Tomorrow, February draws to a close, so there’s no better time than the present for a new Song of the Day (the first since Arizona’s birthday/that one day where there’s a bunch of love and happiness and stuff). I have about 2 months left to post here, so I’ll be sure to make much more frequent visits to Harmony Avenue from now on. (Cross my heart. Which reminds me of “Up”: “Cross your heart?…CROSS IT! Cross your heart!” ) Here’s a terrific new single from last year’s Best New Artist Grammy winner, who recently appeared on Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, with a theme particularly appropriate for this month, though applicable throughout the year…
“Black Gold” by Esperanza Spalding (feat. Algebra Blessett)!
Esperanza’s new album, “Radio Music Society,” comes out next month, and from what I’ve heard so far, it looks to be a beautifully innovative fusion of jazz, R&B, pop, and lots of great bits of pieces of other genres. This lead-off single, featuring stellar R&B vocalist Algebra Blessett, is a great demonstration of that dazzling sense of musical experimentation. As stated on Esperanza’s website (and as displayed in the heartfelt music video), this song is a message to African American boys, and is meant to give them hope and a sense of inner strength. However, the song isn’t limited to just one group of people…it features a positive, uplifting message that anyone, of any walk of life, can identify with. It’s a beautiful, joyous piece of music with lots of wonderful moments (I love in particular when a children’s choir comes in during the latter half), and if the rest of Esperanza’s new record is as terrific as this, it’s going to be one wonderful album.
More great music is to come in the next month or two. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!
What’s today? Well, first off, it’s Arizona’s centennial birthday…my home state is 100 years young today! OK, and it’s also a little-known holiday a few people celebrate or something…Valentines’ Day, I think they call it? There’s a link to a lovely Arizona video at the bottom of this post (unfortunately, embedding is disabled), but for today’s Song of the Day (for once, it’s actually posted before the evening! sort of), I’ll focus on Valentines’ Day and post a beautiful song for the occasion…
“Love Is You” by Chrisette Michele!
I first came across this song about 3 or 4 years ago (another song by Chrisette, “Your Joy,” was a free single on iTunes), and it’s become one of my absolute favorites. With just a piano and some elegant strings, Chrisette delivers a heartfelt, tender message that’s perfect not just for Valentines’ Day, but really any day. It’s absolutely gorgeous.
And as promised, here’s a tribute to the beauty of Arizona (the song is a bit cheesy, but it’s heartfelt, and the pictures are stunning)…happy birthday, my beloved Grand Canyon State! (Just click on the link.)
This is ridiculous. Absolutely RIDICULOUS. You know what I’m talking about. Yeah, you over there. It’s what I’ve been harping on since the competition began, and it’s what’s been bringing down this otherwise wonderful third season of “The Sing-Off” for me. Almost every week this season since the groups combined, a group ranging from good to great has gone home, while a group (oh, you know exactly who I’m referring to…more on that in a second) that has consistently underperformed continues to stay around (and, to boot, not even land anywhere near the Bottom 2). Much like last week, where Delilah rather unjustly was sent packing, this week was home (or rather, given the departing group’s swan song, “Home”) to an equally infuriating elimination.
I promised that this week I wouldn’t pick on the contestants as much as I did in my last recap, and I’m planning to keep that promise. However, I’m done with the Dartmouth Aires. I do have some good things to say about their performances below. But it is exceedingly clear they no longer belong in the competition, and I will most likely make that quite plain in the following paragraphs. Witness the following tweet by yours truly:
Yep. I’m that ticked. Moving on from that…recovering from last week’s non-starter of an Arcade Fire cover (I never thought I’d be typing those words…), this week’s opening number was INCREDIBLE. Even though it was mostly started off (once again) by the Group Who Shall Briefly Not Be Named, it was high-energy from the start, the arrangement was outstanding, Katie ROCKED her solo work (I audibly cheered, “Go Katie!” after she belted that one note during “Crazy In Love”), as did everyone else except a member of the GWSBNBN. (I suppose I could have picked a better acronym there.) It was a great way to kick off the night, and I look back on it very fondly, given the roller-coaster of a show that was to come. First off, in the contemporary R&B round, speak of the devil, it’s…
Dartmouth Aires (performing “Ignition [Remix]” by R. Kelly): Let’s get the positives out of the way. It stayed on pitch. It wasn’t a trainwreck. And it did have energy. I didn’t hate it, I’d have to say. Now the negatives (of which there are a few): Michael’s solo, for probably the billionth week running, was incredibly ineffective. His tone just bugs me…there’s a overly formal quality about it that undercuts any ‘soul’ or smoothness it might have had. (His speaking voice does the same for me too, but given the fact that judging on recordings I’ve heard of myself, my speaking voice sounds very weird and awkward, I’ll give him a pass on that for sure.) And the arrangement was just too dang chaotic. (Thank you, member of the group whose name I can’t remember, for using that word in the rehearsal package. It described your performance quite accurately, I’m afraid.) There was too much going on, and it ended up being more of an assault on the ears rather than a pleasant musical experience. Just par for the course for the Aires, and yet again the judges gave them a free pass. I’m aware they most likely come off much better in person than on TV, but tonight was Top 5 week. I have yet to see the judges really go after any weakness of the Aires besides their low end issues (and to be honest, those really aren’t their main problem at all, in my view), and after 9 weeks of competition, that’s just not right, under any circumstance.
Urban Method (performing “Knock You Down” by Keri Hilson feat. Ne-Yo & Kanye West): This wasn’t quite perfect, but I really enjoyed it. After bugging me with it in the early stages of the season, I’ve really grown fond of Mike’s rapping and the whole “rapapella” concept in general. I don’t love it, of course…but it really seems to fit much better within the context of the performances now. (P.S.: He did a bang-up job in the opening number as well.) Katie and the other female soloist (sorry I don’t know your name!) did a fantastic job, although I noticed that I think I like Katie’s tone better in her upper register than in her lower. She can hit the low notes just fine…but they sounded a bit measured and formal, and when she really let loose and started belting towards the end, it came together nicely for me. It was a solid performance, not quite a standout, but an effort worthy of Top 5 week nonetheless. Urban Method is beginning to get their groove back (but can they continue the momentum enough to make the finals? I hope so).
Vocal Point (performing “Every Little Step” by Bobby Brown): Last week I rather disappointingly found myself not being able to connect with either of Vocal Point’s performances. Whatever was off during Week 8, was on tonight, because this was, in my opinion, Vocal Point’s best performance of the season. The arrangement was absolutely terrific, even a little risky for Vocal Point (in all the right ways). That beatboxing section in the middle, particularly…gold. Pure gold. The performance popped, it shined, it was musical, it was entertaining, it was playful, it was inventive, it was all those things and more all at once. I unequivocally loved it through and through, and it really was a stylistic breakthrough for Vocal Point. And to top it all off…it became the very first song this season I’ve bought from the group on iTunes. (I’ve already listened to it three times in the last 30 minutes.) That’s how it’s done, boys. That’s how it’s done. (Side note: How fun was it to see little Provo boy McKay gleefully noting after the performance, “Sara Bareilles said I’ve got soul!”?)
Afro-Blue (performing “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey): Propelled by a lovely, assured solo by Christie, this was yet another outstanding performance by Afro-Blue. And here’s where my beef with the judges creeps up again…while I kind of see how Ben and Co. are trying to find the sweet spot for the group, that balance between cutting-edge jazz and the inherent level of accessibility that a cappella requires…it can’t help but feel at this point like the judges are kind of jerking Afro-Blue’s chain. (Out-of-context “Sabrina” quote break! “Can I say that to a woman…’jerking your chain’?”) Not intentionally, of course, but it’s approaching what sometimes happens on another televised singing competition (perhaps you might have heard of it?), “American Idol,” where the judging panel often ends up offering conflicting advice to the contestants. Are Ben, Sara, and Shawn getting that bad? Of course not. They’re one of the best judging lineups on TV (way better than any of the “Idol” judging table iterations). And they certainly did show their love for this terrific performance…I just wish they’d stop getting hung up on little things in Afro-Blue’s sound and overall vibe, things that don’t really get in the way of their performances at the end of the day.
Pentatonix (performing “OMG” by Usher feat. will.i.am): (Brace yourself. There’s a corny joke on its way.) My reaction to this performance: OMG. (Ba dum cha.) But really. It was utterly, completely terrific. Yes, I know I end up falling in mad love with Pentatonix’s turns on the “Sing-Off” stage every week. Much like my unquenchable fire burning for Afro-Blue, I suppose it’s getting to be like a broken record in a few ways. But honestly…there are no other ways to describe it. They’re just consistently, continually, pretty much perfect. Their changing of the lyrics to reflect group member Kevin’s moral qualms with the song was a brilliant, nice touch. I never thought I’d hear a song with the phrase “oh my gosh” in it, on national television no less, and it made me very happy. (“Oh my gosh” is in fact the phrase I use instead of what OMG typically stands for, as well.) The arrangement was, as always, daring and truly riveting. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again…at this point, Pentatonix can do no wrong.
Now, on to the R&B classics round:
Dartmouth Aires (performing “Midnight Train to Georgia” by Gladys Knight & the Pips): This was one of Dartmouth Aires’ better performances, and it did some measure of justice to Gladys Knight’s classic. However, the arrangement was a bit static, and once again Michael was an underwhelming, inconsistent soloist. The judges said the performance was emotionally connected, but for me it felt more like any emotional weight the performance might have had was forced, rather than natural. The song didn’t flow, it didn’t glide…it was just there in many aspects. (Insert customary plea to the judges to stop giving the Aires free pass after free pass here.)
Urban Method (performing “It’s Your Thing” by the Isley Brothers): So I didn’t know that “Isley Brothers” was pronounced “Eye-sley Brothers” until tonight. (The more you know…) Anyways, this was another quality effort from Urban Method. I can’t say it all came together for me for the whole performance…there were some spots where the arrangement seemed a bit overstuffed…but in many ways, this was an effective, outstanding job by the group. The soloist (who I believe hasn’t had much of the spotlight before?) was a perfect choice to helm the number, and she really worked the song, especially at the end. This performance kind of reminded me of Urban Method’s outstanding early-season take on “Dance To The Music” (if you’ll recall, their breakthrough in my eyes), and that is a very, very good thing. And once again, Mike’s rap work (there wasn’t much given the song, but there was a little bit of comping towards the end if I remember right) fit in like a glove, much to my surprise. A nice job by Urban Method, and a continuation of their comeback from a few weeks prior, where they really seemed to be struggling.
Vocal Point (performing “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” by the Temptations): Coming off what I believe was their best performance of the season, Vocal Point had a lot to live up to here. I think they ended up doing so, albeit in a low-key, simple way. Their take on “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg” was classy, energetic, and I actually thought the soloist did a fine job of capturing the soul that the song emanates. Perhaps it was just a tiny bit too squeaky-clean at one or two points, but overall, it was ultra-solid. Vocal Point sounded right at home here, and I really don’t get the judges’ small quibbles with the performance as a whole.
Afro-Blue (performing “The Best of My Love” by the Emotions): I won’t lie…for the first time this season, I heard some fleeting pitch issues for Afro-Blue. And I will concede that the arrangement was at times ready to crack. However, it never did end up falling apart, and the small pitch fluctuations I heard towards the end didn’t detract from the performance for me. The song is probably a factor (it’s a deliciously infectious tune, and hard to get wrong), and the great solo work really brought it up to a whole new level as well. (Plus, as always, the choreography was eye-catchingly good. Still amazed how Afro-Blue can pay attention to that even with all that, y’know, singing going on.) I really, really enjoyed this.
Pentatonix (performing “Let’s Get It On” by Marvin Gaye): How do you take on such an iconic song by such a legendary artist? Well, perhaps just like Pentatonix did tonight. The dynamic build was exhilarating, Scott’s solo work was the definition of ‘slaying it,’ and it really just rocked, on so many levels. The group really kept things beautifully simple throughout, but threw in some killer touches, and even a little reharmonization, in to make the whole thing even more refreshing and unique, all while keeping what made the original so timeless and enduring. (Plus Ben’s comment that the performance will likely cause a spike in births within 9 months was CLASSIC.) Pentatonix came into this week as the unquestionable frontrunners, and that’s how they leave this week as well.
Hey, I’m kind of in a better mood now. That may change in about 5…4…3…2….OK, here it goes. I have to type these words, even if I wish that they weren’t true. As you may have been able to surmise from my sadness, Vocal Point went home tonight. The fine representatives of my beloved school were cut from the competition. And I still can’t understand why. (Once again, adding major insult to injury, the Aires escaped the clutches of the Bottom 2, and Afro-Blue was inexplicably placed in danger of going home for the second week running. As I said at the beginning of this recap: This. Is. RIDICULOUS.) It’s heartbreaking (well, reality-show-fan-style heartbreaking, not like oh-my-gosh-so-sad-and-depressing heartbreaking) to see them go when they should have gone all the way to the finals, and my only explanation at this point is that the judges must have heard their swan song of “Home” by Michael Buble, heard the lyrics (“Let me go hooooooooome….I’ve had my run, baby, I’m done…”), and then gone back in time to make sure their past selves complied with those nice boys from Vocal Point’s musical request. OK, so that’s probably not what happened. But it makes more sense than saying that Vocal Point truly deserved elimination tonight. Because they most certainly did not.
Disappointment is inevitable when you’re a big fan of an elimination-based competition reality show. I just wish it didn’t have to come so often this season on “The Sing-Off,” especially so late in the season. If you need me, I’ll be off mourning over Vocal Point, Delilah, Sonos, heck, even great groups from previous seasons (still haven’t gotten over it) like Groove for Thought, Noteworthy, and Maxx Factor. (Why the carnage? WHY?!?!?) For now, a poll, and a promise that I’ll be back later this week with more Harmony Avenue non-”Sing-Off” related goodness. As always, many thanks for reading.