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Crazy Life

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In 21st century popular music, any a cappella group outside of the classical genre is, unfortunately, an anomaly. The formally trained singers who make up Minnesota's the Home Free Vocal Band (aka Home Free) -- Chris and Adam Rupp, Rob Lundquist, Tim Foust & Austin Brown -- are one such entity. After five independently released offerings ranging from rock and pop classics to Christmas albums, they won a Sony contract after winning The Sing Off with an interesting arrangement of Hunter Hayes' "I Want Crazy." They're structured as a barbershop quartet -- bass, high tenor, tenor, and baritone singers -- with a twist: a fifth member providing vocal percussion and beatboxing sounds. It works well live, too. But on Crazy Life, Darren Rust's overly slick production neutralizes their organic charm to shoehorn them into contemporary country's confines (the Oak Ridge Boys this isn't). Opening single "Any Way the Wind Blows" is an adult contemporary version of country pop; unfortunately, the mix makes Adam Rupp's overdubbed beatboxing effects resemble a thin snare drum and overly stiff bassline. It sounds like the group is singing to a metronome. The reading of "Your Man" should be a dream cut for a vocal group. But given the excessive use of late doo wop's "ooo-ooo-ooo" cliches, blurry harmonies and a wooden rhythm that removes the country swing Josh Turner imbued it with on his hit version, this is a watered-down amalgam of the bad Amerrican pop tropes. June Carter's classic "Ring of Fire"--with guest Avi Kaplan--is arranged for a calypso rhythm. It sounds like Auto-Tune was used in the finished version -- even if it wasn't. The medley of Hayes' songs, including the studio version of "I Want Crazy" -- is the set's hinge, but their TV version is superior. The drum loops and banjo that worked to make Keith Urban's single "A Little Bit of Everything" such a clever pop song have been replaced by faux-classical falsettos against a lazy reggae rhythm and near-sterile production. There isn't any doubt that Home Free have real chemistry vocally; they've proven it time and again. (Check 2009's Kickin' It Old School or 2012's Live: From the Road). On Crazy Life, their organic spontaneity and groove were sacrificed to serve commercial ends. Home Free paid too dear price for a major-label record deal .

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