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Out of the Dawg House

Butler University

Open Bar (2008)

2.0

March 31, 2011

Tuning / Blend 1.7
Energy / Intensity 2.0
Innovation / Creativity 1.0
Soloists 2.7
Sound / Production 2.0
Repeat Listenability 1.3
Tracks
1 LoveStoned 1.3
2 Never There 1.3
3 Everything 2.3
4 No Such Thing 1.7
5 Change In My Life 3.0
6 The Way I Am 2.3
7 Cry Me A River 1.3
8 Steal My Kisses 2.3
9 Fix You 2.3
10 Faded 3.0
11 Home 2.0

Recorded 2008
Total time: 40:48, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 LoveStoned 1
2 Never There 2
3 Everything 2
4 No Such Thing 1
5 Change In My Life 3
6 The Way I Am 3
7 Cry Me A River 1
8 Steal My Kisses 2
9 Fix You 3
10 Faded 3
11 Home 2

I'm not known as a man of few words on RARB, but for most of Out of the Dawg House's Open Bar, I was dreading having to write this review, finding little positive I could muster except perhaps "you can hear everything really well" and "I'm sure these guys are really trying".

Now to be fair, this album was released way back in 2008 — not entirely sure why the group chose to submit it for review in late 2010 — so perhaps they've grown by leaps and bounds in the interim. But back in 2008, the group had all of the same problems noted in the RARB review of their 2006 debut On Track. First and foremost and most inexcusably, there is rarely a track without rampant tuning issues and some are so egregious that they border on painful. For the most part, the repertoire is cliché and had been done to death even back then. The arrangements — most of which appear to have been obtained from outside the group (I sure hope they didn't pay much for 'em) — generally feature unimaginative, unison blocks on a boring syllable against a bass and vp. The vp itself sounds almost rustic, ranging from a late 80s beatbox sound with lots of air and lips to an early 90s collegiate a cappella sound with lots of sibilance and tongue and hi-hat. And the list of issues goes on and on.

The one thing that becomes clear once or twice during the course of this album is that these guys would make a halfway decent choral ensemble or glee club. On Change In My Life, where the arrangement is pretty much built into the song and they can just focus on the group singing, the Dawgs ain't bad. Ditto for Fix You — and at this point it says something if I find Fix You to be the saving grace of any album — where the group's otherwise misguided studio engineer and/or mixer does a competent mic-ing job and adds a lush reverb that just enhances some additional solid choral work (save perhaps for the awful "chow-chow-ch-ch-chow-chow" pattern that rears its head in the second verse).

These exceptions aside, though, this is a "friends and family" album only. There's the germ of a good all-male group here, but without more attention to basic tuning, more sophisticated arrangements, and more experienced studio help, the bar may be open but it's also too high for this group to achieve greatness anytime soon.


Tuning / Blend 1
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 LoveStoned 1
2 Never There 1
3 Everything 2
4 No Such Thing 2
5 Change In My Life 3
6 The Way I Am 1
7 Cry Me A River 1
8 Steal My Kisses 2
9 Fix You 2
10 Faded 3
11 Home 2

Out of the Dawg House is Butler University's first and only all-male a cappella ensemble. They are only seven years old, and Open Bar is their second album. While I applaud these guys for becoming part of the community, they have some serious catching up to do before they can really start playing with the big boys.

The most egregious problem with this album, from start to finish, is the tuning. This is less of an issue for the soloists than for the backing blocks, with the basses and high tenors being the worst offenders. Second on the list is the overall sound: when purists bemoan the proliferation of studio effects in modern recordings, the rest of us point to albums like this for a counterexample. The live sound might have passed muster ten years ago, but to these modern ears it just sounds thin and unpolished.

The song selection is nothing special either; not only have these songs been done, they have been done better. The arrangements sound amateur and immature, sticking mostly to held "ooh" and "bah" sounds without much rhythmic motion. The two exceptions are also the high points of the album, relatively speaking: Change In My Life, as performed by by Rockapella, and Faded, originally by SoulDecision. Both of these are mostly in tune, and the simple arrangements actually serve these songs well. They also boast soloists that actually care about their material, whom I would gladly highlight by name if the group had bothered to include soloist credits.

So, Out of the Dawg House, how can you improve for your next album? Fix the tuning, kick those arrangements up a few notches, and don't be afraid to take advantage of the studio. Open Bar is fine for your family, friends, and fans, but now it's time to start making music for the rest of us.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 LoveStoned 2
2 Never There 1
3 Everything 3
4 No Such Thing 2
5 Change In My Life 3
6 The Way I Am 3
7 Cry Me A River 2
8 Steal My Kisses 3
9 Fix You 2
10 Faded 3
11 Home 2

Out of the Dawg House is not a bad a cappella group; it has a beautiful group sound, a nice blend, and the group has some talented soloists. It's just that Out of the Dawg House hasn't produced a very good album. This is the second release from Out of the Dawg House, who hail from Indianapolis' Butler College. This album showcases a group that is in its awkward adolescence. They're not singing The Lion Sleeps Tonight, but they're still singing Fix You. There is not a surprising song choice on the album, but also nothing glaringly offensive. The group gets some energy going sometimes, but more often than not they're mired in peculiar arrangements and clunky backgrounds.

Some songs work better than others. The soloists on Everything and Home sound great, The Way I Am has a nice bossa-nova lilt to it that doesn't come off as forced, and Steal My Kisses is a lot of fun. Other songs are almost incoherent. LoveStoned is an unfocused mess of an arrangement, Never There suffers from the worst tuning on the entire album, and Cry Me A River sounds amateurish in the worst sense. There is nothing on the album that couldn't have been heard, and executed more effectively, ten or fifteen years ago.

The production is stripped-down, to say the least. As far as I can tell, there is no trace of Auto-Tune or other vocal-enhancing software, and there are relatively few effects placed on the vocals. This is not necessarily a bad thing. However, there has to be a very strong group behind the microphones to pull off such an intimate sound. Without the benefit of any studio magic, there are multiple tuning errors, sharp and jagged audible breaths, spitty vocal percussion, and an overbearingly vocal bass. Like I said earlier, the whole album feels very dated, particularly in regard to its production.

The arrangements on Open Bar are often perplexing. LoveStoned features an incredibly dull breakdown section, in addition to some wholly unnecessary additions to the Justin Timberlake original. Throughout the album, background vocals are usually saddled with cumbersome and awkward syllables that really distract from the soloists. The ballads are too dependent on "oohs" and "ahhs", bogging them down in very boring territory. The "doo doo doo" bass line at the start of No Such Thing sounds distracting and out of place. The original arrangements usually aren't horrid, but they could definitely benefit from some solid overhauling to make them sound a little more modern.

Out of the Dawg House is not a bad a cappella group; I'll say it again. It's got musicality, for sure, and its sound shows a group with a lot of potential. But, much as I want to, it's very difficult to view Open Bar as anything but a middling and mediocre addition to the a cappella canon. I hope the group's next release will kick it up a notch and bring something new to the table.

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