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Home Free

Country Evolution – 2015 (Columbia)

Reviewed by Greg Yost

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A cappella country quintet Home Free holds a unique position within country music. The group's voices-only approach to creating music, which includes vocal replication of the typical instrumentation found on most other recordings, makes it a definite anomaly. Home Free could easily be written off as a novelty act. But the group's studio albums, including "Country Evolution," include enough substance to dismiss the notion.

As with its 2014 major label debut, "Crazy Life," Home Free's latest is a mix of originals and covers. Although the covers are entertaining and the highlight of the group's live performances, the original songs on this 11-track album really showcase Home Free's potential.

The first track, "Summer In The Country," is the kind of breezy seasonal tableau you would expect from Zac Brown Band. It is also the perfect vehicle for the a cappella style, featuring great harmony vocals on the chorus along with nice bass and percussion accents throughout. By nature, a cappella arrangements work well with poppy and upbeat tunes, and this radio-ready track fits the bill.

"Good Ol' Country Harmony" is also a notable original. Meant as a nod to influential and legendary country music vocal groups like The Oak Ridge Boys, The Statler Brothers and Alabama, this tune showcases Home Free's own vocal prowess, particularly Tim Foust's speaker-shaking bass and tight harmonies.

Home Free is probably best known for its covers of country hits, and there is plenty of that here. Not everything hits the mark - their take on Dolly Parton's "9 To 5" comes across as a little campy, and "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" is solid, but lacks the electrified fire and fury of the fully-instrumented original - but there are some noteworthy covers here.

The best are the ones that bring new flavors to an established classic. "Elvira," featuring a guest appearance by The Oak Ridge Boys, has an updated and much more pop-oriented sound, while "Friends In Low Places" gets a Bobby McFerrin overhaul thanks to an infusion of immediately-recognizable elements from his 1988 hit single, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."

The best cover is also the most memorable track, "Fishin' In The Dark/Down In The Boondocks." This clever mashup, which flows effortlessly between two hits from Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Little Big Town, highlights Home Free's ability to create surprising and entertaining arrangements.