Album Review: Acoustic EP / Vol. 1 By Villafan

Review by Hannah for RockMyCommute

JC Villafan’s music is a challenge to categorize into one particular genre, but you’ll find he is impossible to dismiss as an artist. Villafan can’t really be considered alt-country, neo-bluegrass, indie-folk, nor merely “pop” – because he goes beyond any basic classification to bring through something that is soulful, contemporary, and inspirational. It was apparent to me from the first Villafan song I heard, that he works to make his mission evident in his music. One particularly deliberate quote from his website states – “Music is powerful, and I create to inspire, to encourage, and to connect with people.”

The new acoustic EP is categorized on Noisetrade.com as “Pop: Acoustic” and indicates this music is for “fans of John Mayer, Gavin Degraw, Richard Mullins, The Cranberries, and Sade”
(http://noisetrade.com/villafanofficial/acoustic-ep-vol-1). I’m not sure I agree with 100% of these suggestions, but Villafan does have a compelling voice and style that are hard to nail down and describe easily through comparisons. All three songs give you that same good feeling you get when hearing “You Gotta Be” by Des’ree on the radio – so turn up the volume and indulge in a little emotional expressionism in your car.

Villafan has had a few single releases, but the primary albums are Sweet Time (2012), I Still Believe (2014) and of course the 2015 release that I am writing about here. This latest EP includes acoustic versions of three previously-released songs (featured on the earlier albums with a full band). While his voice doesn’t really sound like Des’ree, Villafan has a pleasantly smooth tenor tone that is like a mellow blend between Usher and Jason Mraz.
On the opening track, “Believe” – the first thing you will notice is Villafan’s well-controlled voice, and the very full sound provided by a string section that gives this acoustic rendition a well-balanced feel. The effect of the inspirational lyrics, the waltz tempo and orchestration, and Villafan’s higher vocal range is intentionally emotional. In fact, on the Noisetrade site there is a telling comment from the artist about his acoustic effort – “I want to make people cry when they listen to this.” The full-band version of this song from the 2014 release includes this same uber-romantic and nostalgic style.

The second track “Let Go” is more rhythmic, with percussive guitar and absolutely gorgeous strong harmonies featuring prominently on this well-executed song. I noticed that the full-production version included more traditionally rock synth, guitar, and drums; but I prefer this lighter rendition. The lyrics “Let go of the fear that holds you back” contain another glimpse of what Villafan’s message is all about. The third and last track (“When We Try”) starts simply, with a solo guitar opening that allows Villafan to once again impress you with his talented voice. This song is probably the one I enjoyed the most, as it feels grounded and soulful – with a melodic tension effect on the chorus that makes it more interesting and memorable than the others.

I found nothing on the main website that implies that Villafan is a religious artist; but if that type of uplifting music generally appeals to you, you might consider Villafan as a refreshing addition to what you typically listen to. I could not find much about the Sumatra music group that released the EP – but their short description on Facebook is simply “empowering the human soul” – which seems right in line with what Villafan is putting forth in his music. You can listen to the entire three-song acoustic EP for free on Noisetrade, which includes a bonus video (solo performance of a song called “Willing”). Even if this kind of music isn’t usually your “thing”, it is worth checking out for one of those days when your own spirit needs a little lift. You just may find yourself going back to buy the other albums!

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