Before I proceed, upon further research on this band’s history made me realize something–prior to Tim Foust’s entry as a permanent band member Home Free wasn’t a country group; their repertoire is more crowd pleasing numbers encompassing various eras like in the style of Straight No Chaser or the Cat’s Pajamas. I think Tim’s country leanings made them go towards this direction, and the harmonies they were able to develop with new member Austin Brown sealed their direction, and they found their distinctive niche.
I also have to mention a fun video this group made with their co-Sing-Off colleagues VoicePlay, a “Zombies vs. Hillbillies” showdown where they did their takes on Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor”. Imagine if popular cable series The Walking Dead turned into a musical comedy, this would be the result:
Now, this inspires me to imagine what if Home Free were in an “Ultimate Sing-Off” with Pentatonix? How would that look like? Let me switch the system a bit and turn it into a one-on-one showdown. Who would beat who? Let’s start with the main lead singers:
SHOWDOWN ROUND 1: Austin “Steve Winwood” Brown vs. Scott Hoying. Both are favorite lead vocalists by both Boyz II Men’s Shawn Stockman and the show producers. Both are charismatic vocalists with wide vocal ranges and the tendency to go into melismas. Both have significant gushing fangirl followings. It’s a very closely fought battle, but in terms of looks and the way in the current incarnation of the group, Austin takes more lead vocal chores while Pentatonix is such a more democratic enterprise that Scott yields the lead to the other members a bit more frequently, this round goes to Austin, albeit by a narrow margin. Home Free: 1; Pentatonix: 0.
SHOWDOWN ROUND 2: Rob “Babydaddy” Lundquist vs. Mitch Grassi. This pairing seems to be a major physical mismatch–even though Mitch gained a few pounds since winning The Sing-Off, he’s still a puny pipsqueak compared to the burly heavyweight that is Rob. If this were simply a physical battle, Rob could simply sit on Mitch and the battle is all over. But in this kind of competition, singing is what we have to measure, and thus the playing field is all level. And they have striking similarities: both guys take the role of high tenors in their respective groups, both have backgrounds in musical theater, and both are funny people (not apparent during the Sing-Off in the case of Mitch, but have you seen his Superfruit videos?). As pleasant as Rob is as a singer, Mitch’s high tenor/near-soprano range is so consistently impressive that Mitch is decisively the winner by a landslide in this round. Home Free: 1; Pentatonix: 1.
SHOWDOWN, ROUND 3: Adam “Jeremy Renner” Rupp vs. Kevin “K.O.” Olusola. In terms of hunkiness, to my taste Adam wins it for me. Interestingly enough, in terms of musical talent, Adam might even have the edge here as it is reported in his bio that he’s a multi-instrumentalist who could play several musical instruments (he specializes in brass instruments like the trumpet, though), even though Kevin has scored great renown and press with his cello-playing. But what matters in this showdown is their beatboxing skills–this showdown is a “Beatbox-off”(I almost went like Ben Folds and called it a “Beat-Off”, which he initially mentioned on that legendary “I’m Alright” number but had to sanitize it and do a re-take on TV). Now, both are probably amongst the Top Three best beatboxers in all four seasons of The Sing-Off, so I have so much awe and respect for their talents. But, then I have to think: as good as Adam probably is in playing an actual trumpet, can he do trumpet or brass sounds with his voice the way Kevin does (or maybe even the sound of pebbles on water like in their now classic cover of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”)? So because of those extra vocal skills Kevin has, this round goes to Kevin, though to Adam we have to send much love and respect for his talents; this is a showdown of masters, after all. Home Free: 1; Pentatonix: 2.
SHOWDOWN, ROUND 4: Tim “Loki” Foust vs. Avi “Bass Cannon” Kaplan. Now this is probably what could be considered the main event if this were a boxing match. There are fangirls salivating at this match-up of the basses. Both of them are terrific standouts who also have solo vocal moments in their respective groups. In terms of solo moments, it might seem that Tim has the upper hand. Many people have also pointed out that Tim’s vocal range can stretch higher, but then again, so does Avi especially if you listen to “Little Drummer Boy” and his solo “Tumbleweed” video. But then, the kicker–can Tim do overtone or throat singing like Avi? It’s an evenly matched battle, but Avi probably takes it very narrowly because of that skill. Home Free: 1; Pentatonix: 3.
SHOWDOWN, ROUND 5: Chris “Slim Daughtry” Rupp vs. Kirstie Maldonado. Although technically the overall showdown is already won by Pentatonix, let us still take a look at this match-up. Actually in terms of background and leadership, Chris might actually have the edge here–though except for a press round we didn’t hear him do a solo lead on The Sing-Off, in their earlier incarnations he took lead singing roles, and he’s also reportedly the songwriter for their original material, like the stalker song they did and I featured in the first installment of this article. His bio also says he can play several musical instruments. He may not be prominent since Austin joined their band, but I think he’s still a power behind the throne especially since he’s a founding member of the group. But bigger weight is for singing, and here Kirstie has made her presence felt, and as good as the stalker song was, Chris is not really as compelling a vocalist as Kirstie. Chris may reassert himself in the band as time wears on, but at this point, Kirstie wins this round. Home Free: 1; Pentatonix: 4.
Let me squeeze in a review of Pentatonix’s latest video, their cover of Calvin Harris and Ellie Goulding’s “I Need Your Love”, released on the day of The Sing-Off season 4 finale. In context of their PTX, Vol. II album, it’s a solid number, but the video enhances the experience of the song. The video plays on the “couch” videos Pentatonix has released previously, but with multi-panel edits like in their classic “Daft Punk” video. I also love the fact that their outfits are in basic colors–green sweater for Avi, yellow shirt for Kirstie, blue shirt for Mitch, purple sweater for Scott, and red jacket for Kevin. But the clincher is how they reverted back to their old couch video format at the video’s end. Definitely a treat.
On a final note, let us go back to Home Free. It seems their brand of country is more of a light-hearted brand and they have released two videos thus far: a cover of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and a Hunter Hayes medley. Check them out below:
Both are starting off promisingly, although not yet in the million views level that Pentatonix now enjoys with each of their official video releases. The line up of their album (to be released in February) looks like a pleasant combo of solid country numbers that I hope would make Nashville take notice, but what I hope for them down the line is that they challenge themselves the way Pentatonix regularly does instead of staying in light-hearted fare, probably like tapping deeper into the genre and do a cappella takes on bluegrass classics, or stretch their repertoire by adding serious folk rock in the style of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and The Band–if Macklemore & Ryan Lewis can find a balance with heavy serious fare and comedy, these guys do have the talent to probably strike the same balance.