Review: Vance Joy at Massey Hall

Photo – Sara Kandil 

January 26th is National Australia Day. Fitting that one of Down Under’s finest exports — Vance Joy, born James Gabriel Keogh — would play Massey Hall Tuesday night, the first of two Toronto shows as part of his Fire & The Flood tour.

To kick things off, Calgarian alt-rock band, Reuben and the Dark, opened the show with a stellar set, playing songs from their latest album, Funeral Sky. Although unannounced, the band’s performance was a pleasant surprise. They proved to be a great show-opener with their rich, dreamy sound and sonically-textured harmonies. After their set, frontman Reuben Bullock and fellow members Shea Alain and Kaelen Ohm stuck around to hang out with fans.

And then there was Vance.

Keogh was humbled to be performing at Massey Hall — etching his name on the iconic venue’s roster of past performers, including Neil Young, Rush, and others.

He started off with a bang, playing crowd favourite “Mess is Mine.” And while you may have heard the song a thousand times — whether on the radio or scrolling through Spotify — it was completely transformed during this live performance. As James sang, you could hear every nuance, every harmony, every chord — each handled with great care. The audience could tell that he genuinely loves his music, and remains present in the moment; overall, the man is a standout performer.

If his music hadn’t already drawn you in, his charm sure did. Keogh’s stage presence was warm and welcoming, and he invited the audience into his world as he explained the stories and meaning behind a few of his standout songs.

Before singing “Winds of Change,” James shared that this was the first song he ever wrote, felt truly confident about, and performed live. He recalled the events of that particular open mic night, remembering how nervous he was as he waited to get called to the stage. To ease his jitters, he decided to drink some white wine — he had seen Kings of Leon some time before, and “they were doing it… so why not?” Halfway through his performance, he had to stop singing because the wine had dried out his throat. He laughed, explaining how torn he felt about the performance. Then shortly afterwards, “some drunk producers came up saying, ‘Hey you…!’”

I guess you can say the rest is history.

To conclude, here are the top 5 reasons why the Vance Joy concert was so great:

  1. James Keogh is simply a delight to watch on stage.
  2. Massey Hall was the perfect venue; an intimate setting for intimate music.
  3. As he switched instruments — rotating between his two guitars and ukulele — the audience was reminded of just how multi-talented he is.
  4. Keogh has an adorable little habit of marching in place to the beat of his songs.
  5. He caught everyone by surprise with a cheeky little mashup of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and OMI’s “Cheerleader.”

All in all, Vance Joy was amazing; it was a pleasure to be in the presence of such a great artist.

By: Kelsey Cueva

DCF Drops “Little Reminder” In Honour Of #BellLetsTalk

Toronto’s Very Own moody pop prince — DCF — is known for his emotional, and often just straight up sad songwriting. That quality not only makes his brand of music unique, it also makes it pretty fucking relatable.

His latest release, “Little Reminder,” was written for a friend going through a particular rough time. Accompanying the video, he posted a message to fans on YouTube, which reads in part:

I recently wrote a song for someone special as a reminder to her that even in those darkest times, she is never alone. I am always willing to go to the end of the world to bring her back into the sunshine. Everyone gets sad. I myself have taken lots of sad experiences and turned them into songs. This imperfect live recording is a little reminder that nobody is perfect, and that’s totally fine.

Dropping the single on #BellLetsTalk day is particularly poignant; as the conversation surrounding mental illness and the stigmas attached comes to the forefront of Canadian social media today, we think this little diddy is the perfect soundtrack.

You go DCF, you go.

Pop Goes The Week: Swish, Bang Bang!

Each week, SpiritLive will be rounding up the biggest stories from around the mainstream music world, along with the most buzz-worthy pop culture moments in order to keep our readers entertained and informed.

Kanye West Reveals “Swish” Tracklist

Finally, the most anticipated album of 2015 is set to be released — in 2016. Yesterday, Yeezy revealed the full tracklist for his upcoming LP Swish, leaving fans, the hip-hop world and the Internet in general feeling #blessed.

Highlights include Kanye’s collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, “No More Parties In L.A.,” and the pop hit maker Sia – assisted track “Wolves.” The album is set to drop on February 11th, but based on Mr. West’s track record, you may not want to hold your breath.

Comedy Bang Bang! Recruits “Weird Al” Yankovic As Their New Band Leader & Co – Host

A match made in heaven.

“Weird Al” Yankovic announced via Twitter yesterday that he’ll be taking over Kid Cudi’s recently vacated position as band leader for IFC’s Comedy Bang Bang! The artist behind some of music’s biggest parodies will also co – host alongside Scott Aukerman. The hilarious hit maker has appeared on the show twice before, and we think he’s a perfect fit for the gig. And haters? Well you can just:

 

Weezer & Panic! At The Disco Team Up For A Tour…Wait, What?!

In perhaps one of the more bizarre tour pairings we’ve ever encountered, it was recently announced that Weezer will hit the road with Panic! At The Disco (Brendon Urie) this summer.

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The North American tour is in support of P!ATD’s latest album — Death Of A Bachelor — and Weezer’s forthcoming LP. Is Rivers Cuomo looking to break into the world of emo-pop-punk?! This whole partnership has left us scratching our heads.

Malachi At The Movies – Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Malachi Rowswell is SpiritLive’s resident movie buff. He’ll be reviewing all kinds of films — from current flicks to old-time favourites — for our readers’ pleasure. Think of this as a “Movie Lover’s Guide To The Industry.”

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

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I’ve come to realization that I may be TOO big of a Star Wars fan. In fact, my dad, little brother and I ended up seeing The Force Awakens twice on December 19th, the day after 2015’s most highly-anticipated film’s official release. However — popular to contrary belief — we didn’t see the movie twice because we were so impressed by it; more so because we felt as if something was missing.

I couldn’t figure out how to properly review this film without including spoilers — so, if you were simply looking for a second opinion on whether or not you should see the film, my apologizes. There is a spoiler-free paragraph at the end of this review that contains my thoughts on the kinds of people who will like this film — and why.

So without further ado, here’s my review of Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

(Also, here’s the official Rowswell Spoiler Alert)

SPOILER ALERT!!!

Almost immediately, it’s clear that director J.J. Abrams has crafted the loving tribute to the original trilogy that most fans have always wanted. For me, this is both a good and bad thing.

I am in the camp (which includes a minority of fans) that believes the prequel trilogy was not a stain on the Star Wars legacy. Sure, those films definitely have their flaws — but I believe they told stories and introduced lore that added a lot of depth to the franchise’s canon. I found it really interesting to learn about things like the origins of the Clone Wars, and concepts of the Jedi code.

I’ve come to realize that The Force Awakens was made as a kind of rehab for the franchise; an attempt to take Star Wars back to the glory days. For a lot of people, they ended in 1983. For a few others — myself included — those days ended a couple years ago, when Disney decided to start a new Star Wars canon. Many aren’t aware that the original Star Wars timeline extended far beyond the films and TV series. Hundreds of books, comics, video games, etc. formed the “Star Wars Expanded Universe” — and this timeline added literally thousands of years of lore to George Lucas’ pop culture dynasty (see below).

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This isn’t even half of what was created as a part of the “Expanded Universe.” To give you an idea of the scale of it all, the canon eventually reached 140 years past the “Battle of Yavin” (the battle at the end of the original Star Wars) and began as early as 36,000 years before that same battle. When Lucas sold the rights for the franchise to Disney, they decided to wipe out the entire expanded universe — all of it. What remains? The first 6 films, the two animated TV Series, and any other branded content created after 2013.

I was hoping this wouldn’t have any negative impact on the new film — but it did. The result is a film that completely ignores content that was originally developed within the “Expanded Universe” in order to tell a story that essentially mirrored the original movie. Filmmakers seemed to be working off a list that contained elements from Episode IV that needed to be included in the new instalment. Desert planet? Check. Cantina band? Check. Pretty much the exact same final 30 minutes as in the original film? Complete with new death star, death of the wise mentor, x-wing trench run and destruction of said new death star? Check, check, checkity-check.

Beyond the script’s unoriginality, this film just feels lighter. Before the expanded universe was destroyed, Star Wars felt larger than a simple science fiction adventure. There was a whole world, complete with a mythology deeper than that of any other Sci-Fi franchise. The Force Awakens throws all of that away in favour of sucking up to die-hard fans of the original trilogy.

What’s frustrating is how smart the decision to make a Star Wars film that’s built exclusively on nostalgia was. Disney realized that most fans longed for a film that replicated the feeling associated with viewing the original Star Wars movies. Clearly, it worked; The Force Awakens has become the third highest grossing film of all time. While I may not be entirely thrilled with the film’s storyline, I can respect the Hollywood powerhouse’s ability to make the franchise successful again.

I’ve talked about a lot of things I didn’t like about The Force Awakens, but there were things I actually enjoyed. The dialogue is far superior than that of the prequels, and it was refreshing to see practical effects and on-location shooting versus heavily-used CGI. The result is something more visually organic and real as opposed to the look of the films produced in the early 2000s. The acting (for the most part) is fantastic in The Force Awakens. Daisey Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all bring renewed energy and charisma to their performances — making me fall in love with their characters instantaneously. Harrison Ford and Peter Mayhew made me realize how much I had missed Han and Chewie, and their chemistry has certainly evolved in comparison to the original films. I also should take a second and acknowledge that the film did feature some of my new favourite scenes, including (HUGE SPOILER) the gut-wrenching death of Han Solo at the hands of his son, Kylo Ren, as well as the light-saber fight in the snowy woods between Ren, Finn and Rey. Not only was it well choreographed, it rivalled the emotional intensity of the fights in Episodes V, VI and III.

Tying this all into the Oscars, a lot of people were surprised to see the film garner zero nominations in some of the major categories — such as Best Picture and Best Director. I’m not all that surprised for two reasons: 1) the film was released on December 18th, after all of the secondary awards nominees had been announced and 2) the Academy already had two great sci-fi blockbusters to include on their ballots — The Martian and Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not as if the film was completely snubbed; it racked up five nominations in the technical categories.

We’ve (finally) reached the point where I try to rate this thing, and honestly — it’s really hard. Even though I’ve highlighted a lot of negative aspects of the movie, it’s simply because I have such a deep love for this franchise. If I recall, both times I saw the film, I thoroughly enjoyed almost every second of it — I got to see the world I love so much on the big screen for the first time in over ten years. That being said, my true feelings for this film will depend on how the rest of the new timeline is forged. There are a lot of new questions the film opens up, and if the answers are not satisfying, my feelings for the film may change. I sincerely hope that Episodes VIII and IX do not rehash Episodes V and VI. That kind of recycled writing was tolerable this time around as it was necessary to engage the existing fan base, but I’ll be really annoyed if the next instalments don’t include all new, original stories.

For now though, go see The Force Awakens, and enjoy the homage to the spirit of the original trilogy.

8.5/10

By: Malachi Rowswell

This movie blog will focus on reviews, actor profiles, etc. with the hopes of transforming content into a YouTube series. Please let me know what you think about the first review! You can contact me on Twitter (@malachirowswell) or on Facebook. I would appreciate any general feedback, as well as any additional suggestions for future posts.

Review: Bahamas at Massey Hall

Rollin’ on Bahamas’ Wave

Tasked with performing at an esteemed venue known for its stellar sound and intimate setting, Bahamas walked onto an iconic Toronto stage and left a lasting impression a week ago.

Opening for Bahamas was another Canadian act, The Weather Station. This proved to be a very cohesive pairing, a pedal steel complimenting each of their sets. Reminiscent of Joni Mitchell and Mazzy Star’s eloquent delivery, front woman Tamara Lindeman’s dynamic yet somber vocals layered atop her folk fingerpicking silenced Massey Hall; the crowd was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.

I was first made aware of Bahamas in high school, when my brother left Barchords on my bed; a memorable moment as the album cover mimicked a snapshot of an unimpressed Gap model. Released in 2012, it was nominated for two JUNOs the following year.

Cut to today, the talented singer/songwriter and self-taught guitarist has become a big name in the Canadian music scene after winning two JUNO awards for his latest, Bahamas is Afie – Adult Alternative Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. This brings us to his show at Massey Hall last Friday.

One could argue he’s simply Canada’s answer to Jack Johnson, but they’d be sorely mistaken. Clad in khakis and tanned shirt, Afie Jurvanen stood tall, towering over his guitar. Kicking the show off with the familiar first track off Barchords, “Lost in the Light,” his gentle croon expressed a crossroad in a relationship. Strings of soft light bulbs lined the back wall of the stage, emanating an undeniably intimate aesthetic to match his soft vocals.

Almost immediately, the presence of backup vocalist Felicity Williams became known. Though slightly overpowering at times, she was pitch perfect. For a band who is predominantly riff and harmony driven, Bahamas’ performance made great use of call and response resulting in an even fuller live sound.

As the show progressed, Jurvanen gradually loosened up, often poking fun at his seemingly awkward stage presence. At one point, Jurvanen stood alone; a spotlight highlighted his solitude, with the exception of his hefty change of guitars. He had the audience hanging on his every word in between songs, even making reference to Drake’s notorious dance moves from his “Hotline Bling” video as he swayed from side to side during portions of his solo act. Jurvanen’s self-deprecating humour took the edge off some of his more emotional performances. By giving more context, he began to reveal his clever personality. After touching on the complex nature of the personal process behind which material gets released, Afie launched into a quick and sombre song never previously heard, coaxing the audience of 20-somethings and couples with a refreshingly modest commentary about songwriting.

Jurvanen took creative liberties with many of his guitar solos, wowing fans with his masterful instrumentation and often letting his second guitarist take the stage on the pedal steel. The set list was laden with old favourites off Barchords including “Caught Me Thinking,” “Your Sweet Touch,” and “I Got You Babe,” all while embracing the audience’s enthusiasm for new material. If you’ve listened to Indie88 anytime in the last 4 months, his tracks “All the Time” and the feel-good “Stronger Than That” has dominated their radio airwaves.

Jurvanen retired his guitar and walked off the stage, leaving the remaining band members to carry a beat. The move received a wild response from the crowd, as the beckoned for not one, but two encores. Despite his surprise, Jurvanen was never at a loss for words, bidding a final farewell as he left the audience to bask in the warmth of his voice.

While we saw Bahamas, we also got to see the man behind it all, Afie.

By: Laura MacInnes-Rae 

Pop Goes The Week: Jimmy and Coldplay and Beyonce – Oh My!

Each week, SpiritLive will be rounding up the biggest stories from around the mainstream music world, along with the most buzz-worthy pop culture moments in order to keep our readers entertained and informed.

Eagles Of Death Metal Sit Down With Vice To Discuss The Aftermath Of The Paris Attacks

Following the horrific terrorist attacks that took place in Paris, the Eagles Of Death Metal – whose show at Le Bataclan was targeted by radicalized gunmen on November 13th – sat down for with Vice Media for their first public appearance since the events unfolded to talk about their experience, how they’ve been affected by the tragedy and their plans going forward as a band. The emotional, shocking and at times disturbing interview is extremely candid and eye-opening.

Yesterday, the band launched an initiative to assist the victims impacted by the attacks; as mentioned in the video above, EODM is urging any artist – across all genres – to cover their track “I Love You All The Time” for charity, with 100% of the publishing fees going to co-founder Josh Homme’s The Sweet Stuff Foundation, a non-profit originally created to provide financial assistance for those in the music industry (musicians, engineers, etc.) and their families dealing with illness and/or disabilities, but whose efforts will now focus on the victims of the Paris attacks for the remainder of the year. You can read Josh’s statement regarding the campaign in full here.

Jimmy Fallon & Rashida Jones Turn 2015’s Biggest Bangers Into Holiday Hits

The new “King of Late Night” is at it again, this time with a little help from funny gal Rashida Jones. The two comedians came together for a musical medley which morphed some of the biggest hits from this past year into timeless (well, that’s debatable) holiday classics. Highlights include their reimagining of Silento’s “Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae),” Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money,” and The Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face.”

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Check Out Coldplay’s Latest, A Collab With Queen Bey

Welp, for those of you longing for the sounds of vintage Coldplay, it seems as though you’re shit out of luck. Their upcoming LP, A Head Full Of Dreams, drops this Friday, and contains a variety of…odd collaborations, including a track that features the musical stylings of Gwneyth Paltrow (excuse me?!) and one President Obama (annnnd we’re officially lost).

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The latest release entitled “Hymn For The Weekend,” was – according to Chris Martin – inspired by Flo Rida (GOOD GOD SIR WHAT ARE YOU SAYING?!), and the frontman’s desire for the band to have “one of those late night club songs.” Could someone please stop this insanity?! If you’re curious, you can check out the premiere of the song here. True, it’s catchy AF, but guys…WTF?!

Review: Adele – 25

Whether or not you’re an Adele fan, it’s an undeniable fact that she has mastered the art of turning her heartache into hits.

Back in 2008, Adele released her debut album 19, surprising audiences with her mature vocals and honest songwriting about the pain you only experience during your first heartbreak. Three years later, she skyrocketed to superstardom with 21, captivating the world with ballads like mega hit “Someone Like You,” leaving her second mysterious ex – the infamous “Mr. 21” – to regret ever crossing her. I’m glad to say that after her 5-year hiatus from music, Adele has managed to successfully pick up right where she left off with her latest, 25.

Thriving off raw emotion – an Adele trademark fans have come to know and love – 25 is the perfect melange of soul, pop, R&B, and gospel: everything (and more) that we’ve come to expect from the soulful siren. The rich acoustics and solid bass present throughout the album compliment her powerful vocals. And while her previous LPs showcased her strife, her newest album is about recovery. Not only will listeners admire her newfound maturity, they’ll be blown away with how much she’s grown as as artist.

The album takes listeners through the ups and downs of finding closure, wavering between feelings of self-assurance and reminiscence. Adele starts the album off strong with tracks like “Hello” and “Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”, acknowledging her past and sending best wishes to her ex.

Then the nostalgia kicks in; ballads like “I Miss You”, “When We Were Young”, and “Million Years Ago” are gateways into her past, and highlight both her grief and fond memories of what once was. Out of the reminiscent selections that appear on the album, the most powerful has to be “All I Ask,” a collaboration with Bruno Mars. Here, she sings to a lover on their final night together. It’s a song that’s sure to hit you right in the feels.

But I think the best part of 25 has to be the songs Adele has dedicated to her son. An ode to motherhood, “Remedy” and “Sweetest Devotion” really show how far she’s come, and allow audiences to hear a new side of her music. There’s a sense of wholeness and warmth to these tracks that you just don’t get out of a breakup song. It’s clear that she has embraced this new chapter in her life.

Overall, the album is truly beautiful. In the continuing saga that is her discography, Adele has proven that she only gets better with time; let’s hope she continues to grow. But for now, get cozy with a copy of 25, and grab yourself some ice cream and a box of tissues. Trust me, you’re going to need it.

9/10

Best Tracks: “When We Were Young,” “Million Years Ago,” “All I Ask”

By: Kelsey Cueva

T.V.O – Toronto’s Very Own: DCF

Meet DCF, your new favourite local Toronto act. Imagine a sweet musical fusion (yes, that is a School Of Rock reference) – one part Drake, one part Biebs, all parts fire emoji – of mellow, modern hip hop beats, 21st century sext-inspired lyrics and #swag.

The independent pop recording artist just premiered his latest single, “One Time,” via Noisey; it’ll be one of the tracks featured on his upcoming release, the High School Forever EP, which drops in early 2016.

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The song is composed of classic DCF elements: a lyrical nod to his hood – “come up to the 6ix/girl you oughta know/tell her that I know Drake even though I don’t” – a mash up style delivery that mixes melodic peppering (a la MC) with his legitimate vocal talents, along with production on the pulse of what’s hot in both mainstream and underground arenas. Throw this banger on at a house party in Chinatown, and you’ll have the room buzzin’.

Like what you’re hearing? Check out DCF’s SoundCloud (above) and YouTube pages for more excellent selections, and make sure to keep an eye out for show dates in the new year.

Review: One Direction – Made In The A.M.

The fifth (and allegedly final) album from arguably the most popular boy band in the world has arrived. One Direction’s Made in the A.M. features 13 tracks – and 4 bonus selections – ranging from acoustic ballads like “I Want to Write You a Song,” to pop anthems including the first single “Drag Me Down.” Although fans will appreciate the maturity of their new sound, the absence of former member Zayn Malik is hard to miss.

Any #Directioner knows that Malik’s impressive high notes were a trademark of the band’s music; with him gone, Niall, Louis, Liam and Harry were forced to pick up the slack – and failed. Zayn’s melodic, smooth vocals have always been a highlight, and not even a valiant effort from strong singer Harry Styles can match it. The harmonies that used to make girls scream at the top of their lungs just aren’t the same, and it’s very apparent on tracks such as “The End of the Day” and “Hey Angel.”

While it’s definitely lacking vocally, this album is one of their best. It’s the farthest they’ve strayed from typical Top 40, instead replicating more of an 80s sound on songs like “Never Enough,” with rock and synth-pop elements found throughout versus the pop-folk vibe of Midnight Memories. There’s also a more adult tone present on “Love You Goodbye” and “A.M,” although the familiar melodies and hooks sound just like countless other songs in their catalogue of fangirl fodder.

All-in-all, Made in the A.M. is a bittersweet tribute to their journey as a band, which is bound to pull at fans’ heartstrings. The boys of One Direction – now young men – have proved the transition from X-Factor creation to experienced musicians is fully complete. While early offering Up All Night may stand the test of time – if only for fans’ nostalgia for the early days – this latest release is superior, both musically and lyrically. The album closes on “History,” an audible look-back on their careers co-written by Tomlinson and Payne, a sharp contrast to the innocence of their first hit “What Makes You Beautiful.” The track perfectly elaborates on the band’s thoughts regarding their upcoming break: much needed, but not the end.

As a fan of One Direction from the very beginning, I find the album not only reflects their growth musically, but their growth as individuals and as a worldwide brand. As they sing “you and me got a whole lot of history” on the final song, I know I, along with all Directioners, will fondly look back on the memories we made with these four boys for the rest of our lives.

After all, once a fangirl, always a fangirl.

7/10

By: Alexandra Cox

Review: Glen Hansard – Didn’t He Ramble

Glen Hansard isn’t exactly a household name, but if you’ve seen the film Once, or listened to the soundtrack – and its most popular track “Falling Slowly” – then you’ve definitely heard his work. The Irish singer-songwriter known for his recognizable, beautifully hoarse voice just dropped his latest album: Didn’t He Ramble. The result is a powerful collection of well-written, folk-rock tunes.

Hansard starts softly with “Grace Beneath the Pines,” a pretty song that’s pleasant to listen to. It’s introspective and mysterious, but the horns that come in towards the finale provide an almost comforting feeling. Another great track off the album is “Her Mercy,” a song about having the patience to wait for love. While it sounds like upbeat folk anthem, Glen’s chilling vocals suggest something else entirely. Lyrics like “When you’re ready for her mercy/and you’re worthy/it will come” are seemingly straightforward, but within Hansard’s performance, weight and fatigue are present. It suggests that he has been waiting for an eternity for a love unlike any other. This kind of storytelling through vocal performance is something isn’t often heard in contemporary folk.

Overall, my favourite part of the album is Hansard’s voice; it’s not the smoothest, and it doesn’t always fit perfectly, but I think that’s part of his charm. There’s a rawness, an aching emotion to everything on this album, accentuated by the rasp in Hansard’s voice. Even though there are a number of tracks featuring positive lyrics, Hansard’s performance alludes to heartbreak; that opposition is one of folk music’s best qualities. The music is hauntingly beautiful, complimented by Glen’s delivery.

There’s a lot to love on Didn’t he Ramble; pretty easy listening that’s perfect for late-night study sessions, but with a depth and mournfulness that may cause you to sit back and reflect on love and all of its complexities. If you haven’t listened to Glen Hansard before, this album is a fantastic place to start.

9/10

Best Tracks: “Grace Beneath the Pines,” “Her Mercy”

By: Malachi Rowswell