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Home Free sings out

Maryland Theatre, Hagerstown, MD, September 29, 2015

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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Home Free, the Minnesota-based a cappella quintet that first caught the nation's attention by winning the fourth season of NBC's reality competition The Sing-Off in 2013, is one of the most talented and unique acts in modern country music. The question has always been whether or not the group and their all-vocal style, which includes the voice replication of instruments that was popularized over the last few years thanks to the success of the aforementioned TV show and the "Pitch Perfect" film series, could find an audience among country music fans.

Two things happened on this rainy evening that seemed to answer that question with a resounding "yes" - the band announced that it learned earlier in the day that its new studio album, "Country Evolution," debuted at number 4 on the Billboard Top Country Albums chart, and the packed crowd at the 1,300-seat venue was tremendously enthusiastic throughout.

The crowd's response was well-earned thanks to an entertaining set that combined a cappella versions of popular modern and classic country songs, nice original tunes and well-crafted medleys.

In fact, the show's first song was a medley combining The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Fishin' In The Dark" with Little Big Town's "The Boondocks." The end result, which is also a cut from the group's new studio album, found the guys hopping seamlessly between songs while being propelled forward by Adam Rupp's considerable vocal percussion skills and the wonderfully-reverberating bass lines of Tim Foust.

Those two performers are also featured prominently on the next tune, a cover of The Eagles' "Seven Bridges Road." In addition to the rhythm section, the group harmonies of Austin Brown (lead tenor), Rob Lundquist (tenor harmony) and Chris Rupp (baritone harmony) shine on this tune, especially the massive group vocal passage that kicks-off the tune. This is the kind of powerful and skilled group vocal work that used to be synonymous with traditional country, but has more recently been found more frequently in bluegrass.

Home Free paid tribute to several vocal pioneers in country and pop music during the evening. Their updated version of Dolly Parton's "9 To 5" and rendition of the R&B classic "Rockin' Robin," a song that was originally a hit for Bobby Day in 1958 before being revived by Michael Jackson in 1972, were the two poppiest moments. The group also saluted country vocal legends The Oak Ridge Boys, who will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville this October, with a unique take on "Elvira." This is also the first single and video from the new album.

The group poured on the charm and humor with a medley of songs focused on all things posterior to close the evening's first set. Surprisingly, Trace Adkins' "Hony Tonk Badonkadonk" mixed nicely with other odes to the gluteus maximus like Queen's "Fat Bottom Girls", Sir Mix-A-Lot's "Baby Got Back: and Sisqo's "Thong Song."

Another highlight was Rupp's lengthy "drum solo." This feature, which showcased the broad range and depth of his vocal skills, included both a percussion section that had him air drumming along to the sounds he was creating and a DJ segment that included traditional beatbox elements, sound effects, vocal record scratching, remixes and even a mock didgeridoo solo. This was truly impressive and elicited a rather long full-crowd standing ovation.

Additional highlights were the original compositions penned by Foust.The tender ballad "I've Seen," which featured a nice blend of Foust's deep lead vocals supported by lush group harmonies, and "Champagne Taste (On A Beer Budget)," a humorous tale accented by some playful whistling, were particularly noteworthy.

Home Free brought the show to a close with their unique take on the Johnny Cash classic "Ring Of Fire," which they performed on The Sing-Off. Even before the last notes faded, they were drowned out by the final standing ovation of the night.