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!