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Mixed Company

Yale University

Gumption (2013)

3.7

March 11, 2014

Tuning / Blend 3.7
Energy / Intensity 3.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 3.3
Repeat Listenability 3.3
Tracks
1 Son of a Preacher Man 3.7
2 No Air 4.0
3 Gavin's Song 3.7
4 Nothing But the Water / Mercy on Me 3.7
5 Why 3.7
6 (Take Me) Home 3.0
7 Some Nights 2.7
8 Clown 3.7
9 Lover to Lover 4.0
10 Broken Strings 3.0
11 Candyman 3.3
12 Fallin' 3.0
13 Home 3.7

Recorded 2013
Total time: 51:00, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Son of a Preacher Man 4
2 No Air 4
3 Gavin's Song 3
4 Nothing But the Water / Mercy on Me 3
5 Why 4
6 (Take Me) Home 2
7 Some Nights 2
8 Clown 4
9 Lover to Lover 4
10 Broken Strings 3
11 Candyman 3
12 Fallin' 3
13 Home 3

More focused by using a more contemporary approach and refined track list than 7/10 Split, Gumption is an often catchy release from the Yale singers who've been crooning to us for decades. But thinner arrangements than warranted for the modern soundscape and weaker deliveries from the males keeps this album from soaring.

On 7/10 Split, it was challenging to get into the album's groove and pace when we had Seventeen Tracks of Everything (Danny Boy and Teenage Dream, if you need a reminder). This is no longer the case with Gumption, even if the songs still span the musical eras. In a bold move, Gumption starts out with a sparse arrangement of the classic Son of a Preacher Man. And it's a good example of the "more contemporary approach" despite the original release date, because this ol' number just got a hot new dress. It's like an empty playground, where the dazzling lead gets the slides, swings, and merry-go-round all to herself. There's minimal support and funk from the backs, but you'll be listening to the huge display of female prowess on the lead mic from Moriah Rahamim. I took it as a message: "Get ready for the rest of Gumption. We've done things." 

And we get a lot more emotionally-charged singing on Gumption (special hellos to Caroline Rouse on Lover to Lover and Sara Hendel on Clown). But many of the arrangements are a bit too plain and unfilled, and some of the male soloists are wobbly; it's an almost-there scenario. It's uneven. It's a half-baked potato. It's ... you get it. Because even the group's confident divas can't save the cutesy-folksy-snapping-foot-stomping-ness of (Take Me) Home, which is the album's odd-man-out nestled among the other fare. Some Nights never locks as a power anthem, and always seems unsure and frenetic. Nothing But the Water/Mercy on Me needs more plumping and layering in the backs. Candyman could have used more of the Son of a Preacher Man unexpected zing instead of the step-touch feel. I think we get a better overall approach to the disc, but a weaker overall delivery within. 

I praised the arrangements on 7/10 Split and still enjoy listening to the nuances there. If we can take some of the creative strengths from that release, and add it to the memorable moments here ... now that'd be something. Here's hoping for the sweet-spot combo next time. 


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Son of a Preacher Man 4
2 No Air 4
3 Gavin's Song 3
4 Nothing But the Water / Mercy on Me 4
5 Why 3
6 (Take Me) Home 4
7 Some Nights 3
8 Clown 3
9 Lover to Lover 5
10 Broken Strings 3
11 Candyman 3
12 Fallin' 3
13 Home 4

Gumption is at its best when stripped down to its basest elements. The two most exciting moments on the album, Son of a Preacher Man's soulful intro and the confessional opening duet on Nothing But the Water/Mercy on Me, are exceptionally raw when compared to the typical output of a contemporary a cappella group. Mixed Company of Yale delivers an adequate group sound, strong soloists, good arrangements, and appropriate song choices, but what's truly remarkable about the album is that it feels somehow more personal than other releases.

I had difficulty discerning what Mixed Company was going for on 7/10 Split, but here things slide into place with a little more ease. The collected songs still cross genres, but a group sound begins to emerge on Gumption. The group's personality shines through the individual soloists who sell the song choice, while the backgrounds seem to steer the arrangements into more uniform territory. On a song like (Take Me) Home, the listener is instantly drawn to the charm of the two soloists, but by the end of the song the backgrounds have driven us into a more recognized sound.

Mixed Company certainly isn't lacking in energy, which is refreshing. Soloists aren't always the greatest technical vocalists (though some of them are — kudos to Moriah Rahamim on Son of a Preacher Man and Mary Bolt on Nothing But the Water/Mercy on Me), but at no time can any of the singers be accused of phoning it in. Caroline Rouse on Lover to Lover rises up from the album's strongest arrangement and proceeds to deliver an electrifying turn.

For all of Gumption's personality though, the album does feel curiously flat at times. Some Nights builds to its requisite climax, but the journey feels uninspired. Candyman has a fun breakdown near its end, but never grooves harder than a MIDI karaoke track of the song would. The singers aren't over-processed, but so often the vocals are drenched in an off-putting amount of reverb, leaving every cut-off marred by a chorus of ghostly voices (the one time I could have used a huge amount of reverb, softening the handclaps in Home, they are dry as a bone).

Gumption is a definite improvement over 7/10 Split, and it's encouraging to see Mixed Company building on its previous achievements. With an emerging group sound and a deft personal touch, Gumption feels more like a top-tier album than anything Mixed Company has previously released.  


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Son of a Preacher Man 3
2 No Air 4
3 Gavin's Song 5
4 Nothing But the Water / Mercy on Me 4
5 Why 4
6 (Take Me) Home 3
7 Some Nights 3
8 Clown 4
9 Lover to Lover 3
10 Broken Strings 3
11 Candyman 4
12 Fallin' 3
13 Home 4

There are huge contrasts between like and love. Although at certain times, and I am sure many can relate, the two qualities come really close in relation. For example:

  • I like the original Mighty Ducks movie, but I love D2: The Mighty Ducks.
  • I like vanilla ice cream, but I love strawberry ice cream. 

It is in these same distinguishing elements that I find myself with Gumption by Mixed Company of Yale. As a whole, I like the entire project. But there are certain individual aspects that hold back the album and keep me from really loving it. On the other hand, there are specific tracks and traits that I really love and enjoy as-is. Here lies my dilemma.

For starters, I have no doubt that Mixed Company's live sound is a polished and entertaining one. My basis for this: the group has a natural, well-rehearsed studio sound that comes across in quite a few of its tracks. No Air, Nothing But the Water/Mercy on Me, and Candyman are tracks that exemplify this natural sound. I can hear these tracks being performed at a live concert in a similar fashion to the studio work.

This is one of the factors I love about Gumption: the group is able to convince me of its talent.

I also love how there are tracks that caught me off guard. Gavin's Song (opb Marc Broussard) was the first one to grab hold of me. The intense build-up to the bridge alone makes the track noteworthy. The emotional longing exuded in this track is surreal. Nothing But the Water/Mercy on Me further solidifies the group's ability to capture emotion. Mixed Company has a knack for well-placed harmonies in the backing group's sound. The half-time groove in the bridge makes the song cool and a bit jazzy; I was not expecting that.

Now I arrive at the things that make it hard for me to love this album...

While the production is good, at times it is inconsistent. This is speaking primarily to the vocal percussion. Some tracks have no percussion, which is fine and actually works most of the time. Other times, songs like Broken Strings and Candyman feature percussion that constantly hits hard, whereas songs such as Home, Lover to Lover, and Some Nights seem to be lacking. This inconsistent quality really makes or breaks a song.

What is also apparent is how some tracks fluctuate in energy; as the song builds, it either falls off or goes nowhere. Why and Clown succeed in their efforts but (Take Me) Home is one that misses the mark.

Gumption has plenty of moments of fixation and appeal; other times, it ends up leaving me hanging. I like this album, and it gives me plenty of reasons to. It just might not be one that you fall in love with.


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