The Sing-Off 2011 – Episode 2

Art by Constance Bannister, Thom Lang

Hello, I am Zin! And I am so happy it is Monday and The Sing-Off is on again! The second group of eight go in brackets of four, just like last week. They start with a group sing of “Sing”. One singer, an incredibly pretty black woman, with long straight hair and bangs, stands out as being, well, not so great, I am not sure if she is nervous or if that is her shtick and it works in her group. They keep showing a close up of her and I can not figure out why. Maybe I am the only one who does not think she is a good singer?

Nick asks the judges what they use as criteria. Ben says he looks at the journey: a group might be shaky but have potential. Others might be technically great but they seem to have reached the end of their journey. I think he means the Cat’s Pajamas from last week – not that they are old at all, but they have a sound and they are not evolving. Sara just promises to get better at judging. I did not have any problem with her last week! Shawn says he is looking to be inspired.

The first four groups perform..

Dartmouth Aire from Dartmouth College, a large all male group. In their intro a black guy with slanted Alfalfa hair says they are by no means traditional which amuses me! The group started in 1946; not as old as the Whiffenpoofs but pretty solid. I wish there was a Classical round here, they would kill it, but I am afraid they are not going to be competitive in this particular contest. They do “Higher Ground” by Stevie Wonder. They have some nice choreography at the end.
Shawn says, “This is what I’m talking about.” The art of a capella is how you entertain people, not just voices. They had him from beginning to end, they kept moving their feet, it was an energetic song, a great rendition. He loved that Michael gradually went into the lead, he is a good front man, his mother would be very proud.
Sara loved it. Michael, you mom is just beaming. I think I missed something about Michael wanting to make his mother proud. It was a wonderful marriage of physicality and breath control, spot on.
Ben: they came out of the gate kicking ass and stayed that way the whole time. He would not have minded if guys brought the dynamic down a little in second verse to give Michael a hand, but loved the swells in the bridge.

Pentatonix from Arlington TX, five people. They started as a high school trio, added a bass and beatboxer. Kevin plays cello and does percussion at the same time which is incredibly cool. They do “E.T.” by Katy Perry. They are really good! I like that they split up the leads and everyone sang a little!
Sara: loves the ambition, top 40 and club songs are not easy especially with just five people, loves that each has a little moment.
Ben: great ride, all dead on with each other, harmonies were moving, arrangement is great, Kevin did effects that were “wicked awesome,” low end was impressive, a club low end. His only criticism was to maybe take the song a little slower, but really great and a lot of fun.
Shawn: Scott did great riffs. He swore Kevin was cheating, beat is real bass. Hard for a bass to stay on key and move.

Messiah’s Men from Minneapolis, a large all-male group, refugees from Liberia who met in a refugee camp there. They do gospel, Afrocentric and soul. They do “People Get Ready” by Curtis Mayfield. Good percussion. Nice bass.
Ben: big sound, interesting groove, not the average beatbox groove. Unisons were especially powerful.. All together, key center is a moving target, they need to keep the key center in same place. Very moving.
Shawn: gospel, afrocentric and soul, he felt all three, loves the back story. Not technically perfect but he could sit and listen. They have storytelling voices.
Sara: a pleasure to see them express themselves. Tiny technical things, her favorite part was at the end when they circled up. She felt emotional connection, but wanted them to stop moving.
I think they are in trouble.

Sonos from LA, five members, mixed group. They have been together three years, touring. They typically use effects pedals, explore electronic sound. They will not be using any effects pedals in show, and it will be hard for them because they hide behind them. That does not sound good, and they have not even sung yet! They have been touring but are struggling and are not sure how long they can continue. They do “Wicked Game” by Chris Isaak in a jazzy arrangement. I loved the beginning with the percussion, but I found it intrusive after a while. The lead is a little shaky especially in her high range towards the end.
Shawn: ambitious arrangement. Percussion was fast and amazing. It is a sexy song, he would have enjoyed more playfulness, swaying would have been good enough. There was too much space between the harmonies, it sounded thin. They have potential but he did not feel it like he wanted to feel it.
Sara: She sang with the bassist in college (full disclosure). She loved the arrangement, and liked the sparseness of chords and fast beatboxing, it reinvented the song, was sensual. She wanted more dynamic range. She understands it was hard for them to put down the pedal.
Ben: dead on, beatboxing is the future, their own style. Interesting arrangement. sparseness is a choice, they need a little more confidence.
I think they are in trouble, too!

Pentatonix were clearly the best. Dartmouth was good, good enough to get through this round certainly, but I am afraid they just stylewise will not last very long. I think Sonos will go home, but I do not think Messiah’s Men will last long either.

And I am wrong! Messiah’s Men is out. Interesting. They cut the guys with the biggest sob story – it really is about the performance. They have integrity. And nobody is trying to out-do Simon Cowell! They do Swing Low, Sweet Chariot as a swan song, which is very sweet. I like them very much, and I am glad they got to sing; but their style is not one for this competition. You can visit their website, listen to some of their music, and wish them well!

The champions from last year, Committed, just came out with new album. They do a brief snippet of Always. Billboard has an article from last June about their album. They have a Myspace page but it looks like it has not been updated since they were on The Sing-Off last year!

The next group of four perform.

The Collective is a medium-sized mixed group from Nashville. Jeremy Lister, from Street Corner Symphony (the runners-up last year) put it together, including his little brother Jonathan. Jeremy is still singing with SCS! In fact, SCS tweeted “Someone let us know what is happening on The Sing Off, we are doing a show tonight and can not watch!” They are all solo artists, a capella is completely new to most of them. They do “Rolling in the Deep.” The lead, Ruby, is the girl that I thought had a problem in the opening. I do not like her voice! No, not at all! I think it is the vibrato, almost a quaver, which pains me to say because I have been criticized for too much vibrato. She is the only voice I have not liked on three years of this show! This is strange!
Ben: solid, clearly good singers, Ruby owned the lead, kept our ear. When the chorus got there he did not feel lifted., but solid, great singers. Then he says something about outside the box but decides there is no box. Shawn: possible concern about soloists blending, in time they will find a more definite sound, enjoyed performance, enjoyed Ruby’s quivering alto, rich and thick, depth. He did not get blown back but still solid enough.
Sara: blend for a new group is solid. Ruby is mesmerizing, theatrical. They are missing something, maybe in the arrangement. She would love to see how time improves things.
I am less than impressed.
Soul’d Out – Oregon High school group. “We’re a real life version of Glee.” No, not really, Glee is not a capella! They do Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In. They sound a little high school choir especially at first. Nice job after Let the Sunshine In. but ends on a chorus chord. They are a pretty good high school group. But… no.
Shawn: He gets concerned about high school groups but they held their own. Very intricate song, so much music, did it pretty well. Especially since songs are older than everyone, they captured the feel, did well.
Sara: Yay small town. So much energy, certain times chord structures got muddled, Ethan, adorable, so much emotion, showed maturity, disciplined.
Ben: Their parents were five when song was written. First half held its own, good start, second half was tough (exactly the opposite of what I thought, interesting). Hard to pull off, repetitive melody, hard not to show effort, and unfortunately it tore apart at end
They are in trouble.

North Shore – five guys from Boston specializing in Street Corner doo-wop. They have been singing professionally and making a living at it since the 70s but they are struggling financially this year (everyone is, people can not afford to hire entertainment). They do “Run Around Sue” by Dion, pretty much exactly as Dion did it, very nice, lots of fun, great sound. But why are they wearing bowling shirts? Kara Saun, are you still doing the styling? Or is this their own stage costume?
Sara: loved it. Done impeccably. She can not tell who is singing which part, blend is perfect. Guy is a stellar front man, so much personality.
Ben: great. Relaxed, energy does not have to mean flying off the handle. Thomas did an awesome bass line. Refreshing without beatbox. (but it will come back to bite them later in the competition, I think)
Shawn: did it right. Crisp, clean, timeless, nice to have veterans, provides authenticity. Thomas held down the bass. Guy, great energy.

Deltones – a large mixed group from the University of Delaware. “These people taught me how to love to the fullest.” They were all rejected from other a capella groups on campus, so they formed their own group. Wait… they are sounding like they are being tortured down there in Delaware and this is an oasis in the middle of hell! And how many a capella groups are there at one university? They do “Feels Like Home” by Randy Newman. Nice, but it is a solo with backup.
Sara: story might sound cheesy , finding home with a capella group but that’s what happened to her. Beautiful arrangement, a little nervous to start, Jessica, lead, felt growth, power, strength. Innocence in the arrangement.
Ben: Jessica, friends backed up really well. Pretty arrangement. He does not think it was nerves, more vulnerability. Build was artful. Post bridge, the group almost blew Jessica away when she was flipping into head voice, they should have pulled back there. Moving over all.
Shawn: Jessica has a beautiful voice, little quivers, but it is not about how perfect it is. They have a lot of potential, and have more to show.

I think it will be Soul’d Out.
It is between Soul’d Out and Deltones. And Soul’d out goes home. Oh, one girl looks like she is going to cry. They do “Mamma I’m Coming Home” by Ozzy Ozborne as a swan song with a guy as lead. They do not have a website (there are many groups with that name, it seems) but they have a Facebook page and you can leave them fond wishes there!

Overall I was less impressed with the groups this week, compared to last week. The only group that really seemed to be in the running was Pentatonix. Of course, any group might have a much better week next time. And I enjoyed listening to all of them, none of them were bad, it was a very enjoyable concert, and the right groups were cut. It is hard to cut refugees and high school kids, but I am glad they are still judging based on the music and not on what makes good TV! This is my favorite singing competition!

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