“The Sing-Off” Recap, Episode 3: Ch-Ch-Changes

And so it goes, on nearly the 1-year anniversary of the elimination of one of my favorite a cappella groups ever (that would be Noteworthy, y’all) from the first season of “The Sing-Off,” that the first painful cut of Season 2 (at least for me) occurs. This third episode of the competition was a great one…but although all the groups left are stellar (I don’t even hate any of them), and they each had two songs to shine and wow us with, I couldn’t help feeling it was a little rocky tonight. Am I confusing you more than Nicole does when she does her ‘critiques’? Probably. 🙂 Let’s just jump in, shall we? I’ll be trying a slightly different recapping format this time, btw…plus adding a little ranking-the-top-5 thing (yes! I can rank…sometimes) and…gasp, a poll!

The Backbeats

  • “You Give Love A Bad Name”: I have to admit I missed the first half of this, so I’m not quite sure how it sounded, and thus I have no second opinion to add to the judges’ thoughts that it didn’t work quite as well as the first half. I did agree with them that the second part was indeed rockin’, and I really liked it. It was a slightly different side of the Backbeats (though not as different as their second number), and that was refreshing. The harmonies were solid, as always.
  • “Love Shack”: Well, this was something. It was this close to falling apart for me, mostly because of Kenton (I’m sorry, but I just don’t dig his voice or his mannerisms), but it ended up being a really fun, inspired choice for them, and it really fit the “Guilty Pleasure” theme quite nicely. Courtney’s moment in the spotlight was a delightful addition, the juxtaposition of soloists worked really well, and I loved how this was a complete stylistic 180 for the ‘Beats…but they were just as harmonically put-together and vibrant at high tempos as they are with their ballads, which is something I could most certainly not say for last season’s SoCal-area group (called, naturally, The SoCals).
  • Overall: I have to admit I wasn’t as wildly in love with them tonight as I was last week, but they’ve definitely continued to earn their place in the competition. I personally think their strength is in the ballads, but they acquitted themselves quite nicely tonight on more uptempo fare as well.

Street Corner Symphony

  • “Creep”: Why hasn’t there been a prominent a cappella rendition of this song before? As Nicole noted (yes, I’m citing the crazy judge), it almost sounds better in a cappella setting. What I thought really worked incredibly well for Street Corner and this particular song was its stark intimacy. It’s a song meant to be stripped down and sung with rawness and power, but it’s also meant to be sung beautifully and with control and nuance. SCS really nailed both of those qualities tonight. The lead vocal really cut to the emotional heart of the song, and he really commanded the stage as well (especially during his belting moments). The rest of the group served as a terrific backdrop…or actually, more as an equal partner to the beautiful music being made. The shift in dynamic at the very end, after the climax of the song, was absolutely stunning. Radiohead would be proud.
  • “Come On Eileen”: After this performance, I wasn’t quite sure what had just happened, but I knew I loved it. SCS didn’t just demonstrate their versatility with this number, they showcased it. I’m pretty sure they went through about 5 tempos and different styles…but somehow, it all worked, brilliantly. The arrangement never seemed to fall apart, they emanated fun (the square-dancing choreography at one point? Weird, but nice), and the harmonies stayed quite intact even with all the shifts in tone and style. It was a wild ride, for sure…but really showed what an inventive group Street Corner Symphony can be.
  • Overall: They just keep on getting better and better. Stunning vocals, great blend, cool arrangements, charming performance energy…definitely a strong front-runner to win, in my view.

Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town

  • “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”: Jerry & the boys let themselves loose on this Stones classic for sure, and I liked it…though Jerry’s vocal had a few rough patches, mainly because he was doing his best to deliver a high level of rock swagger. (I think he did a great job in that regard.) It was a great performance, with solid harmonies (as always), and a good level of performance energy. They put their own spin on the Rolling Stones, and I think it worked out pretty well.
  • “Easy”: I’m not quite sure how this is a “guilty pleasure” (it’s Lionel Richie, for Pete’s sake!), and that kind of hampered my enjoyment of this performance, but once again, another solid, classy performance by a solid, classy group. The falsetto moment by the second soloist was a fun deviation, and the song just really came off as smooth and, well, ‘easy.’
  • Overall: Jerry & the Talk are doing great, but the creeping feeling that they’re not as fresh and exciting as the other groups remaining in the competition continues to dog them, at least for me. They’re not really experiencing any growth in the competition, just showing their outstanding artistic chops and their veteran status, and that’s kind of a concern. I love them and their performances a lot, and they really have a distinctive, clear style (which is a great asset), but I just can’t see them winning the whole thing, which probably isn’t the best sign at this point.

On The Rocks

  • “Pour Some Sugar On Me”: I’m not quite sure what to say about this one. I realized from the beginning that this song ain’t no wallflower, to put it gently (AKA: more innuendo than a marathon of “The Match Game”), and I definitely remembered that while watching the performance, but it still didn’t stop me from forming the opinion that On The Rocks laid it on a little thick. The lead’s come-hither faces didn’t quite work for me (I was having unpleasant flashbacks to both Pitch Slapped and the devil children those college kids I didn’t like alright, the Beelzebubs, which wasn’t good news), and the choreography got a little out of control, with the part where the lead got on his back and simulated humping motions being the nadir. I think me not quite digging this performance was probably a matter of personal taste…but On The Rocks just seemed to overdo the sex appeal of this number a bit too much. Add to that the fact that the harmonies were once again a bit thin and unfocused, and the pitch wasn’t perfect, and you’ve got a recipe for an under-par performance in my book. On a positive note, however, I disagreed a bit with the judges on the quality of the lead vocalist in this song…I thought he sold it exceptionally well.
  • “Kyrie”: On The Rocks didn’t fare much better in the second set either. While it wasn’t straight-up serious and somber, it was a bit of a departure from the high-energy, no-holds-barred performance style that On The Rocks have showed off so far, and thus it put the focus on the vocals. (The judges dutifully noted the amusing irony of the fact that the group was focusing on their artistry…in the “Guilty Pleasure” round, where everything was supposed to be fun and crazy.) Putting the focus on the vocals, especially in such a stagnant, cheesy song as “Kyrie,” probably wasn’t the wisest choice for OTR, I thought. There were some weird pitch issues (was it just me, or did they go sharp quite a few times before the key change?), the lead vocalist wasn’t completely up to the challenge, and it just didn’t quite do it for me. It wasn’t a complete disaster by any stretch of the imagination, but it didn’t shine as much as OTR’s other songs have. At least when they weren’t all vocally there before, they had a bunch of energy and spark to fall back on. With this performance, that safety net wasn’t there, and it hurt them a bit.
  • Overall: I’m still liking On The Rocks, but I have to say that they were definitely my pick to leave tonight. They’re fun, they’re energetic, they’re strong in numbers, they’re crowd-pleasing…but they’re just not the complete package. It’s a blast to watch them, but listening to them isn’t anything particularly special. They’re certainly a great, talented group…but they’re not cutting it against the rest of the (very formidable) competitors, and I think it’s about time for them to go.

Groove For Thought

  • “Changes”: A very interesting choice of song by GFT, and admittedly not the ‘rockiest’ of tunes. Putting Amanda, a vocalist whose strength lies more in nuance and skill than in sheer vocal power, was a move that I think served this song very well, but also hurt the group just a tiny bit in terms of comparison. Jazz singers, however incredible they are, are just a different animal than more belting-oriented vocalists. (Also, she did flub the lyrics just a tiny bit at the very end, and her last line or two sounded a bit shell-shocked from that slip-up.)  Still, the arrangement really helped her (and the rest of the group, delivering incredible harmonic precision as always) shine, and it was yet another outstanding performance from Groove For Thought. Sadly, the judges disagreed by a country mile. I don’t really get Shawn’s sentiments that the performance didn’t rock enough, and that they should have stepped a bit out of their comfort zone. I thought it did an excellent job of merging the worlds of rock and jazz, and I also feel that GFT has done a terrific job of carving out a niche and distinctive style for themselves, but at the same time not being afraid to push their boundaries a bit. The balance between staying true to themselves and adapting to a different genre was very clear for Groove For Thought in this performance, and in that I took issue with the judges’ comments (which said otherwise).
  • “You Make My Dreams”: Groove For Thought didn’t go as all-out crazy as some of the other groups in the “Guilty Pleasure” round, but they still managed to show a more fun, uptempo (both in terms of song speed, and personality) side of themselves while putting a really cool spin on Hall & Oates’ really pretty much un-hate-able song. The upright-bass-inspired beginning was hot (sorry to go all Paris Hilton on you there, but I thought that seemed like a good word to describe it :)), the harmonies were complex and inventive, but never got in the way of the level of enjoyment, the soloists were all very solid, and I really dug that little momentary tone shift in the bridge (from what I remember, it seemed a bit like a five-second jam session) where the group definitely went all out. Fun, effortless, and classy.
  • Overall: I wasn’t very happy at all with Groove For Thought’s elimination tonight, but I had been worried about them getting an early exit for quite a while. As much as I absolutely love, love, love vocal jazz music, it’s just plain out of the mainstream a cappella world. It’s more subtle, and slightly polarizing in some cases. This isn’t me trying to say something snobby like “some people just don’t get vocal jazz,” because I don’t quite think that was the case here. The judges seemed to really love it, which I really appreciated. I think in the end, the judges felt that GFT’s more subdued, solid approach wasn’t up to par for them, and sent them home over the more flashy On The Rocks. I disagree with this decision, and I definitely would have made a different cut had I been on the panel…but I had a feeling it was going to come, whether I liked it or not. The great thing is that Groove For Thought did a terrific job representing the vocal jazz world, opening new doors and gaining new fans (hopefully ones that might never have thought jazz was something they would end up liking in the first place), and although they didn’t make it all the way like I hoped they would, they definitely made some great inroads for the jazz community, and for that I’m very grateful.

Committed

  • “Every Breath You Take”: Oh bother, the second half of this recap is ending up being something close to a novel. I’ll try to keep it down from here on out, but I can’t make any promises. Anyhow…here’s another time where I disagreed with the judges. I really dug Committed’s take on this Police hit (a song that I’ve loved for a while, as I grew up with the Police’s greatest hits CD in our house), and although there were a few shaky moments, I thought they really sold it. That reharmonization in the chorus (or at least thereabouts) made me audibly excited. I just love those little moments where the group delivers an unexpected chord or two, and turn the songs on their ears a bit. It really adds to the performance for me. The bridge went a little funky (I wasn’t entirely sure if they were exactly on key), but they quickly recovered from that small detour, and hit the rest of the song home. In short…I wasn’t in line with the judges’ comments at all. They weren’t ultra-harsh (after all, they coated most of their critiques with well-deserved praise for what Committed does right), but I wasn’t quite feeling them on this one. I thought Committed delivered another solid performance here, and continued to shine and demonstrate a great level of stylistic confidence and maturity.
  • “I Want It That Way”: Solid, fresh, and fun. A nice touch to dedicate the song to Nicole, and the harmonies were (sorry if I’m sounding like a broken record here) top-notch. I don’t really have anything special to say about this performance…other than that it was really, really great. They made a Backstreet Boys song, of all things, sound wicked cool, and thus they deserve major props. (It’s also funny that Nick’s old group, 98 Degrees, was left out in the cold. Did they even have any major, major hits like Backstreet or N’Sync did? I do remember hearing a Christmas album of theirs, though, once upon a time in my high school carpool one winter, though. It wasn’t too bad.)
  • Overall: And I go into a tangent. Of course. 🙂 Getting back to Committed, they’re definitely one of my very favorite groups, and I still see them as a major contender for the top prize. It’ll be criminal if they don’t survive the next cuts on Wednesday, because they have certainly earned their spot in the finals, in my book.

So how would I rank the groups? All of them are terrific (finally! a show where I don’t hate/dislike any of the people left in the competition!), but I’m beginning to form stronger and stronger opinions of each of them as the show goes on, and here’s my current halfway-point ranking for the 5 groups left in the running:

  1. Street Corner Symphony/Committed: I can’t really choose one over the other at this point…they’ve both delivered highly inventive approaches, tons of energy, lots of great vocals, and have a really charming group put together. Either of them are my pick to win at the moment.
  2. The Backbeats: They started off strong, and they delivered some solid stuff tonight, but they have a bit of ground to gain on SCS and Committed. They’re awesome, but not quite up to a winning standard yet. A strong chance they’ll make the finals, however, and I really hope they do.
  3. Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town: I love them, they’re solid, and very, very classy. Still, I can’t shake the feeling that they’re a bit out of place at this point, surrounded by 4 other terrific groups with a bit fresher approach. I wouldn’t hate it if they made the finals, but I think they’re not quite evolving enough in the competition to warrant a spot. Talented, yes. Legendary, most certainly. But the future of a cappella? Not exactly.
  4. On The Rocks: The boys from Oregon had a weak night tonight, and although I still very much enjoy watching them, their shortcomings are beginning to become more and more prominent. They’ve done quite well to come this far, but I think next episode should be the end of the line for them.

And now, to tide y’all over until Wednesday’s recap, here’s a poll asking who’s your favorite in the competition. Since I’m all undecided and whatnot over who should hold the top spot in my book, you can choose up to 2 faves.

See you on Wednesday with another recap! I’m looking to post tomorrow with either a new Artist Spotlight, or Song Shuffle Game, or both, so be on the lookout for one or two of those. Make sure to comment…I’d love to hear what you think! I’d also love for you to subscribe, so you can keep up with what’s cooking over here at Harmony Avenue. The more, the merrier!

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