CAL Album: One Album to Rule Them All

Posted on March 29, 2013 at 4:48 pm by Robert Comments Off on CAL Album: One Album to Rule Them All

You needn’t look any further than the nominees for best Pop/Rock album to find the winner here.  That’s right; Hold That Thought (Fermata Town) boasts a nomination in this category, and in that one as well.  The nominators thought that this album deserved to throw down with the best in the biz.  I agree.  It’s the clear winner here.

Now, this recording isn’t flawless (I already quibbled a bit with the “Circus” arrangement back when I talked about Best Pop/Rock track), but it does a lot of things really well.  Energy and good production values?  Check.  Creative arrangements that evoke a group style and sound?  Check.  Solid soloists?  Check.

The dominant genre here, other than Pop, is Jazz.  Several arrangements feature Jazz influence, sometimes harmonically, but more often simply in the choice of syllables (scat syllables abound, and not just during scat solos!).  Sometimes it borders on cheesy, but overall it’s a sound that really sets this group apart.  The Jazz bent gives them an identity and a binding element, even though their track list is basically a random Pop playlist.  Groups take note: this is one way to avoid the “random assortment of songs” critique: give each song a unified influence.

I’ll have more to say about this album when I talk about Best Pop/Rock Album.

The rest of the albums in this category have good moments, but never really knock it out of the park the way that Hold That Thought does.

First Cup (Capital Blend) is an able EP, with good production values.  Unfortunately, the production often struggles to mask a lack of energy that holds this whole album down.

For a prime example, check out the beginning of “I Want You Back.”  Everyone knows this bass riff, and it should be exuberant.  Here, it’s a little sleepy.  The soloist tried to rouse the group when she enters, but it’s too late.  The track is already stuck in neutral.

Perhaps this lack of energy wouldn’t be as noticeable were the set list not comprised of songs that demand a certain level of gravitas.  “Boondocks” and “Before He Cheats/Bust Your Windows” are two songs that demand an in-your-face sound, and Capital Blend just doesn’t deliver.

My favorite track on this album is probably “Because.” It’s a more subdued song that doesn’t demand the aggressive energy that’s lacking here in general.

Stuck In A Memory (Euphonsim) – Shows a lot of potential, but gets dragged down by inconsistency.  The quality of production varies from track-to-track, at times sounding rich and bright (“Hometown Glory”) at others dull and muddy (“Mercy”).  The female soloists are quite good, but the men tend to be pushed to the upper limits of their respective ranges, resulting in many tonal issues and phrasing quirks.

Groove is another issue.  Sometimes things struggle to sit well in the pocket – “Your Love” being one of the biggest offenders.

The group has a really nice, warm block sound together, which makes me think that the missteps of this album are just that – growing pains on the way to something more polished and even.  I hear a lot of talent that just doesn’t get the chance to fully shine.

Tcb* (Treble) – Has a lot in common with First Cup, but features much more energy!  Here again we are treated to good production, but this time the production is used to enhance the raw energy present in the vocals, rather than used to hide its absence.

I’d be curious to hear what this group might come up with if they really took the gloves off and went for a bigger studio sound.  It seems like the decision here was to capture (more or less) the group’s live aesthetic.  Sometimes the limitations of the live arrangement hold these women back from a more engaging sound.

Overall though, Tcb* sounds full, energetic, and fun!  It doesn’t have the same level of polish or creativity exhibited by Hold That Thought, but it’s still a damn good effort!

The Verdict

Winner: Hold That Thought (Fermata Town)

Runner-Up: Tcb* (Treble)

Hold That Thought is in a league of its own (pun intended).

Tcb* has a nice energy and sound to it, that I think will work very well in its favor!

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