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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?

"Spirit of the Season". How appropriate that this album kicks off with the line "It's the spirit of the season / you can feel it in the air / You can hear it if you listen". They're not kidding around when they sing that. As I'm typing this, Nashville is under a freeze warning and at this moment I welcome the cold. Oh, I'll stop when it gets to be too much and makes me hurt more than usual, but now I'm all about it. For some reason, it makes listening to this all the more wonderful. I'm having a moment here, y'all. Perfect way to start off the album. 

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" featuring Jody McBrayer. Those opening harmonies? Gorgeous. Beautiful lead vocal as well. I feel at peace when I listen to this and considering how out of control my anxiety has been as of late, this is most appreciated. It's so soothing and lovely. I love the way this one builds. I adore when groups use dynamics like this. And that note at 3:22? Yes, sir. That's what I'm talking about. And the way it gently tapers back down at the end. Beautifully done. 

"Happy Holiday / It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year". Why, yes, it is the most wonderful time of the year, in fact. This track has some pep to it and I like it. There's a word I never use, but it fits so we're going with it. Really like the way they transition into "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" and then perks back up into "Happy Holiday". Fun track.

"Merry Christmas, Darling". This is a song that I don't think I've ever heard before. If I have, I don't remember. It's another lovely track (spoiler alert: all the tracks are lovely). And another beautiful lead vocal - everyone in Voctave has such nice tones to their voices. They're all more than capable of singing lead and that's part of the reason why their harmonies are so gorgeous. The wonderful arrangements don't hurt either. 

"Carol of the Bells / Bells of Notre Dame". I must admit that this is the track I was the most intrigued about. This was one of the first songs I listened to on this album - the 2nd, to be precise. The first was "Mary, Did You Know". We'll get to that one in a bit and it's going to come with a video. But this one interested me because I don't believe I've ever heard anyone combine these two songs. And I kind of love it! For those of you not as well-versed in Disney music, "Bells of Notre Dame" is from the quite underrated, in my opinion, Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was such a great idea to mix the two and they do it seamlessly. I think this is one of my favorites on the album.

"I'll Be Home for Christmas". Another calming and gorgeous track, when they come in on that first "I'll be home for Christmas", it's so beautiful. Then the way the other voices join in. This one actually took me back to some of the Christmas concerts I've been in with some of the choirs I've been in. Though none of them ever sounded this beautiful. Really like the soloists featured. As if that's somehow not always the case with Voctave. Such lovely clear tones in this one.

"Childhood Favorites: Frosty the Snowman / Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town / Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer". This medley makes me smile right from the beginning. How can you possibly go wrong with childhood favorites? You can't. You just can't. I don't know that they've ever sounded so good. Great selection and once again, I like the way they go into each song. This track flat out makes me happy and you gotta love that. 

"O Come, O Come Emmanuel / The First Noel / I Wonder as I Wander". We go from the joyfulness of the last track to the solemnity of "O Come, O Come Emmanuel". It's an interesting contrast; such a shift in tone. This song definitely has some weight to it and they carry it well. This medley brings up back to the true meaning of Christmas and is as reverent as it is beautiful. Out of all the transitions on The Spirit of the Season, I think think the one leading into "The First Noel" is my favorite. It's another shift in mood, but a more subtle one.   I know this might be a weird way to put it, but this medley is like a musical sunrise. See, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel" has some darkness to it that begins to lighten as they head into "The First Noel" is sort of like the the way the sun begins to rise to chase away the darkness after a long night. With "I Wonder as I Wander" being the last step of the process. That's the visual I get whenever I listen to this. It's just beautiful.

"Mary, Did You Know?" featuring Mark Lowry. This is a stunning track. For those of you unaware, Mark Lowry wrote "Mary, Did You Know?". This is such a fantastic lyric and having him featured on lead takes this one over the top for me. He sounds great and the harmonies are gorgeous. One of the most powerful tracks on the album, in my opinion. Check out the video.



"All is Well". Oh, how I adore this song. It always gives me a wonderful sense of peace when I listen to it, regardless of who sings it. Voctave might win in that department though. Their version is almost meditative in a way. Listening to it does a wonderful job of quieting the noise of living, leaving you with that the overwhelming sense that all is, indeed, well. Or will be. This one never fails to lift my spirits and I'm so glad that they included it.

"Go Tell It On the Mountain". I feel like this is one of those Christmas songs that just about everyone who sings it puts their own spin on it. That's part of the fun of this song; hearing how each singer - or group, in this case - makes it theirs. I've never heard it like this and I really like it. The part where they slow is down is lovely and I like the way it picks back up. This version is more a proclamation than most others. Like their actually on that mountain spreading the wonderful news that Jesus Chris is born.

"O Holy Night". I've heard so many stunning versions of this song and this is definitely one of them. "O Holy Night" has always been one of my favorite Christmas songs and Voctave more than did it justice. Their harmonies are simply luscious in this. It's funny because you get to that "O night divine" at 2:04 and it's almost like a tease the way she sings it. Because even if this is the first time you've ever listened to their version, you know what's coming. They do a great job of building the anticipation from that point on. The "O night divine"  at around the 4:00 mark is more satisfying because of it. It's notes like that that remind me that I am very much a second soprano. She (I'm going to guess that that was Kate Lott singing that) on the other hand, is most definitely a first soprano. That note's up there! My goodness. And she holds it - that's the thing. Hitting it is one thing, but holding it is quite another. Sing it, girl. And then the very, very end. Because why not? 

"This Is My Wish / Let There Be Peace on Earth". I don't think that they could have picked a more perfect way to close out this beautiful album. It's truly joyful; a celebration mixed with a message that we need now more than ever. "Let every voice be heard / Let their peace on Earth". Again, with a beautiful slowed down section in the middle that brings that message to the forefront. That makes the "Feel the air with joyful noise" at 2:53 all the more triumphant. Some impressive notes at the end there, all to end on a gentle note. Again: the perfect way to end the album. 

I sincerely hope that I've inspired you to go check out The Spirit of the Season. Because this is one album that deserves to be heard and shared. Want to find out more about Voctave? Can't say I blame you! Here's their socials:

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