Wednesday, March 30, 2016

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

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

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

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

Watch.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Video spotlight: "Fire Away" by Chris Stapleton

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

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

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

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

So here we go.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Video spotlight: "Madness" by Street Corner Symphony

So now that it's been announced that Adam Chance will start performing with Home Free in June, the Home Fries have been trying to get a feel for who Chance is as an artist. Among other things, this has involved a mass Fry watching of various Street Corner Symphony videos. Street Corner Symphony being the a cappella group that Chance formerly sang bass with, for those who weren't aware. The best thing about this is that in addition to giving everyone an idea of what Chance can do, it's also introduced some new people to Street Corner Symphony. Or has perhaps reminded those of us who were already familiar with SCS of just how good they are. As someone who falls in the latter camp, I must admit that watching their videos has made me a little sad to think of how Chance isn't with them anymore. Of course, it's not like we're losing Chance all together. He's just relocating. As has been pointed out a lot lately, change is just a part of life. If things do have to change, I'm grateful for all the music and videos they created together. I'm thankful that I got to see this group of guys together live, not just once, but twice. Street Corner Symphony is one of the best vocal groups I've ever seen and I know that they'll be just fine.

This post is serving a dual purpose. The first purpose is to highlight my favorite Street Corner Symphony video. "Madness" is such a cool song and I think it suits them perfectly, as you'll see. The second purpose of this post is throw some love Chance's way for reasons that shall be explained later on. Now it's time for a little "Madness". Check it out.

Friday, March 25, 2016

EP Review: Heartbreak by Natalie Stovall & The Drive

Welcome to my first EP review of 2016. I've kind of backed away from reviews for the most part, but when I listened to Heartbreak by Natalie Stovall & The Drive, I knew I had to write about it. Suffice to say, I really like it. The key word for this EP is strong. I don't just mean strong musically or strong lyrically, although it is definitely both. It is also strong, vocally speaking. But what I love about this EP is that all six songs come from a place of strength. Not from partying like one of the boys. Not from a bottle. The kind of strength that comes from within. I feel empowered and uplifted after listening to it. I would recommend this EP to anyone who enjoys great music, but women especially. This is one every woman should have in their music collection. I've yet to see Natalie Stovall & The Drive live, but this makes me hope I get an opportunity to at some point. The sooner, the better. These songs are great and they deserve to be heard. Let's talk about them.

Actually first, let's go through the lineup. Natalie Stovall & The Drive is made up Natalie Stovall (lead vocals and fiddle), James Bavendam (drums), Miguel Cancino (guitar) and Joel Dormer (guitar and vocals). Now onto the songs.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Video spotlight: "Movin' On" by Chris Rupp

It's funny how things work out sometimes. Earlier this week, I decided that this would be the next video featured in this series. It's a gorgeous song, both lyrically and musically. The video is simple and elegant which lets the song itself be the main focus. Great vocal from Chris Rupp and he plays the piano beautifully. "Movin' On" can be found on Shine, which is Chris Rupp's solo country album, which is a very strong album. Chris also released a classical piano album called Setting the Stage which is beautiful. I recommend them both.

While I'd decided that it would be next, I hadn't gotten around to starting this post. Then we got the news. Home Free announced that Chris Rupp would be leaving the group in May to pursue solo projects. Adam Chance, the former bass singer of Street Corner Symphony, will be joining the group in his stead come June. I can't say that I was completely surprised to find out that Chris would be leaving, but it's one thing to wonder and another to have it happen. As a fan of both Home Free and Street Corner Symphony, it was admittedly a bit of a double whammy. Now the initial shock has worn off and I've come to terms with it and it's okay.

"Movin' On" hits on a slightly different level now. It got a lot more real. I'm including this in the video spotlight series, but in truth, this post is also going to be about this transition. So take a few minutes and watch the video and then I have some thoughts to share.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Video spotlight: "Good Ol' Country Harmony" by Home Free

Ah, Home Free. You can always count on these producing great harmonies and putting out great videos that fit their songs pretty perfectly. "Good Ol' Country Harmony" is another Tim Foust original and the arrangement is his as well. I like all the references to other country groups in the song and it has a great melody. Fun to sing along with this one. So yes, Home Free, I believe I will sing along with you. As far as the video goes, once again I love the treatment they used. It's not one I'd expect which makes me enjoy it all the more. This video makes me smile and I think it might just make you smile too.

Check it out.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Thoughts about the Phantom of the Opera U.S. Tour

I don't usually write reviews of shows, but it seemed only fitting to share my thoughts of the touring production of The Phantom of the Opera. After all, I have spent this past week talking about my favorite Phantom covers in celebration of the tour coming to Nashville for the first time in 14 years. I dubbed it Phantom week and what a week it has been. We've had Nick Pitera's One Man Phantom medley. Two instrumental medleys, one from Lindsey Stirling that rocked. The other a lovely classical duet by performed by Taylor Davis and Lara de Wit. We've had husband and wife dynamic duo, Peter and Evynne Hollens, with their Phantom medley. Finally, my favorite, VoicePlay's interpretation of "The Phantom of the Opera" featuring Rachel Potter. They were all wonderful and just a small sampling of all the Phantom covers in existence.

On Thursday, the 10th, I went to the Tennessee Performing Arts Center, known simply as the TPAC, to see The Phantom of the Opera. It was the second night of the tour. My third time seeing it performed live and my first time seeing the new production. I've enjoyed most of the musicals I've seen, but there are some that are head and shoulders above the rest. The cream of the crop. Those shows that have been around for years and still entrance pretty much all who go to see them. The Phantom of the Opera is one of those. It is one of my absolute favorite Broadway musicals and there's something magical that happens when you go see it. I don't see this as a review, which is why I didn't title it as one. The truth is that I can't think of anything I didn't like about the show. It was outstanding. Simple outstanding. I felt like I was under some kind of spell from the moment it began until the moment it ended. Well worth seeing if it comes to your town.

Let's talk about it.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Video spotlight: Phantom of the Opera by VoicePlay and Rachel Potter

Saved my favorite Phantom cover for last. As some of you know, the first solely VoicePlay video I ever saw was their ACA-Top 10 Broadway countdown. That solidified my love for this group. Like countless others, that little snippet of Tony Wakim singing "The Phantom of the Opera" wasn't enough. We wanted more. Well. Well! The people spoke and VoicePlay listened. Bless their a cappella, musical loving hearts. There's just something about these guys singing Broadway that does something to me. Something silly. It's like I go from a grown woman to a 14 year old at a One Direction concert. I have absolutely no chill when it comes to VoicePlay performing songs from musicals. I am sans chill. What's great about this is that I know I'm not alone. Others reading this will undoubtedly have the same problem.

Now these guys deciding to do more from Phantom themselves would've been enough. More than enough. But they decided to take this one step further and invite the oh-so-talented Rachel Potter to join them. This is the third video they've done together and is my favorite of the three. VoicePlay and Rachel together is pure magic. Go ahead and see for yourself. Don't be surprised if you find yourself slightly in love with all six of them by the end. You've never heard Phantom quite like this.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Video spotlight: "Phantom of the Opera Medley" by Taylor Davis and Lara

Time to go back to the roots, so to speak, for a classical cover. This video features a Phantom medley performed by Taylor Davis on violin and Lara de Wit on piano. Hard to go wrong when you pair a violin and a piano. These instruments complement each other so incredibly well. Especially when used to perform music like this. This medley showcases a gentler, more emotional side of Phantom of the Opera. With the exception of "Masquerade", which is used to open and close the piece, all of the songs are love songs. "The Phantom and the Opera" and "The Point of No Return" are sung by Christine and the Phantom; "All I Ask of You", which starts at 1:48, is the sweet duet between Christine and Raoul. These songs are about romance and passion and when combined like this are just exquisite. Enjoy.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Video Spotlight: Phantom of the Opera by Peter Hollens featuring Evynne Hollens

For the third day of Phantom of the Opera week, I bring you a video from Peter Hollens that features his wife Evynne. I have to say that as much as I enjoy both of their solo works, I especially love when they join forces for a project. Their voices are perfectly suited for each other and their collaborations are usually pretty special. Now Evynne usually sings with a pianist, but Peter is an a cappella artist. This video is completely a cappella and it's truly a lovely medley. Watch.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Video Spotlight: Phantom of the Opera Medley by Lindsey Stirling

In the few years I've had this blog, I've written mostly about music that included both singers and musicians. Lately I've written a lot about a cappella music, which of course is music without instruments. But I don't know if I've ever written about instrumental music. This is largely because up until last year, I only wrote about country artists. As I've branched out into the magical world of a cappella music, it only seems fair to talk about some instrumental music. Because sometimes you don't need words. Because sometimes the music itself speaks loudly enough.

That is certainly the case with the music from The Phantom of the Opera. If you've never heard of Lindsey Stirling, she is a very talented violinist with incredible stage presence. It's so much fun watching her perform. I have yet to watch all of her music videos, but that said, I feel like this is a pretty spectacular introduction. She arranged this medley herself and did an absolutely wonderful job. It grips your attention from the very first note and takes you on an emotional roller coaster. Lindsey has put her own spin on Phantom and it's so entertaining. You're in for a real treat with this one. See for yourself.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Video Spotlight: One Man Phantom of the Opera (Medley Cover) by Nick Pitera

It's here. The Phantom of the Opera...week. This is the first of what may become a fairly regular occurance around here. Theme weeks where everything I write will be related to a theme of some sort. This week it's all about The Phantom of the Opera. Why? Because this week - the 9th, to be exact - the Phantom of the Opera tour is coming to Nashville for the first time in 14 years. That's right. It's been over a decade since this fabulous show came to Nashville. It is the longest running show on Broadway and the second longest running show in West End (London). It has been performed on Broadway over 11,000 times. It premiered in London in 1986 and made its Broadway debut in 1988. Now it's 2016 and the Phantom has apparently undergone a bit of a facelift. This is a brand new production of the show with new staging, new choreography and new scenery. Hey, I guess when you've been around for well over 20 years, you need to change things up a bit.

My love for The Phantom of the Opera started in 2001. My parents took me up to New York City for my 18th birthday where I got to see it performed for the first time live. I'd listened to the soundtrack and liked it, but I don't believe it's possible to fully appreciate a musical until you see it live. There's nothing like it. I've seen Phantom since in D.C. and while it's hard to beat Broadway, there's really not a bad place to see a musical. I've seen a fair amount over the years and have enjoyed most of them. But there's a select few that I love above all others and Phantom is definitely one of them. Without question. I was originally planning on only posting one Phantom related post about a fantastic Phantom covers by some of my faves. However, when I found out how long it's been since the show has come here to Nashville, I decided that that wouldn't be enough. No. This calls for a full on celebration. A week full of Phantom-y goodness. So let's get started.

Lemme tell ya, there is no shortage of Phantom of the Opera covers out there. Now most people will just pick a song and do it. Some people team up with each person singing the part of one of the characters. Then there's Nick Pitera who decided that he'd take on the three main characters all by himself. Check it out.