which is a great thing. Unless water or some other beverage is involved.

Lesson #3: Becoming a VoicePlay fan means that at some point, you're going to randomly think of something funny they've done. This can make you look like a lunatic in public. My go-to example: watching a guitarist switch to a banjo during a concert and getting a mental picture of Geoff holding up his sign from "Miley Cyrus". In which the word banjo takes on a hilarious (and frankly, disturbing) new meaning. Hello, unexpected giggle fit. And hello to the lady that was at the next table giving me funny looks. Which takes me to...

Lesson #4a: You know another surefire way to get funny looks from complete and total strangers? Try rapping along with VoicePlay. Oh yes, this is a thing that has happened. Along those lines...

Lesson #4b: There are people in this world who have entirely no business rapping. I am, without question, one of those people. It's bad, y'all. Leading us to this fact...

Lesson #4c: You are not Eli. Attempting to imitate Eli (like, say, by trying to sing/rap along with him on their "Ride" cover) is not advised. Odds are at some point, you're just going to say the heck with it and sing along with Geoff instead. Help me, indeed.

Lesson #5: You know who else you're probably not? Layne. Trying to imitate him will probably also lead to getting funny looks. From your dog. Everyone's a critic.

Lesson #6a: It would appear that the more you find yourself stuck in traffic, the more Tonylike you become.

Lesson #6b: I've said it before, but it holds true. Belting your swears is incredibly cathartic. So next time you feel stressed? Put on "Stuck in Traffic" and sing along. Let Tony inspire you and really go for it at the end. Remember to use your diaphragm for maximum effect.

Lesson #7a: Don't take yourself too seriously. No really, don't. That said...

Lesson #7b: Take your passions seriously. Whatever those passions may be. Don't just settle for the bare minimum. Always go at least one step further. If not more.

Today's video is a new version of "Grim Grinning Ghosts", a song that you can find on their fabulous Once Upon an Ever After album (review found here). They did a live version of this song for their YouTube channel four years ago. You can watch that here. I'm going to be honest and admit that I had a few little misgivings about them doing a new version because it could've been basically the same, visually speaking. That said...

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Video spotlight: Stitches by Evynne Hollens

I was combing through various videos, trying to think of another one I could highlight for these last couple of days before Halloween. There's so many options to choose from that it makes me feel bad that I didn't decide to feature creepy or dark videos earlier in the month. There were some other, more Halloween-y videos I could have gone with, but this one popped up in my suggested videos on YouTube. I'd forgotten this video and thought it'd be a great choice.

 The song is "Stitches", originally by Shawn Mendes. This version is performed by the incredible Evynne Hollens. As I've said, Evynne has become one of my favorite female singers. She might even be my absolute favorite. She has such a beautiful voice and an ability to make it do whatever it needs to do to suit whatever song she's singing at the time. Listening to Evynne singing is always a treat. On top of that, she's a wonderful performer who always makes you really feel the lyrics. This song features the very talented Nathan Alef on piano and he did the arrangement as well. What a great job he did! Nathan actually has his own YouTube channel where he has a solo piano version of "Stitches" that's just beautiful. You can watch that here. I always enjoy listening to him play. Especially since he plays with feeling, which I always appreciate. Definitely go watch out his version. 

If you've never heard "Stitches", it's yet another story of a love gone terribly wrong. It's about someone who has fallen in love with the wrong person. To say the least. A person who has hurt the narrator more than any other person ever has, leaving them struggling to piece themselves back together. Leaving them in need of stitches. It's an interesting lyric and I really liked Evynne and Nathan's creepy take on it. It starts off innocently enough and then, well, you'll see. 

Check it out.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Top 10 Creepy Country Songs

Finally! This post is about four years in the making! We are fast approaching the end of October and Halloween and every year I've wanted to do a post highlighting some of my favorite creepy, dark country songs. And it's never happened. Until now. As I said in my video spotlight on Two Story Road's wonderful a cappella version of their song "Arson", I've always found dark songs to be the most interesting of songs, particularly from a songwriting perspective. Especially in times like this when there's so many party songs out there. I like listening to dark country songs to balance that out sometimes. In fact, I actually have a playlist made up of 59 of these kinds of songs. I know there's a lot more to be found out there.

Maybe it's weird, but I genuinely enjoy listening to these kinds of songs. Not all the time. It definitely requires a certain type of mood. I feel like I always listen to them more this time of year because what better time of year to listen to these songs? Songs about murder. About a love gone terribly wrong. Songs about revenge and betrayal. As you may have gathered, this is not what I'd consider an uplifting blog post. In fact, I'm going to include a trigger warning on this one. Because I fully recognize that these songs are not for everyone. For those of you more interested in the, shall we say, slightly more lighthearted side of Halloween, there may be a video spotlight coming up before the month ends. This spotlight may or may not feature a group of five guys that you might say I'm rather fond of. So be on the lookout for that one.

For those of you reading on, when I compiled this list of songs, I didn't expect how tough it was going to be to narrow it down. I tried to avoid the more obvious of these songs that tend to end up on most lists like this. For instance, as much as I love it, you won't be seeing "The Thunder Rolls" on here. Or "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia". That said, ultimately I went with what I'd consider to be my favorites. Or at least, my favorites at this point in time. Because favorites always change over time.

Let's get to it, shall we?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Video spotlight: Arson (a cappella remix) by Two Story Road

As Halloween is fast approaching, I thought it'd be appropriate to highlight some of country music's dark songs. What do I mean by dark songs? I'm talking about songs about things like deception and betrayal, murder and vengeance. You get the general idea. These, as you may imagine, are not the happiest on songs. Maybe not the kinds of songs you'd want to crank up while driving around with the windows down. Or maybe you do - I'm not here to judge.

Actually, I've always found these kinds of songs to be the most interesting songs. I think it takes a different kind of mindset to write them and I find them important. Because as unpleasant as the subject matters are, the reality is that these things happen. It doesn't do anyone any good to pretend that they don't. With that in mind, this felt like a good time of year to showcase at least a couple of them.

Starting off with "Arson" the A Cappella remix by Two Story Road. If you haven't heard of this duo yet, I'm happy to introduce them to you because I think they're great. I reviewed their self-titled EP (which includes their studio version of this song) earlier this year and absolutely loved it. You can find that here. When I first started thinking of which songs/videos I wanted to talk about, "Arson" was one of the first that came to mind. Given the way that a cappella has completely wormed its way into my heart over the past couple of years, going with the a cappella remix was a given.

Check it out.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Video spotlight: I Love Me by VoicePlay featuring Emoni

Let it be known that the men of VoicePlay have a crazy way of making me alter my writing plans. I was going to write a few more country related posts before writing about them again, but then they released this. After watching it for the first time, I knew it had to be my next post. "I Love Me" has already become one of my favorite videos of theirs; in fact, it may actually be my overall favorite. This, my friends, is saying something.

Not having ever heard the song before, I had no thoughts about it going in. That said, there were two things that made me really excited to watch it. The first one being that if you've been paying attention, you'll know that Tony has been MIA from the last few videos. Long enough to send a good portion of the VoicePlay fan collective into a serious case of Wakim withdrawals. Well, let us all rejoice because Houston? We have a Tony!

To that end, if you haven't already been made aware of it, Tony and Layne have started a video production company called Patty Cake Productions. They released their first video last month. It's the first in a series of Unexpected Musicals and it's incredibly well done, so go check it out, would you? You can watch it here. If you like it, be sure to share it. Like their Facebook page, follow them on Instagram and subscribe to their YouTube channel. Okay? Okay.

I must admit that I didn't realize how much I'd missed hearing and seeing all five of them together. Or how much I'd missed Tony's voice in general. It did my heart good to have them all back together again. What could possibly be better?

I'll tell you what could be better. All of the men of VoicePlay with the fabulous Emoni. Some of you reading this are already familiar with her, so y'all know that she's wonderful. I'm excited for those of you who have never heard her sing. Oh boy, are you all in for a treat. Emoni is not only a gifted vocalist, but an all around beautiful human being. Here's the thing: you're going to watch this and think you know what an incredible singer she is, but you won't. Not completely. Because as wonderful sounds in this, she sounds better live. Plus, there are some people who just radiate light and love and Emoni is one of them.

Here's how this is going to go down. You're going to watch this video and you're going to watch it all the way to the very end. Both because you should always watch until the very end, but especially because Emoni has a very important message for you. Yes, you. The person reading this right now. This is something that you need to hear. Maybe it'll be the first time anyone has said anything like this to you. Or maybe it's just been a while and you've forgotten. Either way, you need to hear it.

I've already lost count of how many times I've watched this. I can't seem to get enough. Maybe I'll be watching it yet again whenever you read this. In which case, we'll be watching together. We'll giggle a few times together. Maybe dance along because this song is super catchy. And when Emoni comes back on at the very end, we'll all be crying together. It'll be beautiful. Go watch.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Video spotlight: Dear Dolly by Ruthie Collins

I first fell in love with "Dear Dolly" when I heard it on Natalie Stovall and The Drive's wonderful Heartbreak EP. Come to find out, Natalie wrote this song with Ruthie Collins and Jessica Roadcap. "Dear Dolly" is an open letter to, you guessed it, Dolly Parton. Because if you were able to get advice from Dolly Parton, well, why wouldn't you want to? If ever there's a woman who has seen everything there is to see in the music business, it's Dolly Parton. How could you not look up to her? Even people who aren't in the music business could learn quite a few things from her. I love this song just as much as I did the first time I heard it. If not more.

Ruthie released "Dear Dolly" as a single back in July, but I somehow didn't come across this video until pretty recently. Making me wonder where on Earth I've been. It's always interesting to hear different versions of songs. Having heard Natalie's version first, I'm happy to say that I like Ruthie's version just as much. Ruthie's voice actually reminds me a bit of Dolly's; very similar inflection. If you prefer a more traditional country sound, I think you're going to love this girl.

Here's Ruthie Collins with her lovely video for "Dear Dolly".

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Video spotlight: Die a Happy Man by Home Free

Considering that it's been over two months since I last wrote about Home Free, this is long overdue! They've put out a string of wonderful videos over the past couple of months. Although, let's be real: I don't know if these guys are capable of releasing a video that isn't wonderful. They give me the same problem that so many of my other current favorite acts give me. Namely, that there's so many great things to choose from that it can be nearly impossible to pick. I'd been leaning towards writing about this one and that decision was sealed after putting up a poll on Twitter.

This is Home Free's cover of "Die a Happy Man" by Thomas Rhett and it's beautiful. Take a few minutes to watch and see for yourselves and then we'll talk more about it afterwards. Deal? Deal.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Video spotlight: Love Triangle by RaeLynn

I've said it before and will say it again every time that it happens: I love when an artist wins me over. Up until now, I haven't really had much of an opinion of RaeLynn. Nothing against her by any means, but I never took much time to listen to her music. Then I started seeing articles about her current single "Love Triangle". If you have not heard this song yet, it's one that RaeLynn wrote about being the child of divorced parents. The love triangle in question consisting of child torn between her parents. It's a fantastic concept and as odd as it may sound, I was hesitant to listen to it at first.

Why? Because there's so many songs where the initial idea is great, but it ultimately fails in the execution. But I kept seeing people talking about it and it got to where I just had to watch the video. So did it live up to the concept? Yes, it did. You know when a song is great? First, when it's personal to the artist. This doesn't necessarily mean that it needs to be written by the artist, but that certainly helps. Second, you know a song is great when it touches your heart. Either because you can relate because you've been there. Or because it gives you an idea of what it's like to go through something. I am not the child of divorced parents so I don't know what it's like. But "Love Triangle" does a wonderful job of explaining it.

RaeLynn is now 22 years old and wrote this song with Jimmy Robbins and Nicolle Galyon a few years ago. Now a great song is a great song regardless of how old the writers were when they wrote it. But the fact that she can write a song like this at her age makes me very interested in what kinds of songs we'll get from her in the future. Especially seeing as this one shows that she's not afraid to be real and honest, even when it hurts. These are the kinds of songs that make the country genre so rich. Songs that we need more of these days. This isn't just a song; this is RaeLynn sharing a piece of herself with the world. Respect that.

In the meantime, take a few minutes and watch the video for "Love Triangle".

Monday, September 5, 2016

Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, Part 4b. VoicePlay

Thinking about what VoicePlay means to me got me thinking that this might be a good time to highlight why I've chosen to support them on Patreon. If you're not familiar with Patreon, check this out because VoicePlay's got you covered. Actually, every creator does an explanation video, but theirs is the most amusing one I've seen. Watch. After all, you wouldn't want to hurt Earl's p-feelings, would you?

Always good for a giggle. Anyway, I love Patreon. It's a wonderful way for fans to support their creators, especially when you can see a difference. All of VoicePlay's videos are good, but there's been a marked increase in quality since they launched their Patreon campaign. So what made me decide to become one of their Patrons? There's several reasons, but I've narrowed it down to the top three. 

First and foremost, it's because of their content. They won over my ears before anything else. If I hadn't liked what I heard the first time I heard them, we wouldn't be here. Plain and simple. They have yet to put out a song or video that I don't like. Sure, I have my favorites and there's definitely a group of their videos that I watch more than some others. But I genuinely like all of them. 

Going from there, the more I watched and listened to them, the more I liked them and their personalities. Meeting them last year sealed the deal for me. Looking back, it's surprising how much that encounter reminded me of my first encounter with Little Big Town. This is a good thing. See, there's been quite a few artists I've come to love because of how great their music is, but more so from how great they are with their fans. I've gotten to meet some really sweet artists who genuinely care about the people who buy their music. 

There's a group that I'll refer to as the elite: Little Big Town. Jerrod Niemann. Lee Brice. And last but definitely not least: VoicePlay. There's a few others who come very close, but I consider this group to be the best of the best in terms of how they treat their fans. I always knew that VoicePlay appreciated their fans, but didn't realize just how much until they launched their Patreon campaign. They are so wonderful to us. Which brings us to reason #3.

That last reason is what made me want to feature them in my Music Therapy series. Because they can always make me feel better when I'm feeling down. They have a way of making me smile when all I want to do is cry. In their ability to do that, they've become a powerful ally in my fight against rheumatoid arthritis (RA). I recognize that that may sound strange to some, so I want to explain. 

To do so, I first need to you an idea of what it's like to live with this disease. This is one of those things that you can't completely understand unless you have it, but I'm going to do my best. Please note that no two experiences with RA are exactly the same, though of course there's similarities. This is mine. Hopefully by the end, you'll understand why these crazy talented and wonderfully wacky group of guys means so much to me.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Arthritis Awareness: Music Therapy, Part 4a. Once Upon an Ever After by VoicePlay

I knew when I decided to dedicate August to all things Disney, that it would involve a write-up of VoicePlay's Once Upon an Ever After album. How could it not? It's a wonderful album and one I've been wanting to write about for a while now. Those of you who've read any of my other VoicePlay posts know that they tend to get pretty silly and even downright ridiculous. They just bring that side of my personality out, which is one of the reasons why I love writing about them. 

That said, this time is going to be a little different. This was originally just going to be a typical album write-up. The format will be the same as all my other album write-ups, but I decided to make this the fourth installment of my Music Therapy series. If you're unfamiliar with that series, it's one I started to highlight one of the biggest things that helps me deal with having rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This is the first installment that consists of an entire album. The others have been a hodgepodge of songs by various artists. So why dedicate an installment solely to this album? First, because it's impossible for me to feel bad when I listen to it. It takes me to a happy place. 

If you noticed, I have this titled as Part 4a. Why? Because in starting to write about why this album makes me happy, I found myself writing about why VoicePlay makes me happy. That's the second reason why I wanted to feature Once Upon an Ever After in this series. After realizing that the original post was starting to reach novella status, I thought it'd be better to break it up. This part, 4a, is all about the album. The second part, 4b, is going to be about what these guys have become to me and the impact that they've had on me. That's going to be a little more serious and more personal and will be coming very, very soon.

In the meantime, let's talk about Once Upon an Ever After.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Video spotlight: I See the Light double feature starring Evynne Hollens & Peter Hollens

Ladies and gentleman, I am pleased to present the very first Video Spotlight Double Feature. See, I knew that I wanted to feature both Evynne and Peter Hollens at least one more time before Disney month ended. Time was starting to run out and I had some other videos I wanted to include and I worried that I would only be able to feature one of them. Then I remembered that they had sung "I See the Light" from Tangled. Twice. One for her channel and the other for his. But which one would I pick? The answer was obvious. Why pick one when I could very easily do both?

As fabulous as they both are on their own, they are so much more so together. Their voices complement each other so beautifully. So take a moment to get comfy and watch this oh-so-charming husband and wife perform their versions of "I See the Light". You're going to like them. I'm sure of it.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Video spotlight: One Man Disney Movie by Nick Pitera

In the mood to watch a Disney movie, but short on time? I got you covered. Or rather, Nick Pitera's got you covered. If you were around during my Phantom of the Opera week back in March, you might recall his "One Man Phantom (medley)". Well, before he did that, he did this. It's a Disney movie performed by one man and one man alone and it all happens in less than 9 minutes. It's kind of like a Disney movie to-go. He takes songs from multiple Disney movies, namely: Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, Enchanted, Hercules, Mulan, The Jungle Book and Pinocchio. With a little but of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the very end - seriously, it's like two words.

You have the hero and the heroine, the villain and the sidekick and a couple of chorus members. Check it out.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Video spotlight: Let It Go by Rachel Potter

It occurred to me that it's been way too long since I've written about this talented lady. This sent me looking through her YouTube channel. This reminded me of two things. The first is that she has multiple videos that I'm going to need to write about at some point. The other is how effortlessly she hits her big notes. I mean, I listen to her enough to know that. I've now gotten to see her perform twice and she's even better live. But it seems like it's been awhile since I've watched any of her videos. Hearing it is one thing; watching it is another. She makes it look so easy, like hitting notes on a piano. If you've never heard Rachel, I assure you that you're in for a treat. Those of you have heard her know what I'm talking about.

Here's Rachel with her beautiful cover of "Let It Go" from Frozen.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Video spotlight: Cruella de Vil by VoicePlay

Reasons why this video was a given for this week of villains:
1) It's VoicePlay.
2) As said in my ACA-Disney write-up, VoicePlay singing Disney is magical. 
3) It's VoicePlay.
4) It's one of the most iconic villain songs.
5) It's VoicePlay.
6) It features their cutest guest star to date. Not knocking any of their other guest stars, but I mean, come on. Just look at that face in the thumbnail. How can you not love that face?
7) Come on, again. It's VoicePlay singing Disney and there's a dog in the video. It's a trifecta of goodness! 

Fun fact: dogs make everything better. The video could've been terrible (it isn't), but throw a dog in there and I'll watch it. And if the video is great (it is), a dog'll still make it better. Guaranteed. 

Clearly, I had no choice but to feature this one. It would have been wrong not to. Especially considering that Disney had them do this in honor of the Blu-ray release of 101 Dalmatians. It's on the Disney YouTube channel even. So, if they're good enough for Disney, who am I to argue? 

Besides, let me remind you...
8) It's VoicePlay! 


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Video spotlight: Villains Medley by the Aladdin on Broadway - Disney Sessions

This week is all about the villains so it seems rather appropriate to include a villain medley. Not just any villain medley, but one that is performed by the incredible Jonathan Freeman. You know, the voice of Jafar from Aladdin. He's now playing the part in the Broadway show. I'm not going to lie, watching him do this kind of makes me want to hear him take on even more of the villain songs. This medley starts of with the "Prince Ali (Reprise)" from Aladdin, goes into "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from The Little Mermaid, "Cruella de Vil" from 101 Dalmatians, "Oogie Boogie's Song" from The Nightmare Before Christmas and then go back to the "Prince Ali (Reprise)".

Though before we get to the video itself, there's something else I'd like for you to watch first. I promise that it's related.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Video spotlight: Poor Unfortunate Souls by Jonathan Young

Okay, we're going to continue the month of Disney and the week of the villains with something, well, a bit different. It's "Poor Unfortunate Souls" from The Little Mermaid like you've never heard it before. It's not just a regular cover; it's a metal cover. I'm going to be honest and admit that I'm surprised by how much I like this. Talk about a style of music that I really never listen to. I think I first came across Jonathan Young when one of his videos was recommended to me on YouTube. I want to say it was his cover of "In the Dark of the Night" from Anastasia and I actually really liked it. It's a great cover. It's also not Disney or I would've included it. Maybe it'll get its own video spotlight somewhere down the road. But it got me watching some of his other covers. He was an easy choice to include during villains choice. I actually thought I'd pick another of his villain songs, but as soon as I heard this, I knew it had to be this one.

Check it out.