The Sing Off Episode 8- Rock and Pseudo-Country Music

I have a few other posts in the works this week, so I’m going to keep it relatively short  for my summary of this week’s episode of the Sing Off.  I was a little surprised by the result, but even more surprised by the general level of inconsistency with the groups. I thought the only groups to perform two songs at an average or better level were Pentatonix and Urban Method, the first of which did not surprise me, and the second of which DID surprise me.

Without further ado…

Pentatonix– Despite the potential great disparity between a classic rock tune and a country tune, several of the groups chose to perform songs which weren’t all that different from each other. Pentatonix, however, started with a sneering, growling version of “Born to be Wild.” The rhythm section drove it, and the other backing voices were appropriately subdued to let Avi and Kevin just burn it up. This was fun, articulate, and top-notch, as usual.

For their second tune, Pentatonix chose a laid-back, clean, smooth version of Sugarland’s “Stuck Like Glue.” The reggae section in the middle was a little closer to a typical “Pentatonix-style” performance, but even in the beginning and end, the song was consistent, well-sung, and very hard to pick apart.

Dartmouth Aires– Starting with Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” the Aires offered yet another high-energy performance full of visual, visceral power. The arrangement was fairly busy from the get-go, and I actually found it a bit overwhelming to the point of perhaps distraction. It wasn’t bad, but I felt like it was just a little heavy on the ears (which, to be fair, is true of Twisted Sister’s original too). I really did enjoy the little transition (“and now we’re going to the bridge…”), and I really did not enjoy the joking attempt at choral singing. It was a cute idea, and I even sang a rock song or two in college with my group that had just such a segment, but I found it a weak distraction from the driving force of the song. Overall, the song was pretty good, if a bit sloppy musically.

As for the Brooks and Dunn cover, many of the same criticisms and praises apply. These guys always crank out absurd levels of energy in their performances, and they didn’t seem so far out of their element with this song, largely because it isn’t the most traditionally classic “country” song. My biggest problem, again, was the very crowded arrangement and sometimes blaring sound of the backing voices. I know it isn’t always easy to arrange for 15 singers (although it can be a lot of fun) on a very upbeat tune without sounding too busy, but I felt that this song was also a little heavy on the ear. Nevertheless, it was hard to take issue with the overall performance, and I have to say they definitely nail the showmanship aspect of performing each song. Now if they could be a little tighter and more nuanced with the music, they could have a real shot at reaching the finals.

Afro Blue– Oh, Afro Blue. Why do you seem so lost the past 2 weeks? The good news is that the group still does what it does really really well. I mean, the problem with this song wasn’t the actual performance of the song, as they hit every crucial chord and executed the song very well. I thought the problem was the arrangement, specifically the choices they made with the arrangement, and maybe even with selecting the song. I mean, there are plenty of classic rock artists and songs out there which Afro Blue could have chosen which they could really manipulate to make their own in a smarter, more natural way which works to their crossover strengths. I just felt very lukewarm about the overall arc and choices they made with this song. This got me a little worried about where they would head with their second performance…

Which was SO much better. Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” really allowed the group to emphasize their emotional, vulnerable, subtle capabilities…something which they might do better than any other group in the competition (other than Delilah, but sadly they are gone). Nice belltones to start, light smooth “oohs” act as a pad underneath the very delicate solo and harmonies… this is one thing which Afro Blue does so well.  I was so glad to hear them regain their sensibilities with this song. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t one of their top 2 or 3 performances on the show, but it was clearly very effective.

Delilah– I thought “Dream on” started out great, sparse with the pedal just like the original. Then things got… complicated. The ladies had a few pitch problems once the song hit the chorus, and I can’t decide after several listens if the problem may have been related to the syllables they were on, which produced a very spread (and potentially grating) sound. It also seemed like some of the inner parts were really struggling to find a pitch center. As usual, Amy rocked the solo and the VP was very good.  The ladies went all out on this song, and I totally respect their choices, which were legitimate and well-founded. But, as with some of their past performances, the pitch problems left them a bit exposed (and no, I do not think that the problem here related to the fact that they lack any male voices).

When they began “If I Die Young,” I thought they might redeem themselves from the first performance. The intro did a nice job of building upon the solo and growing with nice layers. I thought the song was incredibly expressive and tender, and really a very convincing performance overall. At first I thought there pitch issues, but as I relistened, I realized the problem was more the sagging energy under the persistent “aaaahs” that they sang through the first minute or so.  There were also a few issues with timing on syncopated sections. Tremendous solo, really rich bass part, and the lower sections did a nice job playing off each other. I thought this was a very moving performance, if a bit low on energy in the backs.

Urban MethodI really liked how these guys started “Here I Go Again” with the simple harmonies and kick drum, then the bass dropped in and the chords built a little, and then… BAM! New style which Whitesnake never considered for the original (I would assume). I think this was a risk which worked, particularly because of Myke’s ridiculous skill and his recreation of the rhythm and the use of two trios in the second chorus. In the past, I have been unimpressed with the backing vocals utilized by this group either as a result of arrangement issues or pitch issues. For this performance, I actually liked the arrangement, and heard no serious pitch issues. As always, the rhythm section was tight, and I thought the ladies sounded very controlled on the backing vocals. Overall, a smart arrangement and great performance.

The second tune, “Before He Cheats,” was a little more straightforward and more typical a cappella cover from a group which rarely does that. This time, the group really went away from their typical strengths, and did a very convincing job. Though she is not a typical “country” singer, the soloist (Katie?) was terrific. The 2 female harmonies were very solid, and the rhythm section was predictably successful. For the second time on this show, the backing vocals had no pitch problems, and the parts worked well together. Overall, I wouldn’t say this was a top-notch performance, but it was definitely hard to find serious flaws in it.

Vocal Point– Now THIS is how you use a guitar feedback/flange sound which other groups have failed to produce earlier in the season. The beginning of “You Really Got Me” is dark and twisted, sinister almost. Slow kick drum drives through it, picking up until they turn it into what the song actually sounds like… sort of. And that’s where they lost me a bit. I mean, let’s be honest, the song is something of a one-trick pony, by which I mean it just repeats over and over again. The soloist worked hard to make it interesting, and he did a great job, but the backgrounds were simple and generally uninteresting until they went through the hammering chords into the breakdown, which was pretty sweet. Then it dropped back into the regular rock beat and backs, and I was somewhat uninterested again. End it all with a series of jazzy chords and a high note on the solo, and I’m back in. I guess I found the song inconsistent, but it certainly wasn’t due to any flaws in the performance. Chalk it up to another situation where I just didn’t love the arrangement, but these guys clearly know how to energize any performance.

Interesting choice (and smart) to take a rock song, “Life is a Highway,” which was later covered by a country(ish) group. The arrangement was fairly smart, if somewhat simple, and they did a terrific modulation towards the end which really locked. As always, these guys sounded great. They have rarely demonstrated any problems with pitch or rhythm, and that was equally apparent here. The soloist did a nice job, and the overall feel I took from the group’s performance was “Safe.” I would have liked to see them take a few more risks in the arrangement, vocal effects, or something else, but you really can’t fault them for choosing a song they could probably could do in their sleep (especially given their apparent return to school and the travel schedule).

As always, these guys are fun, talented, generally smart about their choices.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting night. My first reaction to Delilah’s exit was shock, but now that I have listened to the entire show again (and again, and again), I can see the judges didn’t really have much choice.  At this stage, there were only 6 groups left, each of which has a particular skill set and undeniable talent. I really liked the emotion, soloists, and niche that Delilah brought to the show, and for those reasons alone I thought they had a chance to make the finals.  Unfortunately, they also suffered from periodic pitch problems, and their arrangements occasionally failed to temper the potential problems they had in featuring a slew of powerhouse voices who were frequently forced to sing background parts (can’t all sing solo all the time).

I really enjoyed them the first two performances and the last 3 or 4 performances, and I know at least a few of them are going to be performing with Musae this weekend at SoJam, so these ladies will be back in some shape or form. For now, the wheel keeps on spinning and next week we get to watch another talented group go home.

Thanks for tuning in!

What do you think?