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The A Cappella Group

Cypress Lake High School

Stay Gold (2014)

4.3

December 5, 2014

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Classic 4.0
2 Rather Be 4.7
3 Stay Gold 5.0
4 Nonfiction Love Song 4.3
5 When the Day Met the Night 3.7
6 The Keeper 4.7
7 I'm Ready 4.0
8 The Giving Tree 4.7
9 Maybe Tonight 4.3
10 6'2" 4.0
11 Kinks Shirt 4.0

Recorded 2014
Total time: 37:19, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Classic 4
2 Rather Be 5
3 Stay Gold 5
4 Nonfiction Love Song 5
5 When the Day Met the Night 4
6 The Keeper 4
7 I'm Ready 4
8 The Giving Tree 5
9 Maybe Tonight 5
10 6'2" 5
11 Kinks Shirt 5

There's so much emotional weight in this album it's like a vocal tattoo for the heart. The whole concept of staying gold is spot-on for young people in transition, and many of the tracks fit neatly into this world of growth and change. It's like one long graduation song, perfectly enough. 

The title track is an original composed by TAG songstress Gabrielle Macafee, who also handles the lead on her work. The first two tracks of this album are great uptempo hip-shakers, but for me it all starts on track three. Stay Gold is a fabulous, catchy composition with a soaring chorus, and it's a song with a journey — both musically and lyrically. And that voice, as strong and beautiful as any of the popular female recording artists on the air today: this certainly isn't Gabrielle's last lead.

Furthering the stay gold feel, I'm also smitten with 6'2", a sweet little ballad where soloist Peyton Davis pines:

"No I'm not particular, but could he have blue eyes, just like the sky? And blonde hair, wavy and light, and 6 foot 2 is more favorite height ... But Lord, I don't care what he looks like." 

It's absolutely darling and gorgeously arranged by director Gary Stroh, and it captures young love and earnest hope so well. And there's no one I'd rather hear sing this cover than The A Cappella Group. Why? Tight, energized singing. Forward momentum. Beautiful dynamics. Sensitive deliveries: power when it's time to go full-on, delicacy when it's time to step back and let the listener in. This group is good.

Track after track is good. The album's closer Kinks Shirt is such a fun addictive jam, capturing the jubilance of youth with plenty of spunk from soloist Josiah Vega. The instant compelling-ness of The Giving Tree with its complex arrangement is another winner here. 

Also, this is my third TAG album in a row where I've wondered how Mr. Stroh develops soloists like this. Can this many teenage voices really arrive to him in this shape, and he need only move out of their way? 

I still think there's a bit too much artificial sheen on the backgrounds (I've said this before), but it doesn't impede my enjoyment. Stay Gold, a sophisticated and bittersweet release, is easily my favorite TAG album to date.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Classic 4
2 Rather Be 5
3 Stay Gold 5
4 Nonfiction Love Song 4
5 When the Day Met the Night 3
6 The Keeper 5
7 I'm Ready 4
8 The Giving Tree 4
9 Maybe Tonight 4
10 6'2" 4
11 Kinks Shirt 3

The A Cappella Group (TAG) certainly doesn't sound like a high school group on its latest album Stay Gold. And it's no wonder: the group has brought in a number of charts from superstar arrangers (Ben Bram, Tom Anderson) and recorded the album professionally with Liquid 5th. Even the liner notes are thorough: the group credits the original group as well as all songwriters, giving the group a thoughtfulness and maturity much higher than the average high school group.

TAG performs equally well in front of the mic, and the standout track here is the original Stay Gold. Songwriter Gabrielle Macafee delivers a heartfelt lead, Tom Anderson's arrangement is beautifully-textured, and the TAG singers execute the dynamics flawlessly. There's a build and decrescendo in the song's final minute that convey the song's narrative arc, and the effect is just stunning.

Nothing else on Stay Gold is quite that powerful, but there are still a number of really solid performances here. On Rather Be, the complex line in the backs is immaculate — and, more importantly, is dropped way down in the mix when the soloist comes in, so it adds a texture in the background without competing against the more important lead. The harmonies on The Keeper and Maybe Tonight are beautiful, Maddie Taylor's lead on The Giving Tree is one of the strongest here, and the group overall has a strong mastery of dynamics that keeps every song and arrangement moving forward.

My critique for TAG going forward is to keep working on the details. Make sure every soloist is perfect for his/her song, make sure every song is a good fit for the group, and make sure that every song/performance is worth recording on an album. The weakest songs here — Kinks Shirt, When the Day Met the Night, and Classic — are all fine but unremarkable. The singers sound fine, the soloist is fine, but there's nothing here that really sticks with a listener or leaves a lasting impression.

All that said, the group is on a strong upward trajectory based on its previous releases, and Stay Gold is a fun, well-performed album that's certainly worth listening to. TAG singers, you've made an album that college groups could learn a lot from, and for that I commend you.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Classic 4
2 Rather Be 4
3 Stay Gold 5
4 Nonfiction Love Song 4
5 When the Day Met the Night 4
6 The Keeper 5
7 I'm Ready 4
8 The Giving Tree 5
9 Maybe Tonight 4
10 6'2" 3
11 Kinks Shirt 4

"Promise me you'll stay gold for all your life," is Gabrielle Macafee's plea in the titular song on the latest album from TAG (The A Cappella Group). If the group's work on this album is any indication, the singers should have no trouble living up to the request. The song, Stay Gold, was penned by Macafee herself — displaying some nice songwriting chops already as a high school senior — and arranged beautifully by Tom Anderson. It is also an excellent example of a song where everything really comes together for TAG: a strong solo performance and emotionally connected backgrounds along with good pacing and dynamics.

Across the board, there's a lot going right on this album. Liquid 5th Productions did an excellent job recording, mixing, and mastering the songs. The arrangements are all top-notch, featuring a number of contributions each from Ben Bram, Tom Anderson, and Carrie Wade, along with an excellent take on The Plain White T's The Giving Tree provided by Troy Dolendo. TAG puts up great solo performances song after song, although I have to highlight Peyton Davis and Maddie Taylor. Not only do the two girls deliver impressive solos individually (Davis on 6'2" and Taylor on The Giving Tree), but they also provide the beautiful duet in The Keeper.

There is little to find fault with on Stay Gold, all the way down to the liner notes, which many collegiate groups could use as a template for how to correctly credit songs. Ultimately, my biggest critique is that I sometimes find myself wishing I was less aware of the mixing. Carl Taylor at Liquid 5th did a great job providing texture and dynamics, but there are places where I would prefer them from the singers themselves. It's perhaps a tall order, and one that has been mentioned in previous reviews of the group, but I also think it's an attainable one. TAG obviously has a large pool of talent, and they seem to have locked-in so many other areas where groups commonly struggle. With a little more focus on how they can use their timbre and volume, I think they'll be giving most groups, high-school or otherwise, a run for their money.


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Ordering Information

Album can be ordered on CD Baby, iTunes and other online music vendors.  Album is also available at Cypress Lake Center for the Arts.

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