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