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Archive for the tag “Sara Bareilles”

“The Sing-Off Christmas” Recap: Good Feeling

So, I lied. I was planning not to recap this, but I knew that I’d probably end up doing so anyway. And I did. Blame the live-tweeting I started doing spur-of-the-moment, and ended up continuing throughout the whole show. It was my gateway drug. And now I’ve mentioned drugs in the first paragraph. Go me?

Anyways, since this wasn’t a competition night, I plan to keep this concise and fairly short, since I don’t have any who-should-win/who-shouldn’t-win related rants to make for the most part, and well, otherwise there’d be quite a lot of gushing. And in the case of certain groups and soloists (you know exactly who), some heavy criticism. So let’s “Sing-Off Christmas” it up…

  • Nota, Committed, & Pentatonix (“Christmas [Baby Please Come Home]“): I’m not really going to bother too much with listing the original artist this time around, since this is meant to be a low-key blogging affair, and also I’m going off my live tweets/short-term memory for song titles and group combos. (Watchful commenters, if there are any of you out there, feel free to correct any mistakes.) Pairing the 3 champion groups was a killer way to start the show. All 3 reminded us why they’re champs, and it was great to see them all do their thing.
  • The Backbeats & Delilah (“All I Want For Christmas Is You”): It’s hard to beat the iconic Mariah Carey original, or Michael Buble’s recent game-changing cover, but this powerhouse duo of groups delivered a terrific version of this song anyhow. It was great to see some of my old favorites like Joanna (the amazing Backbeats soloist from last season), Amy (well, I guess she hasn’t been gone for long, but I still missed her), and of course, she-who-can-beatbox-and-sing-like-nobody’s-business, the amazingly talented Courtney Jensen. (She got a solo! She got a solo!) Witness the following tweet below (the Backbeats retweeted me! And a bunch of other fans too, but still…):
  • Dartmouth Aires (“All You Need Is Love”): Wherever Paul and Ringo (and for that matter, George and John) are right now, if they’ve heard even a whiff of this, they’re probably weeping. (With their guitars. Gently.) The arrangement was cutesy and lightweight, so on its own that wouldn’t have been too much of an affront to the Fab Four’s legacy, but then…Michael had to open his mouth, and deliver a vocal that neither fit the song nor sounded appealing in any way, shape, or form. The good news was that they spread the love and let some lesser-known group members have some solos during this song as well, but the bad news was that they all failed to rise to the occasion. All in all…a performance that made me very, very happy that after tonight, the Aires will be off my TV for good, and I won’t have to hear them ever again.
  • Afro-Blue & Committed (“Ooh Child”): Oh sweet mercy, was this incredible. I love this song (Nnenna Freelon’s spirited cover is pure musical gold), and the killer combo of two of the show’s greatest groups (you’ve got that right, Nick Lachey!), Afro-Blue & Committed, was a perfect choice to take it on. The performance moved, it grooved, it proved (hey, just warming myself up for the Grinch song later) that jazz is alive and here to stay. Heck, I was quite literally bouncing around on my couch with the music. The arrangement was daringly intricate, fearlessly vibrant, and full of the perfect balance of complexity and accessibility (along with a sense of fun and joy) that made Committed the champs last season, and Afro-Blue such favorites this season. Ben was spot-on when he noted that Afro-Blue & Committed really have set the “Sing-Off” standard.
  • Street Corner Symphony (“Hallelujah”): How great it is to see Street Corner Symphony back! As noted above (and in my Season 2 recaps), I was thrilled to see Committed take the crown last year, but I would have been just as tickled to see it go to the endlessly terrific SCS. With an assist from killer lead Jeremy Lister’s older brother Jonathan (of the Collectives, a bit more on their performance later), they delivered a beautifully poignant, gorgeously intimate take on “Hallelujah,” a song that’s been covered by everyone and their dog, and at this point, probably even their dog’s dog, but when done right is still breathtaking to listen to. Jeremy’s vocal was emotional and direct, and the arrangement was top-notch. If this is what “unpracticing” brings for SCS, we all need to try it out, methinks.
  • North Shore (“Little Saint Nick”): A classy, solid take on the Beach Boys’ holiday classic. It was great to see North Shore get a performance of their own (they’re pros through and through), and like many of their previous performances, this was kept simple and direct, and that really helped hit it home. These guys may not be completely fresh or innovative, but they’re full of heart and have years of valuable experience, and I always really enjoy seeing and listening to them. Here’s hoping we see more of them soon.
  • Sara Bareilles, Ben Folds, & ‘The Sing-Off Five’ (“Baby, It’s Cold Outside”): The pre-performance video segment was worth the price of admission itself (Sara Bareilles & Ben Folds are secretly comic geniuses…I want to see them pretend they don’t like each other and talk behind each other’s backs more often), and had me in stitches. However, things got even better…the song that followed was equally brilliant. I noted on Twitter that this is one of the freshest versions of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” I’ve heard in years, and I stand by that. There’s a lot of nice covers of this song, but in pretty much every one of them, the vocalists play it safe. Sara took some great liberties with the melody that really put a new spin on the song, while keeping the appeal it’s had for decades. Ben also rocked the vocals, as well as some top-notch piano work, and the addition of The Sing-Off Five (a little vocal backing band stocked with five talented guys) was a nice touch. Sweet mama, was this both entertaining and musically delicious. Another tweet break, with an amusing post-song exchange between the awkward-as-always Nick, and charming-as-always Sara:
  • Pentatonix (“Under The Mistletoe”): Ha, remember when I said I was going to try to keep this short? Silly Brandon. Brevity is for kids. Anyways, this performance made me realize two things: 1) This is quite possibly one of the most badly written holiday songs ever recorded. I never, ever, ever, ever, EVER want to hear the Bieber’s original version of this, because hearing it done well was lyrical torture enough. (Did the bridge honestly combine a reference to the wise men and the Christmas star with a line about how [s]he followed his heart to a girl, or was I hallucinating? If either of these are the case, gag me now.) 2) Pentatonix can make anything sound terrific. You’d think after a season’s worth of cutting-edge arrangements that they’d run out of steam, especially with such subpar material, but they brought their signature Pentatonix sound to this lump-of-coal-esque number, and I loved it.
  • Jerry Lawson & The Sing-Off All Stars (“Sweet Soul Music”): It was a little bit strange that the Talk of the Town was absent tonight, but I wasn’t complaining…the collection of singers that were assembled to sing with Jerry was quite breathtaking. Jerry, as always, was pure class, and it was a celebration of the classic and the new, all at the same time. Sweet soul music, indeed.
  • I don’t want to talk about this next one.
  • I really don’t.
  • OK, fine…The Devil Children Beelzebubs, On The Rocks & Darmouth Aires (“Santa Claus Is Coming To Town,” supposedly): Here’s one of my tweets after the song in question. It captures my thoughts pretty succinctly (though you know me, I’m going to type more anyways):
  • (continued) So yeah. I just couldn’t get into this performance at all. Even On The Rocks, who I enjoyed last season for the most part, really bugged me here. The ‘fun’ seemed all manufactured. The pitch and intonation…well, let’s not even go there. The solos ranged from depressingly weak (Michael, obviously, and Brendan, though the latter’s vocal was a step up from his usual fare) from OK (the Beelzebubs’ middling soloist) to pretty good, but not enough to save the whole performance (Peter Hollens, the frontman of On the Rocks would fit that description). From what I can see, almost all male collegiate a cappella groups are turning into this utterly affected frat party-esque goofy mess, and it’s not something I enjoy at all. The music is supposed to come first, and the fun second. If you truly pay attention to the music, it’ll often be entertaining on its own. When you take it the other way around like these three groups did tonight, the performance, and the ensemble as a whole, ends up being neither truly musical, nor truly fun, and it’s a real bummer to see that this is a large part of the future of a cappella music. Thankfully it’s not the only part.
  • Urban Method (“You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch”): OK, I’m off my soapbox, and from here on out, there should be a minimum of ranting. This performance was a real treat…and a demonstration of how Urban Method has really come into their own. At the start of the season, if Urban Method had put a rap into a song like this, I would have probably hated it. Tonight, however, I loved it. A rap in a song like this? You’d think it wouldn’t work. (Busta Rhymes’ ghastly version with Jim Carrey from the 2001 “Grinch” movie is very convincing evidence to that regard.) However, Myke pulled it off brilliantly, and the arrangement as a whole was pretty exciting and well-played (the samba-style breakdown towards the end was a highlight). The solo by the bass (aargh, I was doing so well with the names this late in the season!) (Troy, whose name I now remember thanks to…ahem, I mean, nothing to see here, nothing at all) was perfect, and it was just fresh and tons of fun.
  • Nota & Shawn Stockman (“This Christmas”): Shawn got his chance to shine tonight after staying at the judges’ table during last week’s finale, and even with some lines in Spanish to contend with, he did quite well. He was accompanied by the sweet sounds of Nota, and they were all on top of their game, really bringing this song (one of my absolute Christmas favorites) home. I loved the arrangement, and really, I loved everything about it. Nota and Shawn both have still got game, yo.
  • The Collective (“Santa Baby”): To tell the truth, this was the only performance of the night I didn’t tweet about (I didn’t have much interesting to say about it at the time), and I’m kind of guessing where it was in the night’s order. It was…alright, I suppose. Ruby did a nice job on the solo, but it wasn’t Eartha Kitt (or even Madonna). This is a hard song to reinvent (the basic premise is pretty much set in stone…a sultry, tongue-in-cheek entreaty to Santa for really, really expensive things), and if anything, the Collective, while talented, is still a bit unfocused as a group to really do so. It was good, but nothing to write home about…that said, the group still has tons of potential, and once they start fulfilling it to the utmost, they will soar.
  • Vocal Point & Nick Lachey (“Let It Snow”): So, so outstanding. THIS is how a collegiate male a cappella group does it. It was all so smooth, so entertaining, so effortless and classy. The surprise addition of Nick into the mix was a fun bonus, and there were even some great staging touches, like the snow falling on the stage (probably because I’m a snowaholic, I LOVE when that happens on TV shows/concerts/etc.), and the group making snow angels afterwards. The following tweet (by the way, did you know I’m on Twitter? If not, you definitely do now…) relays my feelings about this gem quite perfectly:
  • Urban Method, Pentatonix, & some clown named Flo Rida (“Good Feeling”): This performance was a tale of two cities musical elements: on one hand, we had some killer harmonies (and deliciously daring reinventions) by Urban Method & Pentatonix, two groups that really should get together more often, because they rocked it here. On the other hand, however, we have the abysmal Flo Rida, who I really haven’t cared for before tonight, and I really didn’t care for tonight either. (I will give him credit, though, he didn’t seem detached from the proceedings like Smokey Robinson did last week…he seemed to actually be performing with the groups and enjoying it, rather than performing and happening to have the groups on stage with him, so that’s a plus.) I might be possessed to shell out money for this on iTunes simply by virtue of the Urban Method/Pentatonix part of the performance alone, but really, Mr. Rida (sorry, just wanted to see how weird it would look if I called him that) added precious little to the performance, other than the fact that this is of course his song.
  • All The Groups (“Happy Christmas [War Is Over]“): (Programming note: I am aware the official title uses “Xmas” instead of “Christmas,” but I HATE the former abbreviation, since it replaces Christ with an X, so I always write the word out properly. Sorry, John and Yoko, but I have to stick to my guns.) And now that I’ve gone entirely off-topic…this was nice. Not perfect by any means…they just HAD to give Michael a solo, and there was 1-800-Too Much Riffing at the end. Still, it was wonderful to see fourteen (fourteen!) groups from all 3 seasons take the stage together. There’s something really special about that, especially for a series-long “Sing-Off” fan such as myself. It reminded me of exactly why I love this show so much…there’s so much talent, and friendship, and good music, that I can never stay away. (Even when I say I’m not going to recap an episode, and then I do. Ahem.)

To close, a farewell tweet from a devoted “Sing-Off” fan, Twitter buddy, and fellow #AiresHater, which expresses a sentiment I share:

It’s been an amazing season. Hopefully there’ll be more to come. For now, thanks once again for reading, for following me and my recaps these past few months, and I hope you’ll stick around.

“The Sing-Off” Season 3 Finale Recap: Eye of the Tiger

After 2 long months of a cappella goodness (and just as much a cappella heartbreak), some great music, some OK music, and some incredibly outstanding music…Season 3 of “The Sing-Off” has finally come to a close, and with tonight’s finale, brought an often uneven, but ultimately rewarding, season to a fitting end. Who took the title? In the off chance that you’re reading this post specifically to find out, I won’t spoil you yet. I will hint right now that I think America made the right choice. Now, on to the beginning of the night’s festivities, where the groups tackled one more last individual performance before pairing up with the judges:

  • Pentatonix (performing “Without You” by Usher feat. David Guetta): On a night where I was rooting for them to win it all (as I have for most of the season, of course), I’d have to say this was one of their weaker efforts. Not because of lack of strength in the arrangement…as always, it was a beautifully daring reinvention of yet another song we all know. Rather, I heard some pretty recurrent pitch problems pop up every time Pentatonix got to a particular reharmonization they made in the chorus (or at least, that’s where I think it was). Every time that chord came up, it didn’t quite click, and the soloist and the rest of the group sounded like they were in two different keys for a brief moment. All that aside…Pentatonix at their worst is just as good as the other two finalist groups at their best (sorry Urban Method, but it’s the truth), and everything else about it was top-notch (the solos, the arrangement, the blend), so I still enjoyed this performance immensely…the uncharacteristic pitch issues just got in the way a bit.
  • Urban Method (performing “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes feat. Adam Levine): Much like Pentatonix’s first outing tonight, I felt this wasn’t up to Urban Method’s usual standard, but I still really liked it. While at the start of the season, Myke’s rapping bugged me (apparently so much that I’ve been spelling his name wrong all season…sorry about that), by this point, I’m totally used to it, and it really works. Given the fact that this song is normally a rap/singing combo, it worked especially well here. The arrangement was nice and inventive, but it seemed a bit too unfocused at a few points, and I heard a few small pitch issues here and there. And when all was said and done, it really didn’t cohere as well as it should have. That said, it was a fine effort by Urban Method, and proof positive why it’s not a bad thing that they made the finals.
  • Dartmouth Aires (performing “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meat Loaf) (featuring AMY WHITCOMB!!!): By now, you probably know exactly what I’m going to say here. (The good news for you Aires fans is that you won’t have to hear me nitpick them any longer, after tonight.) And, well, that’s pretty much what I’m going to say. Michael is just not a good soloist. He has a voice, he can hold the notes, he can belt them out until the cows come home…but it doesn’t move me at all. It’s very Broadway, but not in a good way. It’s all flash and no substance, all shouting and no heart. It’s distinctive, for sure, but for all the wrong reasons. Anyways, enough yapping about how I can’t stand his solo work. Him aside, this performance wasn’t terrible (the background vocals weren’t significantly off, though they were as usual a bit nondescript), and if I’m remembering the original song correctly, the arrangement was a bit of a nice departure from Meat Loaf’s recording. My favorite element, however, had to be the surprise addition of Amy Whitcomb (of Delilah, formerly of Noteworthy, and soon to be a recording sensation if there’s justice in the world), who brought the whole performance up a notch, even if the material given to her (fawning over Michael while singing an 80s rock song) was a bit lackluster. Heck, if they had included a Delilah member in every performance, I might have not hated them as much…

After those three songs, each group got to perform with the judges. Well, sort of…more like two of the judges and our host. (Poor Shawn got left out of the proceedings.) Things were quite excellent here, and the round started off with:

  • Pentatonix (performing “Give Me Just One Night (Una Noche)” with Nick Lachey): Nick may be, by far, one of the weakest and most stilted reality-show hosts out there (Tom Bergeron & Cat Deeley, just to name a few, could emcee circles around him), but I’ll give it to him, he has a great voice, and he really got to show it off here. My only experience with 98 Degrees and their music was years ago, hearing a tiny bit of their Christmas CD on a carpool ride, so I’m pretty sure this was the first song by the group I’ve heard. Pentatonix was on their A-game, Nick looked like he was having a blast getting to sing one of his group’s old songs, Kirstie looked charmingly starstruck (I wonder how many girls would have killed to be in her shoes, singing next to a boy-band icon?), the whole group and Nick played off each other perfectly, and it was, as a whole, tons and tons of fun. But it wasn’t just fun, I might add…it was high-quality music as well. (Take THAT, Aires.)
  • Urban Method (performing “Gonna Get Over You” with Sara Bareilles): As you may recall, Sara Bareilles performed last season with the Backbeats, and I went into super-fan mode and loved it. Sara, and Urban Method, stepped it up with an infectiously delicious take on her new single “Gonna Get Over You” (which I posted about a month or two ago). Sara hit it out of the park, and Urban Method delivered one of their best performances of the season, perfectly capturing the energy of the song, and making it an absolute joy to watch and listen to. The choreography was clever, the arrangement was undeniably solid, and Myke even slipped in a tiny little rapping at the beginning that perfectly in the performance. (Look how far I’ve come since the first time I heard him…) While their first performance was proof why they belonged in the finals, this performance was proof that they’re true contenders. I loved it.
  • Dartmouth Aires (performing “Not The Same” with Ben Folds, & the audience): I’d have to say this is my favorite Aires performance of the season…it only took the absence of Michael’s usual solo work, and the help of the entire audience, for me to finally get behind one of their songs. (I might…shudder…even consider buying this on iTunes. The pull of Ben Folds, it is too strong…) The audience harmony effect was ultra-cool, the background vocals by the Aires were a bit unfocused, but they worked well enough, and I may be in the minority, but I love Ben’s voice. It’s hard to get used to, but it works perfectly for the songs he writes, and he’s a perfect example of how a live performer can be unassuming yet completely energetic and charming. (Take notes, Michael.) I didn’t expect to enjoy this as much as I did, but I thought it was a treat, even with the Aires on stage.

Now, things got group-tastic (excuse me while I go slap myself about the head for inventing such a lame word…) with two performances…one by the ladies of the top 10 groups, and the other by the men. The top 10 groups also got to sing us to commercial, which is always a nice touch, even though I wish I could see most of them perform a full song again. (Sad day for the other 6 groups. All they got was a seat in the audience.)

I’ve had the privilege of being on stage while Amy Whitcomb and a group of unbelievably talented girls (not Delilah, but the ladies of BYU Jazz Voices, a group I was in my freshman year of college) sang the heck out of “(You Make Me Feel Like A) Natural Woman,” so seeing all the “Sing-Off” girls take on the song, with Amy contributing some kick-butt solo work in the second half of the number, brought me back to that thrilling experience. Everyone just rocked here. All the solos were strong and in the character of the song, the harmonies were gorgeous and full of life (that generally tends to happen when you get this many outstanding female vocalists together), and overall, it was terrific, and one of the highlights of the season. “The Sing-Off” needs more female-centric moments like this…here’s hoping they’ll include more than one all-girl group next season?

As for the boys, I must say my gender didn’t quite acquit themselves as well as the ladies did. Their take on “Born To Run” was solid enough, but it was marred by you-know-who (his name starts with an “M” and ends with an “ichael”) getting a large chunk of the lead vocals, the other soloists (aside from Scott) not quite standing out, and a bit too much going on in the arrangement at times. It was fun and full of energy, but coming off of the women’s fiery, darn-near-perfect performance, it couldn’t help but pale in comparison.

Afro-Blue got a deserving turn in the spotlight as well, getting to sing with R&B legend Smokey Robinson. I was thrilled to see them return to sing, and Smokey still has a terrific voice, even after all these years, but…I’d have to say it didn’t quite live up to expectations. Afro-Blue got little more to do than play second-fiddle, and Smokey seemed a bit disconnected from the group…in fact, after the performance, he gave a hug to Nick (rather than the people he just sang with…huh?) and awkwardly walked rather quickly off stage. (From what I remember, Smokey’s duet with Nota in Season 1 was similarly a bit chemistry-free where he was concerned.) I’m sure Afro-Blue had the time of their lives, though (how often do you get to sing with the guy who was one of the stars of the Motown era?), so that was wonderful to see.

After all these performances, it was time for the results to start rolling…and we discovered the 3rd place group ended up being Urban Method. It was a bummer to see them go out before the Aires (and it certainly made the final part of the show a tiny bit more nerve-wracking), but they really have come a long way, so making it to the finals in the first place is its own reward. The group bowed out with a fine rendition of “Coming Home” (delivered through tears at a few points), and off into what’s bound to be a bright future for them.

There were some breaks and montages in between that and the final announcement of the winner. The Aires’ “journey” package was a chore to sit through, and Pentatonix’s reminded me how Scott and Mitch (and maybe Kirstie too?) are NINETEEN YEARS OLD (chances are they’re also younger than me, since my 20th birthday is in less than a week), and therefore blow my mind exponentially. (They didn’t mention that specific fact, but they noted that they’re one of the youngest groups in the competition, which is crazy, and it jogged my memory to a week or two ago when the judges mentioned their young age.)

And after all that…plus an ungodly long pause by Nick (if anything, he knows how to draw things out…though I’m pretty sure they cover that in Reality Show Hosting 101)…we discovered the winners of Season 3 are…PENTATONIX! It’s the right result, and the group was clearly moved and thrilled to take the crown. $200,000 and a recording contract will really mean a lot to them, and I absolutely can’t wait to hear their CD. It was a great moment (made even better by the fact that the Aires’ swan song was relegated to an online clip), and a perfect end to a crazy season. Pentatonix really earned it, and I’m happy to see America agreed. They sang us out with “Eye of the Tiger,” and unfortunately got cut off by the dastardly credits, but…

We get to see them next week! Plus a bunch of great groups from all 3 seasons. (And, knowing the producers, some maddening ones as well.) “The Sing-Off” will have one last hurrah for the year with a Christmas special next Monday, and I’m quite excited to see that. I probably won’t be recapping that (after all, no one will be competing), but I’ll be watching it, that’s for sure, and loving it. It’s been an absolute blast recapping “The Sing-Off” this season, even with it being twice the length, and thus twice the posting. It’s been great to see a lot of reader interest over the past two months, and although I know most of you are here just because of the show, I hope you’ll stay around a while and follow my other posts as well. I’ll do my best to keep them coming, and not having as much of a lull as I’ve often had in the past. Thanks for reading, for commenting, and for visiting! It’s been a wonderful season. See you soon with more posts. :)

Holiday Song of the Day: “Love Is Christmas”

Lest you forget that I actually make posts on this blog that actually aren’t about that one “Sing-Off” show, here’s a quick Song of the Day to kick off the Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah/whatever holiday you choose to celebrate season. Last year I kept Harmony Avenue’s Christmas festivities kind of low-key, but this year I plan to make them a bit more, y’know, festive. If you’re left cold (ba dum cha…) by the holidays, no worries, as I’ll be continuing some general posting throughout this lovely month of December. Now, to an absolutely stunning song that, coincidentally enough, is a bit “Sing-Off” related now that you mention it (the artist is of course a judge on the program)…

“Love Is Christmas” by Sara Bareilles!

Sara delivers a truly heartfelt, warm message of hope and love with this song, and it’s uplifting and tender without being too sweet or cliched. Backed primarily by just her own piano, she sings beautifully about the true meaning of Christmas, and the peace that we can find with those we love, during the holidays, and really, anytime in the year. It’s a sentiment that’s been expressed in countless Christmas tunes, but Sara finds a gorgeous, genuine new spin on it here. It’s the kind of Christmas song that will make you want to cry without you even realizing. It’s the kind of Christmas song that you don’t feel guilty for playing over and over and over again. And best of all, it’s the kind of Christmas song that’s truly timeless.

Coming up on the blog, since I haven’t done a to-do list in a while, and it will keep me honest at any rate:

  • A few Christmas-themed Cover Stories. Think you’ve heard all there is to hear when it comes to your favorite (and least favorite) carols and chestnuts? I’ll be posting some top-notch versions of Christmas classics.
  • An explanation of why it’s not Christmas for me without Johnny Mathis, and more personal Christmas music thoughts, memories, etc., via a Sketches post.
  • An Artist Spotlight or two (it’s not Harmony Avenue without them, really)
  • Two album reviews! One of the Christmas variety, and one of…not the Christmas variety. :)
  • And of course, “The Sing-Off.” (Go Pentatonix!)

Thanks for reading (and thanks to the amazing a cappella blogger Warren Bloom for posting a link to my last “Sing-Off” recap on his Facebook page!), and see you on Monday with a finale recap!

“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 9 Recap: Every Little Step

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.

“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 8 Recap: Dream On

I’m not happy right now. Well, actually I am overall, because of this delightful piece of news here in my home state of Arizona. (Sorry to get all political on y’all for a fleeting second, but I couldn’t resist celebrating.) But about “The Sing-Off”…hmmm. Not so much. The result Monday night was a miscarriage of musical justice in my book, and it just seemed so wrong. So. Dang. WRONG.

Before we get to my airing out of grievances (which will most certainly involve the You-Know-Which group with “air” in their name), things started off kind of disappointingly with the opening number, “Wake Up.” If you would have told me beforehand that it would be an Arcade Fire song, I would have danced for joy and gladness. Arcade Fire and a cappella music? I never would have thought the twain should meet. However, unlike every other opening number this season, all of which have exceeded my expectations, this one just fell flat. It was kind of a combination of factors…the fact that the Dartmouth Aires started it off and I couldn’t quite tell what song it was at first; the truncated arrangement that excised one of my favorite parts of the song (the end where it switches from the well-known guitar riff to a shuffling, almost swinging bounce); the sad truth that even with all those tremendously talented vocalists on the stage, none of them really seemed to connect with the song whatsoever, instead choosing to riff all over the place in search of an emotion, but never finding one. OK, that was a bit harsh…but really, I expected more out of this, and I really didn’t get it. Feel free to keep trying, though, “Sing-Off” producers. (How about “No Cars Go”? It’s pretty much impossible to get THAT song wrong. And I’d kill to hear it in an a cappella setting.) Wow, I don’t think I’ve ever gone to town this much on a group number. And I’m afraid you’ll have to buckle your seatbelts, readers. There’s much more “going to town” where that came from. First off, the rock round…

  • Pentatonix (performing “Born To Be Wild” by Steppenwolf): Week after week, song after song, Pentatonix just keeps delivering electrifying performances and wonderfully daring arrangements. They constantly change it up, and it should have gotten old by now…but for me, at least, it most certainly hasn’t. There isn’t much this group has done, or can do wrong. This was a smart, edgy take on Steppenwolf’s classic, and it (like many of Pentatonix’s performances in the past) struck a nice balance between making the song completely their own, but making sure they didn’t take it too far from its roots in the process. And Kirstie (yay! a name I remember!) absolutely slayed her vocals, after being sick the whole week to boot. To me as a viewer, Pentatonix is unstoppable right now.
  • Dartmouth Aires (performing “We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister): The Aires chose an astute song title, because it described my feelings about their performance…and if we’re being honest, their continued presence in the competition…very accurately. I’m not gonna take it. I’M NOT GONNA TAKE IT ANYMORE. (Sorry for the yelling…but I do need those moments to let it out once in a while.) I will say that Michael’s lead vocal actually kind of worked for me. It fit the song well, which is a change from past weeks. They also had no significant pitch problems. And that’s all I can find to say that was positive. The second lead vocalist was trying way too hard to sound like a stereotypical “rock vocalist,” and failed miserably in the process. The arrangement was unimaginative and at times a bit frantic (a quality that’s been haunting the Aires’ performances all season). And why, exactly, are the judges raving so much about their energy and stage gimmicks, when let’s see, this is a competition for a RECORDING contract? They may be ‘fun’ and goofy and have a lot of tricks up their sleeve while on “The Sing-Off”…but all I can see a Dartmouth Aires CD being is just another cookie-cutter collegiate a cappella record. There is nothing special they have to offer in their sound, their soloists are wildly hit-and-miss, their performances are consistently mediocre, and I have run out of explanations as to why the judges are keeping them around (and what’s more, have kept them out of the Bottom 2 every week of the season to date). It’s frustrating.
  • Afro-Blue (performing “American Girl” by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers): Once again the judges harped on Afro-Blue’s arrangement this week, but Ben offered a very, very wise piece of critique that really opened my eyes to what he, Sara, and Shawn have been trying to hit at with their “too ambitious”/”too complex” comments. He said something to the effect that intricate harmonies are fine…but it’s best to have them presented in a way that makes the listener forget that they’re complicated. Now, Ben and I disagree in how effective Afro-Blue has been at doing this…I’ve never really had concerns with the level of difficulty in their arrangements, and the complexity they display has always enhanced, rather than detracted from, the performances for me, but reminding Afro-Blue about that delicate balance between invention and accessibility was an important point to make, and I applaud him for it. And now that I’ve spent quite a few sentences not talking about the performance…I thought it was great, displaying a different side of Afro-Blue than we’ve really seen (they hewed much closer to the original song, and it was a different vibe that was intriguing to see at work), and although I kind of have to agree with the judges that the detour into the National Anthem was a bit strange, I felt this performance really worked. It was one of Afro-Blue’s lower-key outings, but that didn’t diminish how good it was, at least for me.
  • Delilah (performing “Dream On” by Aerosmith): Just the sheer fact that Amy can hit those crazy-high notes never ceases to amaze me, but beyond the novelty factor of hearing her sing into the stratosphere, I thought this performance was very, very solid. With any other group, we’d have a strong lead vocalist try to live up to Steven Tyler’s iconic original vocal, and then some underwhelming harmonies firmly in the background, most likely. What Delilah gave us was a powerhouse lead vocalist that matched Steven’s firepower, AND some equally powerful surrounding vocals to boot. It really felt like the whole group collectively stepped up to the plate. I do agree a bit with the judges that the build of the arrangement was just a tiny bit off at one or two points, but overall, I was thoroughly impressed by Delilah’s take on Aerosmith.
  • Urban Method (performing “Here I Go Again” by Whitesnake): The girls certainly came out of their shell this week (Sara’s comment that it was like she was seeing Katie come alive on stage was astute…she burst out of the gate with a gale-force vocal in the opening number, and she certainly showed her pipes here as well), but aside from that, this performance was kind of…unmemorable, in a way. Adding rapping to the formula actually was a pretty shrewd decision this time around, I thought (it worked pretty well in the context of the song…I don’t think I would have been able to tell it wasn’t originally in the song had this not been Rock Night, and if I hadn’t heard the song before), but the harmonies were just…there. The arrangement didn’t have much punch musically, and although the ladies were confident and strong, it wasn’t enough to make this performance really stand out. It was alright, but it didn’t grab me like it should have.
  • Vocal Point (performing “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks): It’s time to clutch your pearls and perhaps make an extremely cheesy gasp or two, but…I didn’t like this performance. I wanted to love it, I wanted to be blown away by it, but…I just couldn’t get into it. It didn’t work for me. Now, you know I’m a big Vocal Point fan. Mainly because they’re my fellow Cougars (that would be our school mascot, not an indication that we’re all middle-aged women looking for young boys to romance), but also because they’ve displayed a winning combination of infectious energy and top-notch musicianship thus far this season. This performance, however, felt like a combination of all the weaknesses that have been nagging me for a while about Vocal Point, and it seemed to fall flat. First case in point…although I’ve enjoyed pretty much every song by them so far…I have a confession to make. Out of all my favorite groups, Vocal Point remains the only one I haven’t bought a “Sing-Off” performance by from iTunes. They just never strike me as something I’d like to hear all the time on my iPod. This goes back to their sound…at times, there’s something just a little off with it. It’s not quite distinctive enough, and it feels a bit tinny. That came out in full force tonight, and the arrangement certainly did them no favors. It also really brought out their tendency to be a bit corny…and that came to a head with Ross, the lead vocalist. He sounded distractingly affected, his pitch was all over the place (and not in a cool “I’m a rock star and I don’t give a dang” way, more like in a “I’m trying to be a rock star and I still don’t give a dang, but I don’t sound good enough for you to not notice that” way), and it just felt like a boy playing dress-up, rather than a convincing lead vocalist on a rock-themed number. Not many things about this performance struck me as particularly effective, and although I’m very disappointed, with the small concerns that have been building between me and Vocal Point since the season began, I can’t say I’m surprised.

Whoa. I told you there’d be much nitpicking. And there’s more to come…here’s the country round (in which I wanted to mute Nick SO MANY TIMES for repeating a bunch of unbelievably stale country stereotypes, and being generally ridiculous overall):

  • Dartmouth Aires (performing “Save A Horse, Ride A Cowboy” by Big & Rich): Hate to continue the criticism-fest, but sorry…this was yet another performance I was unimpressed by this week. I’ve never been a huge fan of this song, so the Aires were already in hot water there. In addition to that…while Michael was actually pretty good on the first number, he absolutely bombed on this number (he is NOT a good country vocalist, that’s for sure), and took his co-lead vocalist, who was wandering around in his lower register with nary a correct pitch to be found, with him. Add to that the in-and-out background vocals and the distracting stage gimmicks and idiotic choreography, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for a disaster. I’ll be quite frank with you…this performance actually moved me to audibly say the following words afterwards in response: “That was stupid.” Harsh, I know, but that’s what my immediate reaction was. And yet these fools live to see another week.
  • Afro-Blue (performing “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum): Best of the night. I’ll say it right now, and you’ll probably disagree with me, but nowhere else on Monday night did you see this kind of stunning combination of outstanding musical skill, and absolutely devastating emotional impact. The arrangement was certainly daring…some of those reharmonizations they were undertaking were incredibly close to falling apart…but that inventiveness really added a riveting dynamic to the performance. The two leads (great move to keep the guy-girl duet structure of the original) were committed and flawless. You could tell the entire group was just completely tuned in to the song, and it resulted in a truly special listening experience. It allowed the listener to get lost in the music…in the most wonderful way. It’s performances like these that are why I truly love Afro-Blue, y’all. This is why.
  • Urban Method (performing “Before He Cheats” by Carrie Underwood): If Katie (hope I’m getting her name right, btw) stood out in the opening number and in Urban Method’s first performance, she shot out like a cannon here. That girl can SANG. (And she’s only 19?!?!?!? Lord have mercy, that boggles my mind. I’m 19 myself, and I could never belt out goodness like that.) Katie’s undeniably fiery vocals, and her two fellow ladies’ superb backup aside…the whole arrangement didn’t quite come together for me. It felt like there was one element in the powerhouse girl trio, and then another element in the background vocals, and neither of those elements felt truly, consistently united during the performance. Katie may have been a great lead, but the way the arrangement was structured, the background harmonies from the guys didn’t really stand out or adequately back her and the girls up. A cappella groups cannot live on strength of their leads alone, but they can coast. And what Urban Method did here felt a heck of a lot more like coasting than delivering the kind of all-around terrific performance I know they have in them.
  • Delilah (performing “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry): You may have noticed in my “Sing-Off” recaps that I’m kind of a stickler for pitch. I tend to notice, and often get distracted, by performances with intermittent pitch problems. Which is why you’ll be surprised to hear that I thought Delilah actually stayed on pitch here. I do see where the judges were coming from in that the arrangement took a tiny bit to gel around Ingrid’s gorgeous lead (for a girl who amusingly thinks “country music is depressing”…well, I suppose when you end up choosing a song about dying young, you kinda have a point…she certainly can hold her own and then some while singing in said genre), but I really didn’t catch any significant note issues. What I did catch, however, was the beautiful emotional punch this performance packed, and the lovely build it had, something that time and time again Delilah has displayed its mastery of. I loved it, without reservation.
  • Vocal Point (performing “Life Is A Highway” by Tom Cochrane): (Nick said it was by Rascal Flatts, but while I have a special place in my heart for the Flatts’ music, they most certainly aren’t the original artists. Do your research, Nick Nick’s writers!) This once again hurts me to say…this performance didn’t quite work for me. (Two Vocal Point performances in one night, and I enjoyed neither of them? I feel dirty.) The lead vocalists, much like the first performance, sounded a bit too affected, like they were trying to be country singers rather than sounding natural within the context of the song. The background arrangement felt a bit off to me…I think the cutesy banjo/steel guitar-like effects they were using was detracting from the overall tone of the group, bringing it that tinny quality I mentioned earlier. And the whole cowboy hoedown theme? Eh. It wasn’t original, and although the group was as usual full of energy, for some reason the performance came off as stale. I really hope that Vocal Point blows me away next week, because if they keep up at this rate, things are not looking good.
  • Pentatonix (performing “Stuck Like Glue” by Sugarland): Here’s what I said out loud at the beginning of the performance: “Oh NO, they picked THAT song?!?!?” Here’s what I said at the end: “That was brilliant.” Leave it to Pentatonix to turn a song that bugs the living daylights out of me into 2 minutes of pure a cappella triumph. Kirstie nailed the lead vocals…not that Jennifer Nettles isn’t crazy talented and charming and everything, but her twang in this song is so dang annoying, and Kirstie’s smooth, assured take on it was much easier on the ears, without losing the infectious lightness that gives the song an underlying appeal and sense of fun. Scott also rocked the reggae section, and it really helped take the performance up a notch. (Once again, a marked improvement on Jennifer, who is great, but cannot sing-rap in a reggae style convincingly to save her life.) All in all, an outstanding, inventive, great way to end an up-and-down show.
  • Well, at least until the elimination happened. And here’s where I get even more frustrated, angry, sad, insert your own negative emotion here. The judges sent Delilah home. In 6th place. I still can’t quite process it. Seeing the girls deliver a terrific swan song performance of “Survivor,” it just didn’t look right at all. How can Sara, Shawn, and Ben justify sending a group this talented and unique home at this point in the competition? And to top it all off, who was in the Bottom 2 with Delilah? Not the Dartmouth Aires. Not Urban Method. Not even Vocal Point (who I don’t want to go home yet, that’s for sure, but definitely could have used a brush with elimination as a kick in the pants). Those increasingly frustrating judges put AFRO-BLUE in danger of going home. I just don’t get it. At what stage of the game have either of these groups truly showed that they weren’t cutting it? I know it’s late in the competition and I know the eliminations are going to continue to sting, that talented groups are going to go to home no matter where you turn for the most part…but this is not right. The judges, without question, made the wrong decision this week.

OK, time to breathe. I was a little mean this week, but honestly, quite a lot of things about Monday night didn’t sit well with me. It was a bit of a low point in this “Sing-Off” season, and while I enjoyed this episode as a whole (you really can’t go wrong with this show…now if only a few more million viewers would feel the same way, and show NBC some love), I can’t say it was one of my favorites. (And I’m a country boy at heart, too. Bummer.) Things will be brighter next week, though. And there’s still a few more weeks for the Aires to get eliminated for the finale. And Delilah, I love you. That is all. See you later this week with non-”Sing-Off” posting, and thanks, as always, for reading.

ETA: Oops, forgot the customary poll. Here it is, in all its glory:

“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 7 Recap: Can’t Help Falling In Love

It was Halloween tonight on “The Sing-Off,” and this particular group of superstar medleys was a real treat. (The previous line was brought to you by Nick Lachey’s writers. Not really, but it could have been. :) ) Really, though, there was a lot to love in this week’s episode (even the conclusion, which brought an elimination I’ve been awaiting for weeks now), and although I was a bit distracted tonight having to help hand out candy to trick-or-treaters at a few points, I still really enjoyed it. (I also enjoyed watching “Rock Center with Brian Williams” afterwards. I used to watch “Dateline” with my parents as a kid, and this was kind of a nice progression from that…a great mix of news and a little entertainment. Plus I love Brian Williams. Also, I promise NBC is not paying me to write this. I just like random things, such as newly launched newsmagazine programs.) The Halloween-themed opening group performance was very interesting. I wasn’t big on the first two songs (Danny Elfman is one of my heroes, but I’ve vowed never to see “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and to be honest I’ve never heard of “Werewolves of London” before now…to top it all off, there wasn’t much great singing to be had in those first two parts of the number), but I LOVED the “Ghostbusters” portion. Which is highly ironic, since I actually hate that movie, and I’ve never been a big fan of the song, to be honest. I’ve never loved it as much as I did tonight, which is once again a testament to the power of a cappella, and great harmonies. After all that, the night started off with…

  • Urban Method (performing a Rihanna medley of “What’s My Name,” “Umbrella,” & “Only Girl (In The World)”): Urban Method’s momentum has seemed to be slowing down a bit these past weeks, and tonight was no exception, I’m sad to say. It took a bit too long for their Rihanna medley to take flight…the girls once again seemed to be holding back, and the arrangement was OK, but lacked a bit of spark and originality. Their take on “Only Girl (In The World)” was a step up, though, and it ended the medley on a high note for sure. The soloist in that part, however, didn’t let out the more poppy side of her voice enough, I thought, so it wasn’t a complete slam dunk. I like Urban Method, and they’re bringing something different to this competition…but their past two performances just haven’t completely cut it, and at this stage in the game, that’s not a terrific omen.
  • Vocal Point (performing an Elvis medley of “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” & “Jailhouse Rock”): I have to admit I’ve never been the biggest Elvis fan, but Vocal Point just may have changed my mind tonight. (OK, not really. But they came pretty close.) Rebounding from last week’s emotionally gripping but pitch-imperfect outing, they brought tons and tons of energy (as always) to the stage, and the result was business as usual for Vocal Point…pure fun to watch. If I were to pick on anything in their performance, it would probably be the first two soloists. They were good, but I found at many instances that their tone seemed a bit too ‘square,’ in many ways…like not quite dynamic enough for this kind of flashy a cappella setting, if that makes any sense. (The last lead, however, blew it out of the water in my book. He nailed the energy and classic quality of “Jailhouse Rock” without veering into Elvis imitation.) It was a great job by Vocal Point tonight, and I continue to be very happy that they’re still in the competition. (Go Cougars!)
  • Afro-Blue (performing a Janet Jackson medley of “What Have You Done For Me Lately,” “When I Think of You,” & “Miss You Much”): “Too ambitious.” That’s the phrase that seems to be haunting Afro-Blue throughout this season, by way of the judges’ table. The lovely trio of Sara, Shawn, and Ben seem to love Afro-Blue, there’s no question about that…but they seem to keep harping on the complex quality of the group’s arrangements, and that kind of bugs me. I will admit that the performance came dangerously close to flying off the rails at one or two points (particularly in the transitions), due to how much was going on harmonically…but the end result is that it didn’t. It still worked. Fabulously. I’ve never really heard any of these three songs before (Janet Jackson’s oeuvre has largely escaped my ears, except for the inexplicably catchy chorus of “Feedback”), but I heard them in an amazing way tonight. The arrangement was dynamic and brilliant and so gloriously inventive, the staging was classy and energetic (how is it that they can be throwing out these kinds of crazy chords AND still be paying attention to their excellent choreography at the same time?), and once again, I was in love. Afro-Blue can sing all kinds of intricate harmonies, and I’ll enjoy it every time. I just wish the judges would feel the same way.
  • Dartmouth Aires (performing a Queen medley of “Killer Queen,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” & “Somebody To Love”): File the Dartmouth Aires also under the category of “group I wish the judges would feel the same way I do about.” After they pleasantly surprised me last week by delivering a performance that I actually didn’t hate, and after realizing that they were starting off with the impossible-to-dislike “Killer Queen,” I was trying to take a positive approach to the fact that one of my least favorite groups in the competition was taking on one of my favorite bands of all time. That positive approach didn’t last long, I’d have to say. The whole thing just didn’t work. It was energetic and flashy (as the Aires are wont to be), but there was no substance behind all that spectacle, which is pretty much how the group has gone through the show so far. The soloists were not cutting it (especially the last one, who took a pick-axe to the greatness that is “Somebody To Love” with his distractingly wonky falsetto). The arrangements were by-the-numbers. Their pitch and blend was hit-and-miss. It really failed to come together in my book. It’s not that Queen’s work can’t be covered well (even though Freddie Mercury is pretty much an incomparable vocalist), because it can and it has, but it certainly wasn’t here. And after all that, the judges gave the Aires unanimous, glowing praise, which I simply cannot get. I’ve been in agreement with them since Day One on pretty much everything else…so why is there such a disconnect between their love for the Dartmouth Aires, and my own opinions about them as a viewer?
  • Pentatonix (performing a Britney Spears medley of “Oops… I Did It Again,” “Toxic,” & “Hold It Against Me”): This was probably the portion of the night that I was most distracted during (I had to run to the door to hand out candy, my grandma called, AND during the judges’ critiques, one of our dogs ran out the door and I had to go catch her really quick), but that didn’t stop me from once again getting a big kick out of it. I’ll have to re-listen to it more carefully once I buy it from iTunes get the chance (OK, I’m so buying it from iTunes, let’s put that out there right now), but what I heard was gold. It’s not easy to translate electronically-driven music like Britney’s to an a cappella setting (does anybody even know what her real voice sounds like? Can she even actually sing? IS ANY OF THIS REAL?!?!? Sorry, got a little carried away there), but if any group was the right one to do so, it would be Pentatonix. Their creativity knows no bounds, and their female member (sorry I’m so bad with not knowing names…this is what happens when you’re an amateur blogger and all that) was a great choice to anchor much of the medley, delivering some powerful, assured vocals. For me, Pentatonix continues to be one of this competition’s front-runners, and I remain incredibly excited to see what they’ll do next.
  • Delilah (performing an Alicia Keys medley of “Fallin’,”A Woman’s Worth,” & “If I Ain’t Got You”): Yet another performance I wasn’t able to devote quite my full attention to, but I still was wowed by nonetheless. That opening of “Fallin’”…where they had just the soloist singing by herself…was AMAZING. She owned that song, y’all. Like the judges noted, the sensibility of Alicia Keys was a perfect fit for the female-driven soulfulness of Delilah, and it spotlighted many of the group’s good qualities in a cool way. When “A Woman’s Worth,” which they did a great job on, was actually a low point of the performance compared to the other portions, you know you’ve got something terrific. Plus powerhouse vocalist Amy got her chance to shine once again, tearing it up on “If I Ain’t Got You.” Delilah is back on the rise, and I’m happy to see that being the case.
  • Yellowjackets (performing a Billy Joel medley of “The River of Dreams,” “She’s Always A Woman,” & “Uptown Girl”): When you say things in your rehearsal package like “we’re NOT going home,” sometimes you get in trouble. This was one of those situations. Not a lot about this performance worked very well at all. Aaron was simply not a strong soloist…his tone was incredibly off, and his pitch wavered at quite a few points. The arrangement wasn’t all that and a bag of chips (it was a little too straightforward to make it stand out), and during “Uptown Girl,” I was seriously struggling to find the group’s tonal center. That pitch was swimming all over the place, and very rarely to the right places. All in all, it was not the Yellowjackets’ best night by any means.
  • Before we said goodbye to one of tonight’s 7 groups, we had a stellar guest performance by Committed, last season’s top-notch champions. (By the way, how weird was it that the show had them sit in one of the opera boxes, like they were competing on the show again? It was kind of like someone going back to high school, then having to sit in their old desk.) Chris Brown’s music would be far from my first choice for a medley, but Committed sold it beautifully with their trademark intricate harmonies, and fine stage presence. It was great to see them back again (I was afraid all we’d get of them this season was the short appearance they had a month or so ago), and a reminder that this show really gets it right with the talent it chooses.
  • Now back to the matter at hand…tonight’s elimination. And here is where I rejoiced, because…the Yellowjackets were FINALLY sent home. I called it beforehand that them and Urban Method would be the bottom two, and I was afraid that the judges would send the latter home, but I had a small feeling that they’d stay around simply by virtue of their unique concept. I was correct, and thus one of my least favorite groups was cut from the show…but not before they delivered probably one of my favorite swan songs in “Sing-Off” history. When they started off their take on “Tubthumping” (AKA that song that repeats “I get knocked down” over and over and everyone recognizes, but absolutely no one knows the name or artist of), I thought it was some weird, strange ballad of sadness or something. I was very surprised to hear them break into the familiar chorus, and it all went WAY uphill from there. They dropped in references to the judges…the show…heck, even the network “The Sing-Off” airs on…and had an absolute blast doing it. It was classy and tons of fun to watch, and a terrific impression to leave viewers with as they departed. I may have never been a fan (whatsoever) of the Yellowjackets, but they left on the highest of notes. I likely won’t be seeking them out much further, but I have to give them props for making a classy exit.

Next week, the groups take on two numbers…a country song, and a rock song. (That’s certainly an interesting combo, but then again, this is the show that brought us Radio Hits/60s Classics Week.) We’re down to the wire, with 6 groups and less than a month remaining, so things should get even more intense. For now, the customary poll, the also customary thanks for reading, a reminder that the deadline for commenting to enter to win the iTunes gift card giveaway is WEDNESDAY (there’s only two entries right now! Don’t miss your chance to win!), and as always…I’ll see you later with more new posts.

“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 6 Recap: Just A Dream

I never would have expected it (OK, maybe a little, because I’ve learned from 3 seasons of “The Sing-Off” that my expectations are often shattered), but even though tonight spotlighted by far one of my least favorite musical genres…hip-hop…I think it might have been one of the best nights of the season so far. All the groups brought their A-game once again, a group that’s been struggling the past few weeks had a major comeback, and I liked hip-hop much more than I ever have (and let’s face it, probably ever will) in my life. I call that a win. Things started off with a surprisingly rousing performance of “Nothin’ On You” (how did they get that song to sound so good?), and then we kicked it off with…

  • Dartmouth Aires (performing “Club Can’t Handle Me” by Flo Rida): Prepare for the apocalypse, y’all. Because while I still would be very, very glad if the Dartmouth Aires left the competition for good…judges, please grant my wish next week?…I actually kind of liked the Aires’ performance tonight, and (gasp) I thought they did well. Yep. (I can’t believe it either.) Their soloists were a bit weak, but did alright for the song, and their background harmonies, which have been lacking in the past, were much better this week. The arrangement was very smart…it brought some dynamics to the Aires’ typically static sound, it shifted the focus well away from their persistent low-end issues, and there were some pretty cool harmonic moments. I did think their rapper was a bit stiff and awkward (it was a very “white boy” rap, I thought), but that didn’t send the performance too far down in flames. All in all, I have to admit…this wasn’t a performance worthy of elimination. I’m still not a fan of the Aires, and with all their missteps the past 5 weeks, I don’t think I’ll ever be. But like the Yellowjackets last week (more on them later), this bought them some time in my book.
  • Afro-Blue (performing “Killing Me Softly” by the Fugees): (Afro-Blue made it pretty clear in their rehearsal package that it was also very much inspired by Roberta Flack’s iconic original.) I’m getting to be a broken record by now (hey, at least I wasn’t a broken record this week with the Dartmouth Aires…), but…wow. This was phenomenal. The soloist was so smooth…the arrangement was so clever and inventive…the harmonies were so tight…it was full of surprises, full of flavor, full of originality…simply put, as has been the case with all of Afro-Blue’s previous perfomances, I LOVED it. They ticked all of the boxes and then some, and showcased that they’re really a group to beat in this competition. They haven’t had a significant pitfall yet, and if they can keep this up, “The Sing-Off” Season 3 is their game to lose. I just can’t enough of them, and that’s a great sign at this stage of the season.
  • The Collective (performing “Give Me Everything” by Pitbull feat. Ne-Yo): The arrangement was a nice one, their blend continues to improve, and there were no crazy pitch issues out of thin air as was the case last week…but there was something slightly off with this performance, and I think I know what it was. The Collective has really unified as a group over the past weeks, but that unification has exposed a problem for me–that their sound isn’t all that distinctive. Their intonation just seems wonky…and while their singing has heart, there’s no overall warmth to their group vocal tone. (I hope I’m making just a tiny bit of sense.) I want to love them, and I applaud the steps they’re taking forward in their journey as an ensemble, but I can’t see myself buying a Collective CD at this point. There’s no hook in their sound, and there needs to be if they truly want to be contenders in the a cappella world. They did a nice job with this song, and I enjoyed their performance, but it just didn’t grab me like it should have.
  • Vocal Point (performing “I’ll Be Missing You” by Puff Daddy feat. Faith Evans & 112): I was in complete agreement with the judges here (it’s quite nice when that happens). This was an incredibly moving performance, and, well, for the first time this season, Vocal Point had some pitch issues. It happens sometimes. Like Ben, Sara, and Shawn, I thought the way the boys of Vocal Point nailed this song emotionally trumped any problems they might have had with notes, and I felt that whatever weaknesses they might have displayed didn’t get in the way of the effectiveness of the performance. The arrangement was beautiful, and Vocal Point gave their all. You can’t ask for much more in this situation, really.
  • The judges sent The Collective to the first-ever “The Sing-Off” Sing-Off Battle (try saying that five times fast…), to fight for their life in the competition at the end of the show, and I think it was the right choice, even though I was very much hoping the Dartmouth Aires would get a surprise ticket to the Bottom Two. (A zebra can’t change its stripes, y’know. :)) I think the Sing-Off Battle concept is a very intriguing idea, and unlike past reality shows that have struggled with the concept (“Dancing With The Stars” tried it out to mixed results in their 8th and 9th seasons), it really works for this show, at least at this point in the competition. It gives groups that disappointed in their main performance another chance to prove why they still deserve to move forward, and with this many talented ensembles and this much pressure, that can only be a good thing. (Unless…oh, more on that later.)
  • Urban Method (performing “Airplanes” by B.o.B. feat. Hayley Williams): I have to say I’m glad Urban Method switched to this song, given the fact that I had not heard of the first one they picked whatsoever. Hip-hop week is definitely in Urban Method’s wheelhouse, and their rehearsal footage hit home very hard the realization that they needed to shine in this genre, seeing as it’s their musical home. For the most part, I think they did…this song translates well to the a cappella setting, and Urban Method put together a really cool arrangement. (The cricket sounds and the ticking percussion were impressive touches that really helped the performance stand out.) I do agree with Sara and Shawn, though, that the two female soloists just weren’t strong enough. Hayley Williams sells that song, and these soloists, I thought, approached the vocal just a little bit too gingerly. Ben also made an astute point that the background vocals were kind of in the same range as the solo at some points, too, which made the harmonies sound a bit empty at a few parts. This was a nice job by Urban Method, and they certainly proved they can still cut it in their own home genre, but I’m not sure I completely loved it.
  • Pentatonix (performing “Love Lockdown” by Kanye West): This is probably one of my favorite Kanye songs (and by “favorite Kanye song” I mean “song I don’t completely hate,” not “song I actually have on my iPod” or anything of the sort), and Pentatonix absolutely NAILED it. The arrangement was spectacular and did an outstanding job of creating a breathtaking atmosphere, and balancing the original song with Pentatonix’s own unique spin. Scott, whose lead vocals I’ve been occasionally ambivalent on in the past, delivered a top-notch, passionate solo. And like the judges noted, every member of the group shined…all the parts came together just perfectly. Like I said last week, Pentatonix just keeps getting better with each performance. Their formula is stellar, and I can totally see them doing a great job with a recording career. I started off the season with mixed feelings about them, but at this point, it’s official…I’m a huge fan.
  • Delilah (performing “How To Love” by Lil Wayne): Now this is the Delilah we know and love. After floundering last week with “Flashdance” (and, if we’re being honest, two weeks ago with their take on “You Can’t Hurry Love” just kidding, it was “Heatwave”…thanks, B_O_o, for pointing that out!), the girls of Delilah really delivered tonight. The passion was there, the notes were there, the solo was strong…by the end of the performance, I had goosebumps. The harmonies were beautiful, and the group brought a new depth to a song by Lil Wayne, of all people. (They also did it largely without vocal percussion, which is impressive, and a daring choice to make on hip-hop week. The usual vocal percussionist took on one of the solos, and she did a fine job, I thought.) Delilah showed a great deal of heart and soul tonight, but what’s more, they displayed the musical chops to back it up. It was a great return to form for them, and I’m very happy to see that they’re back on track.
  • The Yellowjackets (performing “The Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco): It’s hard to hate a group that spent most of their intro package talking about their work with adorable kids in need in Kenya…and for that matter, I definitely don’t hate them. However, unlike last week, where I liked their performance and found it great fun…this week, it was back to mediocrity for the Yellowjackets, in my eyes. They seemed to be stuck at one volume (which is weird, as they usually do well with dynamics, I’d have to say), their intonation wasn’t quite up to scratch, and they definitely had some major rushing issues. It was alright, but it wasn’t anywhere near great. I don’t see the Yellowjackets lasting much longer if they keep things at this level. They have to be better.
  • And thus the judges granted my wish, and the Yellowjackets landed in the Bottom 2 and were sent directly to the Sing-Off Battle. Both groups took on Nelly’s “Just A Dream,” and…dang it. I have to admit it. The Collective kinda choked, and the Yellowjackets were better. I can’t lie. The former group seemed off in pitch from the beginning, and it took until about halfway through for their performance to click. The latter group, meanwhile, had some nice harmonic touches, and displayed a bit of improvement in their blend. The Yellowjackets brought it when they needed to, and unfortunately, the Collective just didn’t. It’s a shame to see them go (especially when I was so close to seeing one of my least favorite groups get the boot), and their swan song was one of the best of the season (I’d buy that version of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” in a heartbeat), but hopefully they have good things ahead of them.

And then there were 7. Next week (at least according to the promos and Nick’s closing spiel) is some sort of superstar medley/Halloween-type hybrid, so that will be very interesting to see. (I might have to once again catch it on Hulu, since it’s Halloween and all, and there won’t be much time for evening TV between the festivities that are likely to take place.) Make sure to enter the Anniversary Week giveaway (all you have to do is comment!), and many thanks for reading. As always…a handy, dandy poll:

“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 3 Recap: Never Say Never

Sorry this came a bit later this week than the past two…I had a family event going on last night, and thus I missed watching the show live. Thanks to the folks at Hulu, I was able to catch up on it both before and after work today. (There were of course a lot of ads, but eh, that comes with the territory.) Things started off strong last night with an incredible opening group performance of “Somewhere Only We Know” (by the severely underrated Keane). The group performances they have every week are always pretty stellar (how can you lose with a bunch of talented singers and some pretty nice song choices?), but this one, I think, may have been one of the best I’ve ever seen on the show. Every single soloist sounded terrific (the song really brought out their good qualities), the arrangement built in a very stunning way, and the harmonies were just…mmmm. So good. It’s a beautiful, emotional song, and the 6 groups (in unison) really brought those aspects of it out in such a terrific way. It showed them all off outstandingly, and I just loved it. Now, to the main part of the show…the individual performances (of which there were 2 for each group last night…one current hit, and one inexplicably from the 60s):

  • Vocal Point (performing “Never Say Never” by that one kid with the iconic hair and a legion of teenage girls obsessed with him and who pretty much sounds like a girl himself and wow, I am going to great lengths to not type his name here… OK, fine, Justin Bieber): I’m going to go with Ben here and say that I never thought I’d enjoy a group of Mormon guys singing Justin Bieber. (Or anybody, really, regardless of religion or gender in this case.) I’m also going to go with Ben here in that I really did enjoy this performance. It was tons and tons of fun…something that Vocal Point really seems to specialize in. I will say that the 1st soloist’s tone was a bit thin and that kind of detracted from the performance for me, and there were a few moments where the blend sounded kind of weak as well, but those are hopefully issues that won’t come up again for the group. Full disclosure: I got a kick out of the kicks the guys did towards the end. (See what I did there?) That was a fun touch. Also, per Sara Bareilles’ comment, I vote that Vocal Point be renamed the “Wholesome Thundercats” immediately. Who’s with me?… (*Crickets*)
  • Delilah (performing “Whataya Want From Me” by Adam Lambert): Wow. Just wow. They really rocked it. The rehearsal package had me a bit scared, seeing as it was one of those pesky “we don’t know if we’ll be able to pull it off” things, and well, I got nervous, since Delilah did so well last week and they had a high bar to clear last night. Despite the high expectations, they really pulled it off with this performance. Building the arrangement the way they did…singer by singer…was an outstanding choice, and like the judges noted, it went miles in exposing the emotional core of the song. Kendall (formerly of high school group Eleventh Hour, from last season) has really grown as a vocalist in many ways, and she nailed the opening solo, I thought. Delilah also showed some great depth on the bench…Amy didn’t even come in until the late-middle part of the song, and yet it never felt like it was missing anything, because the other soloists were holding their own and getting their chance to shine. (I do agree with Sara that Amy was just a tiny bit sharp at times, but it didn’t really detract from the performance, I thought.) It was a tour de force and showed a bit of a different side of Delilah than last time, and it showed that this group really has the potential to be the first all-female ensemble to make it to the finals, even with such heavy competition this season.
  • Urban Method (performing “Just Can’t Get Enough” by the Black-Eyed Peas): There were a lot of things I really, really liked about this performance. The female lead who started off the song was just pitch-perfect. It was so nuanced, distinctive, beautifully sung, and sultry…I actually said out loud right after she finished, the following: “Wow, her voice is sexy.” The other lead vocalist, Troy, also showed some very impressive range, and I thought he did a great job and really brought power to the song. The ‘studio’ effects in the arrangement were also evident as they were in their previous number, and those were nice touches. That said…the rap part hung me up again. This time around, it wasn’t as integral to the song as it was in their last performance (“Love The Way You Lie” is at its heart a true rap song, and a rap song with a message. “Just Can’t Get Enough” could have the rap part removed and it wouldn’t change it much at all), and it just felt tacked-on at the end. I’m just not a rap fan, too, so as long as rap’s a part of Urban Method’s act, they’re going to be a tough sell for me at times. I also didn’t dig their abominably cheesy choreography…Troy and the female vocalist holding hands throughout was silly, and that weird moment where he bent down to her midriff area was awkward. That said, I really enjoyed this performance (rap aside), and I thought it was a lot better than “Love The Way You Lie.”
  • Afro-Blue (performing “American Boy” by Estelle): I was quite impressed by Afro-Blue the first week (as you can probably tell by my gushing about them in that episode’s recap), but even though I came into last night a huge fan of them, I was blown away by their take on “American Boy.” (In fact, it would be accurate for me to just fill this portion of the recap with Shawn’s speechless, excited reaction to the performance, which I wish I could properly replicate here.) The opening, where they were all sitting in little groups and the lead vocalist (well, one of them, I believe they used a few) was scatting and the bass was imitating an upright, was just so dang cool. From there, it only got better, as they built in such a terrific way, just slaying a jazzy arrangement of the song, and then shifting to a more modern feel (effortlessly, I might add) at the end that really brought the performance home. It was inventive, it was smooth, the vocals were amazing, the choreography was classy, everything just worked. In other circumstances it might have been hyperbole for Shawn to say that there was nothing wrong with the performance. In this case, though, it was spot-on.
  • Yellowjackets (performing “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz): You may remember in my Week 1 recap how I expressed my mixed feelings about the Yellowjackets, and how they may be my college group to irrationally dislike this year. That feeling was pretty much cemented this week, I have to admit. This performance just felt like too much at once…the arrangement was certainly trying too hard, and the Yellowjackets didn’t quite have the finesse to hold it together. The “everything but the kitchen sink” approach has worked well for some groups in the past…for example, take Street Corner Symphony’s rollicking version of “Down On The Corner” last season…but it just didn’t gel for me here. Instead of getting excited over the change to a Latin groove at the very end (I love those kinds of things), I just groaned. The arrangement felt disjointed, the soloist wasn’t quite up to scratch, and the blend was off and a bit thin. Any energy the performance had felt like it was coming from the song itself and not from the group nailing anything particularly well, I thought. (Could I be making this stuff up? I don’t think so, but possibly. Maybe I’m just programmed to hate male college groups that aren’t Vocal Point…but it’s my blog, so I can nitpick if I want to. :))
  • Kinfolk 9 (performing “Price Tag” by Jessie J): I thought Kinfolk 9 did a great job here, and developed on some of the potential that they showed last time around. The song did feel a little sleepy in the first half, as the judges noted, and I think that was due to the song choice. “Price Tag” is a fun song, but the groove is kind of static and low-key, and so it’s hard to translate the vibe that it carries into an a cappella setting without it sounding too bland. However, the performance kicked off nicely in the latter half, and there were some really cool harmonic moments throughout. The arrangement had some nice touches, and Kinfolk 9 showed off a better blend…but I think it still needed to be a little bit more distinctive. I couldn’t quite get the grasp of their sound just yet, and that’s something important for the listener to have when it comes to a group using just their voices.

Now, on to the 60s portion of our evening (how silly was it that Nick changed outfits for it? He’s a funny one, that Nick Lachey…):

  • Delilah (performing “(Love Is Like A) Heatwave by Martha & the Vandellas): This performance kind of flew by me for some reason. The harmonies, I thought, were tight, it was fun, and it worked very effectively. I didn’t quite agree with the judges in their sentiment that it wasn’t quite up to scratch for Delilah’s usual standard, but I will say that it seemed a bit different from what they’ve done so far. It was kind of a stylistic 180, and maybe it would have been cool to see the group put a little modern flair on the song, though they really nailed the 60s atmosphere, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. A small nitpick: Kendall didn’t shine as much on this song, I thought, as she did on “Whataya Want From Me.” I think she’s a bit stronger in the ballads, but she wasn’t bad here, I suppose. (P.S.: Nick’s 98 degrees pun was, as things tend to be with him, incredibly cheesy, but I got a chuckle out of it. Even though he’s like a fish out of water sometimes when he attempts to ad lib, it’s still fun to see him go off script once in a while. Especially when said script features more stale plays on words than a recap written by yours truly. :))
  • Urban Method (performing “Dance To The Music” by Sly & The Family Stone): I didn’t see this coming. I didn’t see this coming at all. Urban Method broke free of the rapping for the first time this competition, and I’m pretty sure it was one of my favorite performances of the night, hands down. I was completely, utterly impressed. The arrangement was just so inventive, the vibe was a party, and they nailed so many different aspects of it…the vocals, the choreography, the blend…that there wasn’t really any nagging issues that might have taken away from the overall effect. Ben was astute in noticing that this song pretty much has only one chord, and that Urban Method really did wonders in expanding on that one chord in numerous, exciting ways. He also noted that it really sounded like the group had a band backing them up, which I totally agree with. There was so much sound, and it was executed to a T, and you really couldn’t tell that there were no actual instruments. I know the “rapapella” concept is Urban Method’s hook, but this performance showed that without rap in the mix, they really shine…and I wish they would keep it out as much as possible in the future, because I think I love them much better that way.
  • Vocal Point (performing “The Way You Look Tonight” by pretty much every jazz singer & their dog, but arguably most famously by Frank Sinatra): (Yes, I like to split hairs sometimes in my song descriptions. :)) Now this is how you handle an “everything but the kitchen sink” arrangement. Vocal Point changed grooves in this performance like they were changing their socks, but it never felt anything but seamless…the deliciously smooth lead vocal, along with the group’s killer blend, kept this sleek jazz-fueled train chugging along at an exhilarating rate. (And Brandon has officially let his metaphors run away with him. What else is new?) I was literally smiling throughout this performance…broadly. Very broadly. It was tons of fun, it was polished but not stiff, and it just popped and sparked and had lots of life. Simply put: I loved it.
  • Afro-Blue (performing “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye): I don’t get what the judges were expressing about this arrangement being too ambitious, really. I thought it was innovative in just the right ways…it turned the song on its ear, but was tightly executed enough for things to not fall apart. The lead male vocalist nailed things, and that transition to a very modern groove at the end was 1-800-Absolutely Delicious, with a cool repeating end tag by the ladies to boot. It was the kind of performance and take on a song (a 60s classic, mind you) that for me, kind of went beyond this competition…it showed that Afro-Blue has a future outside performing random covers on a TV show…that they have the potential to make truly engaging music.
  • Yellowjackets (performing “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” by Frankie Valli): (Note to Nick Lachey and whoever wrote his script…this song was around LONG before “Jersey Boys” ever came to Broadway.) Was this probably the Yellowjackets’ best performance to date? Probably. Was the Aaron-loves-Sara-somewhat-obsessively angle a hoot? Certainly. (During the 60s intro package where the group pointed out that he’s in love with Sara Bareilles, I blurted out, “Who ISN’T in love with Sara Bareilles?” Also, Aaron, back off. She’s mine. :)) But, as pretty much everything by the Yellowjackets is now doomed to be, it just didn’t click for me. The arrangement was fun and very energetic (and for once, that can’t be completely attributed to the song, since although this is an upbeat number, it doesn’t bring down the house on its own by any means), but there were some blend/intonation problems that it exposed. If the competition wasn’t so stiff, the Yellowjackets might have been able to coast with me on what they have, but it’s just not cutting it. Being a ‘fun’ college group full of guys isn’t enough for this competition, and I have no idea why it seems to be for the judges.
  • Kinfolk 9 (performing “Let It Be” by the Beatles): I agree with Ben, Sara, and Shawn that this was definitely Kinfolk 9′s best performance to date. Moi delivered a passionate, beautiful lead (with some nice runs that expanded on Paul McCartney’s iconic original vocal), and the harmonies behind him were strong and complemented the whole effect very nicely. Kinfolk 9 brought the sound in a way they haven’t thus far, and it really built into an excellent performance, full of heart and soul, but also not too short on technical skill.
  • So who went home? This is where it gets to be a bummer. The Yellowjackets were called safe the same time as Afro-Blue did (bittersweet…), and thus Delilah and Kinfolk 9 were the last two groups standing. In my mind, I knew Delilah had to stay, as they’ve certainly given a stronger body of work thus far, and they’re the only all-female group in the competition to boot…but it was hard to see one of these groups getting cut. Kinfolk 9 was really starting to grow into their potential last night, and I wish they had gotten more time to do so…but hopefully this can be a springboard to greater things in the future. (P.S.: Their swan song was WEIRD. I guess I’m not too familiar with Beck’s work…which makes sense, I’ve heard his name and his fine guitar playing, but not much of his solo catalog…but I was quite bewildered by the strange lyrics and the lack of much melody. Moi really sold it, though.)

Last night was an incredibly solid bunch of performances, and this competition feels like it’s just heating up. (There’s still 3 more weeks of the two-bracket division, I believe, before all the groups combine together and the gauntlet is really thrown down. This will be interesting.) As always, we close with a poll, and see you soon with more posting, and more recapping:

“The Sing-Off” Season 3, Episode 2 Recap: Wicked Game

I told you I’d be back. Tonight was another great episode of “The Sing-Off.” I have to admit the groups didn’t seem as strong tonight as they did last week, but I was still impressed, and there were some great surprises within the performances. Sad fact: Apparently only 5.3 million people watched the show last week. Let’s hope more tuned in tonight, and that it keeps growing, yo. Tell your friends, your mother, your brother, your lover (OK, I may have tried to make that an impromptu song in my head just now…ahem), whoever you know, that this show is awesome (that is why you’re reading this recap, right? RIGHT?), and they should be watching it. Even if they’re Dancing With The Stars fans like me. (Sniffle…I now have to catch it online every week now. Well, that is, until we get a DVR someday.) And now that I’ve rambled enough, let’s dive into the night’s musical proceedings. After a stellar group performance of “Sing” by My Chemical Romance (I’m glad Nick told us the song, because I honestly had never heard it before), the first group took the stage…

  • Dartmouth Aires (from Hanover, NH): Remember my mixed reaction to the Yellowjackets’ song last week, and how I said they might be the college group of the season that I somewhat irrationally end up disliking? They might have company here in the Dartmouth Aires. Much like last season’s group from Yale, it just feels strange that an Ivy League a cappella group is competing for a recording contract and a cash prize. Thankfully unlike last season’s group from Yale, they didn’t really come off as entitled…but they didn’t seem entirely focused for me. I don’t know, maybe I’m just nitpicking. Speaking of nitpicking…I didn’t love their performance, as you probably expected. But…surprise! I didn’t hate it. It felt a little uneven, both in the harmonies and in the effect as a whole. The soloist didn’t quite rise up to the level that the song required, and it felt like the success level it had was mainly because of the group’s large numbers, and the song choice in general. (You’d really have to work hard to make “Higher Ground” sound bad.) The Aires seemed to be trying a little too hard to look goofy and fun-loving, and their performance didn’t quite hit home with me, but much like the Yellowjackets from Rochester last week, there’s still time for them to make me a fan. (After all, the On The Rocks Memorial Slot for Male College Group I Actually Kinda Sorta Like is still very much up for grabs. Vocal Point, of course, has taken the role of Male College Group I Am Obsessed With, Partly Because They, Um, Are From My School. And yes, I still need to work on these names. :))
  • Pentatonix (from Arlington, TX): I’m still not sure where I stand on this group, or this performance. The group is talented, but I’m not sure they’ve clicked for me yet. Their main lead vocalist (though they used several tonight in their take on Katy Perry’s “E.T.,” which in my opinion is probably one of her weaker songs) has an incredibly unique tone, but I’m not positive whether I love it or hate it. And their blend is striking…but it’s not entirely clear whether they’ve truly found their sound or not yet. So yes…lots of uncertainty. I thought they definitely improved on the original tune (though when it’s a somewhat plodding song about aliens, that’s not very hard to do) with a nice arrangement, and the first half was good, but for me it kind of fell apart in the second half. The latter two soloists they utilized were fairly weak and didn’t blend very well, and I think something funky might have happened with the pitches at a few spots. Where the arrangement and the performance should have built and grown and shined, it really kind of faltered. I have my eyes out for Pentatonix, but I’m just not in their corner yet.
  • Messiah’s Men (from Minneapolis, MN): Their story was touching (they’re a group of Liberian refugees), and also, who knew that Minneapolis had a thriving Liberian community? I really liked these guys, and their vibe was just beautifully warm and unique and inviting. Their take on the classic “People Get Ready” had a very lived-in feel, and it was a very emotionally rewarding performance. That said, there were some significant problems with pitch, and a tiny bit with tone and blend. They didn’t end up really bringing the song down…but they were still there, they still showed, and it proved that while Messiah’s Men have the atmosphere and a true, heartwarming sense of group camaraderie down, the notes and technical issues need to be cleared up a bit before they can truly shine and fulfill their potential as an ensemble.
  • Sonos (from Los Angeles, CA): I’ve made it no secret that I’ve come into this season with a huge bias in favor of a few groups (cough cough, Delilah and Vocal Point, cough cough)…but now I’m going to do the opposite of that and NOT tell you that I was crazy excited for Sonos and I’m totally familiar with them already. Because I’m not. (OK, I lie. I have a few of their songs on my iPod, have listened to and fallen in love with both of their albums, and generally think they’re the bees’ knees. :)) It was nice to see that Sara was similarly fairly forthcoming, noting that she sang in a group with one of Sonos’ members, but making sure that didn’t affect her critique. (She also was a guest artist on Sonos’ first album as well.) I didn’t realize how much Sonos has relied on their effects pedals in the past, but even without them tonight, they really shined. I had forgotten about their take on “Wicked Game” (I watched a video of them singing it on some LA-area radio station a while ago, but it wasn’t very fresh in my mind), and it floored me tonight…the beatbox by Ben was incredible (did you HEAR how fast he was going?), the arrangement was stunningly intricate, and the lead vocals were very distinctive and fairly confident. I did see where the judges were coming from in their comments about how maybe the arrangement needed to be a bit more full…there were indeed times that the three ladies seemed a bit stranded harmonically. I also noticed some strange issue at the end towards the last verse…it seemed like there was an accidental key change, or if it was an intentional key change, it didn’t quite feel that way at all. Sonos showed just what they can do tonight, and I can’t wait to see what tricks they have up their sleeve in their next time out.
  • The First Elimination: I feared a bit for my beloved Sonos, because while the judges expressed some high praise for the group, they also had some clear points of constructive criticism for them to work on, and their enthusiasm seemed just a little bit tempered. However, they held off on truly breaking my heart tonight, and sent Messiah’s Men home. They’re a bunch of really sweet guys, and it was a bummer to see them go so soon, but they just didn’t cut it all the way tonight, and there’s such a high level of competition that it’s hard to really say goodbye to anyone on the show. That said, it was wonderful to see the positive effect that music and being in a group has had in their lives, and I’m sure they’ll continue singing for years to come.
  • This bullet isn’t really about one of the groups. Just gently griping about how Nota (the amazing Season 1 champions) got a full performance last year when they stopped by, yet Committed (last season’s winners) only got a 30-second snippet tonight. Throw us a bone, producers!
  • The Collective (from Nashville, TN): I was very relieved pre-season to learn that Jeremy Lister (the stellar lead vocalist of last season’s powerhouse runner-up Street Corner Symphony) is actually not a performer in this group…because Street Corner Symphony needs to stay alive and thriving forever. (P.S.: They must have an album out. ASAP.) Rather than being in the group proper, Jeremy was the one who brought them all together (literally), and from what we saw in the rehearsal package, also helped them prepare for the competition. The whole “soloists singing together” concept has been a bit shaky in “The Sing-Off” past (remember the hot mess that resulted from the first and only performance by Season 1′s second castoff, Solo?), but I think the Collective might have a chance to prove that that concept can work. I was kind of torn on the tone of the lead vocalist, Ruby…most of the time it was in the right place for me, but towards the end it got a bit shouty and shrill, and her vibrato wasn’t terribly appealing…but she really sold the song (the stellar hit “Rolling In The Deep” by Adele), and the arrangement behind her was very intriguing. I thought it complemented the song well (plus they got the chords right in the chorus! Both John Legend & Glee failed to do so), and although their performance wasn’t anywhere near perfect, there’s a huge amount of potential present for the Collective. They still need to find their voice and their sound, but they’ve got all the makings of a great group, if they can rise to the occasion.
  • Soul’d Out (from Wilsonville, OR): Last year’s resident high school group, Eleventh Hour, never really cut it for me. This time around, Soul’d Out actually did. Maybe it’s just their strength in numbers (a whopping 16 people make up the group), but Soul’d Out really seemed to have their act together…like they rose beyond the level of a high school ensemble in some ways. However, their performance didn’t quite connect, with me or the judges. Their song choice was baffling in my eyes…”Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” is a classic I immensely enjoy, but there seemed to be a huge disconnect between the group and the song they were singing. There are older songs that younger groups can pull off very effectively. This song just wasn’t one of them, and it seemed like a shoe that just wouldn’t fit for most of the performance. However, I disagreed with the judges (or at least Ben) on which part of the song was better. Ben felt that Soul’d Out fell apart a bit during the second half, but I actually thought the “Aquarius” section was weak (it sounded much too traditionally choral), and although the harmonies were slightly hit-and-miss at a few moments in the “Let The Sunshine In” part, I thought it rocked much better, was much more fun, and had some intriguing vocal riffing by the young male lead. Soul’d Out didn’t quite floor me as much as they could have tonight, but I was impressed by their level of maturity and sense of who they are as a group. For a high school group, that’s something you can’t really take for granted.
  • North Shore (from Boston, MA): I really like these guys. They have an effortless group dynamic and blend (the singing together for decades might have something to do with it), their personalities are engaging and unique, and they’re really a joy to watch and listen to. They kind of remind me of Season2′s Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town, but one of the differences here is that Jerry and the boys were already legendary figures in the a cappella world, while North Shore has been singing together for a long time, but faces a harsh economic reality in today’s climate, and has contemplated having to give up their music career if things don’t start improving. That’s a hard situation to see, but hopefully it won’t have to come to that…as Sara noted, North Shore should really never stop singing. Their performance of “Runaround Sue” was classy, energetic, laid-back (but in a very effective way), and all-around good fun. (I have a special place in my heart for “Runaround Sue,” as we sang it in a junior high men’s choir.) I don’t know if they’ll be to hold their own with much younger groups, but I think they can. (After all, Jerry & the Talk went all the way to fourth last season.)
  • The Deltones (from Newark, DE): It’s always refreshing to see a collegiate a cappella group that’s not made up of just guys or girls, and that alone set the Deltones apart at the beginning, at least for me. However, their performance did more than just set them apart…it showed that they’re a major force to be reckoned with in this competition. The song, “Feels Like Home,” is a Randy Newman-penned classic, and it was touching to see in the rehearsal footage about how Jessica (the main lead vocalist tonight) found a true home through this song, and through her experiences with the group. (Lesson from tonight: A cappella music…and music in general…brings about such a great spirit of teamwork and camaraderie. Look at all these close-knit groups.) She brought that emotional resonance to her stunning lead vocal, starting off beautifully vulnerable (thank you, Ben, for pointing that out!), and building to a strong climax. (She had tinges of nervousness throughout the song, but oddly enough most of them ended up enhancing the performance rather than detracting for it.) She has a great tone for a lead vocalist, and it made the Deltones’ performance stand out and be even more poignant than it already was. It’ll be interesting to see how they do with lighter, more upbeat fare, but they certainly have nowhere to go but up.
  • The Second Elimination: Soul’d Out and the Deltones were the last two groups in the second half awaiting their fate, and although they gave a strong showing, I think it was the right choice for the judges to send Soul’d Out packing. They have a nice amount of something special there that I hope they’ll get time to develop. Their swan song wasn’t bad (I don’t know what it was, mind you, but still), and their exit was classy. Maybe somewhere in the future a high school group can make a deep run at the title, but for now, Soul’d Out is off to make more great music in the charming town of Wilsonville.

Once again, the judges were spot-on tonight (and Sara earned her keep very well), and it was a great show to watch tonight, even if there was a little uneven-ness in the Week 2 lineup. Quite frankly, it’s late and I’m getting close to falling asleep on this keyboard now (I can see it: “The Deltones were very aefw;kefjpwiejfoajfpwwjojwofjoweifjoeijfofe [repeat indefinitely] tonigefpiojafw. Am I right?”), so let’s get a quick poll up, along with a promise to see you soon (at the very latest, next Monday) with some new posts, including next week’s Sing-Off recap. Thanks for reading!

Music Video of the Day: “Gonna Get Over You”

Just so I’m not making two “Sing-Off” posts in a row (the recap for tonight’s episode is to come once, y’know, it airs here and all that), here’s a great new Music Video of the Day, for your personal viewing pleasure…

“Gonna Get Over You” by Sara Bareilles!

I’m kind of noticing now that this music video is eerily similar to the last one I posted (for those of you with short memories/the inability to scroll down/change the page, it was for Cee-Lo Green’s “Cry Baby”), in that it features insanely fun-to-watch dancing, breakup undertones, and just all-around coolness. (In this instance, Sara plays herself, rather than enlisting a charming former 80s child star. :)) Sara bounces around a Latin supermarket, cheerfully enlisting unsuspecting folks into her biker-chick dance routine army, and the result is an absolute delight to see. (Plus there’s a twist at the end that I didn’t see coming. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it.) It even beats out another fun music video set in a supermarket (“Haven’t Met You Yet”), at least in my eyes. Sara wrote an endlessly addicting song here, and she’s created a video that’s just as addicting to go with it.

See you in a bit with the new recap for “The Sing-Off”!

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