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Ac-Rock

Ridin' The Storm Out (2009)

3.0

September 4, 2010

Tuning / Blend 3.3
Energy / Intensity 3.3
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 3.3
Sound / Production 3.7
Repeat Listenability 2.7
Tracks
1 Paperback Writer 3.7
2 Summertime Blues 3.0
3 Only The Lonely 3.0
4 Hold Me Tight 2.7
5 I Get Around 3.3
6 Hey Little Cobra 3.0
7 Spooky 3.0
8 Build Me Up Buttercup 3.0
9 Takin' Care of Business 2.7
10 Sunglasses At Night 3.3
11 I Think I Love You 3.0
12 The Way You Look Tonight 3.3
13 Yakety Yak 3.3
14 Ridin' The Storm Out 3.7

Recorded 2009
Total time: 34:59, 14 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Paperback Writer 4
2 Summertime Blues 3
3 Only The Lonely 3
4 Hold Me Tight 3
5 I Get Around 3
6 Hey Little Cobra 3
7 Spooky 4
8 Build Me Up Buttercup 4
9 Takin' Care of Business 3
10 Sunglasses At Night 3
11 I Think I Love You 3
12 The Way You Look Tonight 3
13 Yakety Yak 3
14 Ridin' The Storm Out 3

Ac-Rock is the kind of band that not only makes Nixon jokes but explains them on the spot. Such is the generational time warp that these hard-working midwestern lads live in. I guess that's what it takes to sell Beatles, Beach Boys, and Bachman Turner Overdrive covers to everybody from Harley-Davidson to the National Association of Mortgage Bankers.

I'm more in the motorcycle set. I liked Spooky and Sunglasses at Night, which both have a good groove and suitable personality. Build Me Up Buttercup was a strong performance too, albeit aimed at some other audience, and Paperback Writer was surprisingly successful. Favorites aside, everything on the disc is solid. Hire the band, buy the album and you'll get your money's worth.

Where does that leave Ac-Rock with an audience like RARB, where a cappella is the norm and not just a gimmick or a cost-saving feature? I'd say with respectful support, at a distance. Ac-Rock is for the casual consumer, not the a cappella connoisseur. The group is more professional than most. The guys know their audience and their responsibilities. They will not let you down.

So if you're looking for a band for your school, corporate event or 50th birthday party, consider this an unequivocal recommendation. On the other hand, if you're an a cappella nerd looking for your next thrill, wish these guys well and head on down the road.


3
Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Paperback Writer 4
2 Summertime Blues 3
3 Only The Lonely 3
4 Hold Me Tight 2
5 I Get Around 3
6 Hey Little Cobra 3
7 Spooky 2
8 Build Me Up Buttercup 2
9 Takin' Care of Business 2
10 Sunglasses At Night 3
11 I Think I Love You 3
12 The Way You Look Tonight 4
13 Yakety Yak 4
14 Ridin' The Storm Out 4

The sixth album from Chicago-based quartet Ac-Rock maintains the group's whimsical take on hits from the '50s through the '90s. Ridin' The Storm Out is an enjoyable listen, but doesn't break any new ground in the a cappella universe. The listener is presented with pretty standard fare performed with just enough energy to be engaging and catchy at times.

I hadn't had a chance to listen to a lot of Ac-Rock since their album Out Of The Box. That album was a pretty enjoyable throwback disc. I wondered if anything had changed in the six years since I'd last heard from them. Fortunately (and unfortunately), they sound exactly the same.

The disc starts off amicably. Paperback Writer has the necessary vim to make it an acceptable opener to the recording. The group has a lot of fun singing the tune, and it is very rhythmic. The disc doesn't go down from there as much as it goes nowhere. We're treated to the same old, same old.

A few of the tracks have some pitch issues, which is unusual for a group of this stature and capability. I wanted to love Sunglasses at Night and I can be caught on occasion rolling down the street blasting it out of my car stereo and singing along. But the tendency for the chords not to lock during the song is a bit jarring. A few of the other songs in the middle of the pack like Spooky and Hold Me Tight also suffer from less-than-pristine tuning and strident intonation while singing. In fact, during Spooky the lead seems like he wants to make various key change modulations as the song progresses and yet the background voices won't let him. Or the opposite, he's overshooting transitions and the background is trying to keep him in check. Build Me Up Buttercup exposes the support issues on the falling passages on the "ah" vowel. It's kinda mind-blowing that these are final cuts.

The last four tracks bring the fun back, though. I Think I Love You is entirely square and is so full of nostalgia that you'll guffaw and swoon if you have any inkling of who or what is The Partridge Family. The Way You Look Tonight is a beautifully smooth ballad performed effortlessly, Yakety Yak is a crowd-pleaser, not a great album song, but nevertheless enthusiastic as it completely sums up the "Ac-Rock" sound. They saved the best for last as the titular Ridin' The Storm Out is the best-executed and -produced track on the album.

If you like old school and natural-sounding a cappella, the Ridin' The Storm Out is definitely up your alley. But the general population should wait for a brand new day.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Paperback Writer 3
2 Summertime Blues 3
3 Only The Lonely 3
4 Hold Me Tight 3
5 I Get Around 4
6 Hey Little Cobra 3
7 Spooky 3
8 Build Me Up Buttercup 3
9 Takin' Care of Business 3
10 Sunglasses At Night 4
11 I Think I Love You 3
12 The Way You Look Tonight 3
13 Yakety Yak 3
14 Ridin' The Storm Out 4

Ac-Rock wants to do your son's bar mitzvah. And your company's Christmas party. Who knows, maybe they'll even sing in your living room, if the price is right.

It's no secret — Ac-Rock wants your money. Just look at their website. Under their "Corporate" tab, they have subsections labeled "Services," "Solutions," and "Clients". What are they, an a cappella group or a business consultancy?

I knew what to expect from Ac-Rock's latest album, Ridin' The Storm Out, before I even pulled off the shrink wrap. Now, now, don't get all bent out of shape or start going on about preconceived notions. I know that every group needs capital to survive and grow. I play the ad game for a living. I know that money makes the world go 'round. And I'm not one to judge one's motives.

But I'm also a big fan of a cappella, and to me, something about this pro quartet doesn't sit right. They don't seem to be in it for the music at all, as evidenced by both their "branding" and by the performances themselves. A cappella should be a passion project, with said passion oozing out as the group sings! What I hear is background music to your boss's lame anecdotes about his latest golf outing.

Most every song just begs for you not to pay attention. The arrangements are bare and stale, the song selections are hokey and overdone, and the performances are cheesy and/or over-the-top. I can just picture the four of them, dressed in their primary color suits, singing Build Me Up Buttercup to that one girl from Accounts Receivable as she stuffs the free penne alla vodka down her face.

Don't get me wrong, these guys aren't bad. They're a perfectly competent group of singers, with a pretty solid bass and some good covers. It's just that their style of a cappella does the exact opposite of what I hope to hear from today's groups. Their style lowers the bar. It pulls the envelope. It brings us back to where a cappella once was.

Buy this CD if you want some nice background a cappella at your next event. I guarantee it won't get in the way.


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