Monthly Archives: December 2013

SING-OFF SEASON 4 CHAMPIONS HOME FREE: COUNTRY-TONIX, PART 2 — CELEBRITY PERSONAS AND SING-OFF PERFORMANCES

With the current line-up now locked in, Home Free has effectively turned into the country equivalent of Pentatonix.  Both groups specialize in three-part harmonies backed by an extremely beefy two-man rhythm section that make their sound much fuller than the number of members would suggest.  Both groups are fronted by charismatic front men that have the Sing-Off judges (particularly Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman) and producers salivating, often placing them in the forefront of the show’s opening numbers.  And both groups feature very distinct and different individuals with clearly delineated roles and personas.  In the case of Home Free, a fresh twist is that I can compare each member to a celebrity.

First, let’s start with founding member Chris Rupp–he has a bald pate and stubble, and he does have a strong facial resemblance to American Idol Season 5 favorite Chris Daughtry–albeit with a slimmer, less beefy frame.  I nickname him “Slim Daughtry“.

Chris Rupp
Chris Daughtry

Now, with beatboxer/percussionist Adam Rupp, he has a puggish heartthrob vibe that I tend to associate with Hurt Locker and Bourne Legacy actor Jeremy Renner (though not the pug nose).  Though if you ask me, I find Adam hunkier than Jeremy, but I’ll still dub him “Jeremy Renner

Adam Rupp
Jeremy Renner

Many veteran Home Free fans have noted the burly member Rob Lunquist’s resemblance to Clerks and Dogma director Kevin Smith, which I wholeheartedly agree.  But I have a cuter nickname for him:  “Babydaddy“.  As in the bearded and chubby instrumentalist and composer from the band Scissor Sisters.  I just think that nickname encapsulates Rob’s funny and cuddly qualities better than “Kevin Smith”.

Rob Lunquist and his doppelganger Kevin Smith
Scissor Sisters’ Babydaddy

The swarthy vocal bass Tim Foust exudes a “dark lord” mysterious vibe that I think has fangirls salivating, that he reminds me of the character Loki as portrayed by actor Tom Hiddleston in the Thor and Avengers films, so I think “Loki” would be a perfect nickname for him (and yes, I know over the web, Loki seems to have a wider fangirl base over Thor). Ironic note:  I recall Tom Middleston occasionally appears in other roles and in some public appearances with a stubble, but in his role as Loki it seems he never shows up with facial hair.

Tim Foust
Tom Middleton as Loki

Now, for Austin Brown, I have a tougher challenge coming up with a suitable nickname.  Vocally, he resembles Mr. Big singer Eric Martin (“To Be With You”), but “Eric Martin” is not quite a compelling nickname.  His features though made me recall Steve Winwood at times, and come to think of it, prior to being a solo artist Steve was a frontman for several famous rock bands like the Spencer Davis Group, Blind Faith, and Traffic, and Austin is such a quintessential frontman that “Steve Winwood” could indeed be suitable, albeit Austin’s beefier than Steve Winwood ever was.

Austin Brown
Steve Winwood, circa 1970s

Another key quality this group shares with Pentatonix is that they were never in danger of being in the bottom two, and their body of work in the show was consistently of a high quality in relation with the other competing groups.  Besides the “Ultimate Singoff” performance of Kenny Loggins’ “I’m Alright” with the Filharmonic that for me was the big highlight of the season, (and I previously mentioned when I talked about the Filharmonic a few blogs back), here are my top performances from this group:

4.  “Colder Weather” originally by the Zac Brown Band.  Prior to this performance, the band ‘s numbers were mostly uptempo.  It’s nice to see the opening verses sung by “Babydaddy” instead of relying mostly on “Steve Winwood” (though “Steve Winwood” brought it home), and how they are capable of stirring strong sentiments and emotions instead of simply giving audiences a fun, good time.  They should include stuff like this besides the crowd pleasers that they are bound to give out for that refreshing contrast.

3.  “Life Is A Highway” originally by Tom Cochrane.  My favorite part is the opening, how each component comes in separately and then builds up together.  I know fangirls would also like to highlight the bridge with “Loki” singing the lines (Ben Folds described it as a bass guitar suddenly standing up and speaking), and that is indeed another great moment in this masterpiece.  And this song is actually a longtime mainstay in their repertoire, but they originally did it a bit more conventionally instead of the more dramatic opening employed here.  I think this should be their opener in every concert moving forward…

2.  “I Want Crazy” originally by Hunter Hayes.  It’s a bit apt that one of their best performances is their performance at the finale.  This number seems to encapsulate what they intend to be moving forward.

1.  “Ring of Fire” most famously associated with Johnny Cash.  I first was a bit turned off by the rendition as even if it started slow, I found it a bit too peppy and upbeat and seemingly missing the message of the song.  But then I listened to Johnny Cash’s famous recording and I realize it was also kinda uptempo, with mariachi horns at that.  Then I started appreciating what Home Free did to this song much better, that they modernized it, respected tradition, and added some good twists that remains in the spirit of Johnny Cash’s famous version.  Besides the slow opening verse, the other fine innovation they employed was the Caribbean rhythms towards the latter part of the song–if Johnny has mariachis, Home Free got those Latin-Caribbean beats that made me fantasize their fellow contestants Calle Sol joining in to dance along in this sequence.  Finally, there is Tim’s range as he showcased higher octaves on some lines.  Now it made me intrigued how Pentatonix’s Avi Kaplan would join in the recorded version–will he lend a few overtone singing textures in the intro?  Trade verses with Tim?  I want to check that out…

COMING UP:  FANTASY HEAD-TO-HEAD SING-OFF WITH PENTATONIX

THE SING-OFF SEASON 4 CHAMPIONS HOME FREE: COUNTRY-TONIX, PART 1–EVOLUTION

Sing-Off champions Home Free: Tim Foust, Rob Lunquist, Austin Brown, Adam Rupp, and Chris Rupp

I had that gnawing feeling from the time they revealed the competing groups for Season 4 of the Sing-Off that one act would stand out from the rest and be the champion in the end:  the country quintet Home Free.  Though many writers thought the act that seems to be most like previous season’s champion (and now a cappella superstars) Pentatonix would be Voiceplay (more on them in a future blog) because they seem to tread the same musical genres, in terms of skill-sets, distinctive personas, and charisma (and coincidentally, number of members) I believed this group is the one that is most analogous to Pentatonix even if this group belongs in a different musical genre and are not as groundbreaking as the previous champions.

Of course, one key difference is that Home Free has been a group that existed for 13 years prior to competing in the Sing-Off, while Pentatonix was formed for the purpose of competing in the said contest (though of course the core trio were together in high school for perhaps around four years).  But I have to note that the band in its present incarnation did not came to be until one year prior to The Sing-Off.  How it evolved from its original lineup that was formed for a church talent show in Monkato, Minnesota to its current lineup is a tale worth telling, so that would be my starting point for my essay…

It started with five guys from the small city of Mankato, Minnesota (population: approximately 40,000) who formed a five-piece a cappella act for a church talent show.  I suppose they clicked that they decided to make it an ongoing concern and make a living out of it.

The original line-up: Chris Rupp, Darren Scruggs, Matt Atwood, Adam Rupp, and Dan Lemke

There were a few lineup changes that took place over the years, though it still revolved around the Rupp brothers (baritone Chris and beatboxer Adam) and tenor Matt Atwood.  But in 2008, a key element was added as the burly, bearded, bespectacled high tenor Rob Lundquist joined the group.

Circa 2008: Matt Atwood, Adam Rupp, Rob Lundquist, and Chris Rupp

The period from late 2008 to mid-2011, there is an interesting stage in Home Free’s career as they added a guy of color as their vocal bass.  In September 2008, they had Elliott Robinson, and less than a year later, in June 2009, he’s replaced by Troy Horne.  Troy Horne seems to be a precursor to their eventual current bass man, as Troy proved to be pretty versatile as he can soar to a tenor and even reach a high falsetto.  Also around this period, they released a music video for an original song, a comedy song in the point of view of a stalker called “How Nice I Really Am”, with Chris Rupp singing lead.  It’s a nice number that made me recall a Weird Al Yankovic original ballad “You Don’t Love Me Anymore”.

Circa June 2009: Chris Rupp, Adam Rupp, Troy Horne, Rob Lunquist, and Matt Atwood.

In mid-2011, Troy Horne decided to leave the group to join another a cappella group based in Denver with a more pop/R&B sound–Urban Method.  Eventually Urban Method made it to the 3rd season of The Sing-Off, placing 3rd behind Pentatonix.  Troy also changed his look from dreadlocks to a mohawk.  To showcase the vocal range that this guy possesses, check out Urban Method’s cover of Sly & The Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” below:

Home Free also tried to audition for the 3rd season, but were not selected to compete.  They auditioned as a sextet, as you can gauge from their versions of Hanson’s “Thinking About You” and Michael Buble’s “Just Haven’t Met You Yet”.  Though both performances are solid, admittedly I can understand why they fell short–it seems in terms of touring bands, the Cat’s Pajamas had more polish and charisma than what is displayed here.  On top of that, their positioning as a country vocal band is not shown here, as the songs are pop songs, so they ended up seeming generic without showcasing what is special about them.

Now, around late 2011, they encountered a compelling, charismatic bass man.  Like Troy Horne, he has a wide vocal range (reputed to be five octaves), and with more stronger grounding in country music.  He tried his luck as a soloist with a record released the previous year, but with the state of the recording industry these days, it proved mutually beneficial for both parties to join forces.  Tim indeed injected  an extra charisma factor to this group.

Circa 2012: Tim Foust, Matt Atwood, Chris Rupp, Rob Lunquist, and Adam Rupp

Around late 2012 to early 2013, a crisis ensued as long-time member Matt Atwood decided to part ways with the band.  Based on the band’s Facebook timeline, it seems understandable–he got married in mid-2011 and had a child in mid-2012, and I suppose he figured from years of touring (check out a 2008 video where he documented a moment they were stranded in a venue due to van trouble and the snowy winter weather) and performing on cruise ships that around this stage that he needed something more stable if he wants more time with his wife and child.  So he decided to run a real estate firm instead.  This provided an opening that I think put the final missing element for this group.  From the cruise ship circuit, they found Austin Brown (originally born Matthew Brown), who possesses leading man charisma and a formidable set of pipes.  In my opinion, he’s the final element that finally make the group finally click.  I know that sometimes having a compelling frontman may result with him overshadowing the rest of the group, but somehow I see a good balance so far, that his presence made each other member look even more distinctive which I like…

The current line-up: Rob Lunquist, Tim Foust, Austin Brown, Adam Rupp and Chris Rupp.

COMING UP:  “CELEBRITY” PERSONAS AND THE SING-OFF

PENTATONIX’S CHRISTMAS BLITZ; PLUS, MEET THE FILHARMONIC

Besides releasing their second EP, in time for the holidays Pentatonix decided to augment their Christmas album by adding two new tracks.  The first Christmas track they decided to add is a cover of “Little Drummer Boy”.  This cover took a lot of risks–first, they deviate from the usual martial beats associated with this carol and converted it into a soulful pop song with dubstep rhythms; second, there are some role switching going on in the song, as bass man Avi sang solo lines in a higher register (close to tenor) and there are moments Scott harmonized with Avi singing in a lower range; third, Kevin was given a full solo line to sing in the song, showcasing a pleasing tenor; and fourth, just like in their original track “Natural Disaster” there is a moment where they incorporate hand clapping and foot stomping.  All these elements showcase new wrinkles in the group’s deep arsenal of talents and it did result in a thrillingly innovative and triumphant track that easily went viral (almost 23 million hits as of this writing) and propelled their Christmas album PTXmas to the Top 10 (a No. 7 peak so far) and allowed them to also garner their first Billboard Hot 100 chart hit with a No. 13 debut.

Their second new track for the album was “Go Tell It On The Mountain”.  It’s not as innovative as “Little Drummer Boy”, but it’s a delightful treat to listen to–it started out solemnly with Mitch’s awesome solo, and then it then turned into this upbeat Southern Baptist gospel ditty.  It makes me want to unleash my inner Southern Baptist gospel girl and holler “AMEN!” and “HALLELUJAH!”.  It might sound like something another Sing-Off champion would’ve sung (I was thinking Committed), and it’s easy for Pentatonix to have guest stars join in with them to sing along with this song (though the intro must remain a Mitch solo).  It’s a booty-shakin’ church barn-raisin’ number worth relishing.

But instead of promoting the second track above, the next video PTX released is the opening track from the original Christmas album, “Angels We Have Heard on High”.  They have been performing this all around since last year, but I suppose with a better set up they can finally promote this song to the fullest.  Anyway it is worth the hype, with their trademark tight harmonies and ability to create awesome buildups.

Now, I’m so pleased that The Sing-Off  is revived for a fourth season, and I’m glad to see 90% of the show we recognize are still there.  Sure there is a new female judge in Jewel, and despite initial trepidation from Sara Bareilles fans on how this lady would perform, in my opinion Jewel is actually a major improvement–she knows how to be keen and critical, but still keeping a feminine charm about her; I could dare say from the six episodes we’ve seen thus far, she could be the Best. Female. Reality. Competition. Judge. Ever.  Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman are still on their “A” game, and host Nick Lachey makes his mark with his trademark puns.  The 10 acts competing for this season are expectedly a diverse mix, and one act that caught my eye was an expressedly all-Filipino vocal group called The Filharmonic.  Sure, last season’s Kinfolk 9 was heavily peppered with Filipinos (most of us are familiar with Antonette Taus, who was for a while a major TV star in our shores, though her role in this group during their brief stay was only as a backup singer), and there may be one or two Filipinos peppered across the competing groups in Seasons 1 and 2 but I wonder how strong would a group that defines itself with a nationality would perform–I was apprehensive that even if they might be competent vocalists, I wasn’t sure if they could go far.

The FilHarmonic, from L-R: Barry Fortgang, Joe Caigoy, Niko del Ray, Trace Gaynor, VJ Rosales, and Jules Cruz

Then, I discovered a familiar face in the lineup of the Filharmonic–the stocky burly guy, named Joe Caigoy.  Why is he familiar?  Because Joe Caigoy has a Pentatonix connection–he was with the college group Fermata Nowhere with Avi Kaplan, and they were the 2009 winners of the ICCA (International Championship of Collegiate A Cappella).  Not only was he present, he was a standout performer, as besides his terrific singing he is a gifted comedian and dancer–check out his dramatization of Kanye West’s “Heartless” and how he dances to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and then sings (and navigating the fast Portuguese lyrics) and dances to Sergio Mendes’ “Magalehnha” in the videos below:

I know there are already a significant amount of Filipino Pentaholics clamoring for Pentatonix to come to our shores–I think it would be nice to have the Filharmonic as opening act , and in a special one-time treat when they both perform in concert, they have to reprise “Magalenha”–I can fantasize Kristie and Mitch harmonizing with Joe and Kevin providing some fresh innovative beats.  Or, (a more obvious proposition) when PTX does their “Evolution of Beyonce” number, Joe would crash their number and perform some Beyonce dances.

Let me give a brief note about the other members besides Joe:  there is the main lead singer and tenor VJ Rosales (best known for his high hair), beatboxer Niko del Ray, bassist Jules Cruz, and backup tenors (and cuties) Barry Fortgang and Trace Gaynor.

Anyway, after watching their first perfromance, I realize that the Filharmonic do have what it takes to go far, as they made a great splash with Bruno Mars’ “Treasure”.  Even Michael Slezak of TV Line raved about Joe in his brief review: “Cute one’s cute. Burly one’s voice is magic! Charisma: 10; Vocals: 7.”  Though I see two cuties in the group, I wonder who Michael is referring to…

Their subsequent performances were solid, but in my opinion did not top their opening splash, until Top Six Movie Night when they had to be in an “Ultimate Sing-Off” with the country a cappella quintet, Home Free, and in my opinion, they came up with what was the biggest highlight performance thus far of this season of The Sing-Off with their rendition of Kenny Loggins’ theme from the Chevy Chase comedy Caddyshack, “I’m Alright”.

They had a great run, but unfortunately they stopped at Top Four and did not advance to today’s finale.  Still, they can still remain a viable band and probably carry on–and perhaps we Filipinos can help be the fuel to keep them going.  I have a feeling I know who this season’s Sing-Off champion would be, and I’m most likely going to write more about them in-depth in my next blog, as they have so much parallelisms and similarities with Pentatonix…

JUST ME!

JOSEPH