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Naturally Seven

Non-Fiction (1999)

5.0

July 6, 2000

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.8
Innovation / Creativity 4.6
Soloists 4.6
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.2
Tracks
1 Opening Meditation (The Path I Take) 5.0
2 Theme From Mahogany 4.8
3 Sit-Back-Relax... 5.0
4 WDRG-AM 4.8
5 Bridge Over Troubled Water 4.8
6 All of You 4.8
7 ...At the Tone 4.8
8 Born To Worship 4.4
9 Last Days (Preprise) 4.6
10 Blessed Assurance 4.6
11 Y'all Hear Dat 5.0
12 Train 5.0
13 Last Days 4.6
14 Bless This House 5.0
15 Closing Meditation (The Path I Take) 5.0
16 Have I Ever Told You (Bonus Track) 4.6

Recorded 1999
Total time: 50:01, 16 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Opening Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
2 Theme From Mahogany 5
3 Sit-Back-Relax... 5
4 WDRG-AM 5
5 Bridge Over Troubled Water 5
6 All of You 5
7 ...At the Tone 5
8 Born To Worship 4
9 Last Days (Preprise) 5
10 Blessed Assurance 5
11 Y'all Hear Dat 5
12 Train 5
13 Last Days 5
14 Bless This House 5
15 Closing Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
16 Have I Ever Told You (Bonus Track) 5

Wow, what a great album this is. Naturally Seven has put together a collection of amazingly smooth and tight sounding music that most everyone should hear. In case you missed it, Naturally Seven is the group that won the 1999 Harmony Sweepstakes in convincing fashion. This album is a product of that remarkable group of men made not long afterwards, hot off their win.

This album is full of R&B heavy jazz songs and snippets. Snippets? Yes... such as the radio tag that N7 recorded for WDRG-AM in New York. That alone is a huge example of the tight, professional sound that these guys have. They also made a cute (and impressive) answering machine outgoing message. Or there is a little bit called Y'all Hear Dat as an intro for the next song (Train) that is full of atmosphere and style, as they imitate a train and a storyteller starts talking about "The Train". Doesn't sound like much with me trying to describe it, but believe me, it fits into the whole concept of this album being more of a story and a personal expression of what they do... and what they are.

I am just really impressed by this group and their sound. A rich, full-bodied sound that is only elevated even higher by the great production. They have slow songs, they have moderate tempo songs. They have vocal percussion (spotless, by the way). Most of the songs refer to God and worship, but also about life and love. N7 does all of it with such style and panache that it is hard for me to choose favorite songs... but one that did get my attention was Train. It will impress you too... if you get to listen to it...

...which, in conclusion, I will say you should do! Get this album. Get it get it get it. Even if you don't normally listen to the black R&B genre, you should listen to this. It is a masterful recording and well worth the price. 'Nuff said.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Opening Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
2 Theme From Mahogany 5
3 Sit-Back-Relax... 5
4 WDRG-AM 5
5 Bridge Over Troubled Water 5
6 All of You 5
7 ...At the Tone 5
8 Born To Worship 5
9 Last Days (Preprise) 5
10 Blessed Assurance 5
11 Y'all Hear Dat 5
12 Train 5
13 Last Days 5
14 Bless This House 5
15 Closing Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
16 Have I Ever Told You (Bonus Track) 5

From start to finish, Non-Fiction delivers dense harmonies and soulful, praise-the-Lord-leads in a Jazz/R&B/Gospel fusion style. The production values are as slick as they come and I dare you to find a more consistent sixteen tracks on any recording. Both the originals and covers are highly demanding arrangements, taking the listener through unexpected tonal twists and rhythmic stylings. If you love Take 6, and particularly if you miss their early completely a cappella sound, you will love Naturally Seven.

Naturally Seven is Take 6's doppelganger. Despite the fact not a single track was lifted from any of Take 6's work, the "essence" of Naturally Seven is practically identical to their well-known predecessor. In fact, it is for this reason that I could not give this highly original CD the perfect score for its originality. While surely, great efforts have gone into these stunningly beautiful arrangements, stylistically, the spirit of Take 6 has been forcibly conjured; it haunts every note. And that is more than a bit unsettling.

In the future, I expect that Naturally Seven will begin to develop its own unique sound, greater than, and distinct from its roots. But for now, they are an amazingly talented group, creating lush, jazzy, funky, spiritually uplifting music in the precise style of Take 6. When the day comes that this group is ready to work without a net, look out; they have the potential to set the new standard. Then it will be Naturally Seven's sound that others imitate.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Opening Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
2 Theme From Mahogany 5
3 Sit-Back-Relax... 5
4 WDRG-AM 5
5 Bridge Over Troubled Water 5
6 All of You 5
7 ...At the Tone 5
8 Born To Worship 5
9 Last Days (Preprise) 5
10 Blessed Assurance 5
11 Y'all Hear Dat 5
12 Train 5
13 Last Days 5
14 Bless This House 5
15 Closing Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
16 Have I Ever Told You (Bonus Track) 5

So, I am listening to this disc by Take 7 and... Oh, wait, sorry, I mean Naturally Seven. Shoot, let's make this simple: do you like Take 6? Yes? Buy this disc.

OK, maybe you don't like Take 6, or maybe you don't know who they are, but you're still a fan of great arrangements, tight chords, soulful leads (and I mean soul FULL), ultra-hip original material, fantastic production, tasteful VP. If that's the case, then buy this disc.

And, of course, if you're a Jesus fan, buy this disc. Lot's of Jesus here.

Roger Thomas. When you get this disc, this is a name you will get to know well. Arranged and produced every track, wrote most of the originals. The man is clearly very, very talented.

I should mention that these guys are the 1999 Harmony Sweepstakes National Champions.

Look, if you're still reading, you must be at least a little curious, right? BUY THIS ALBUM! Even if you don't necessarily like gospel jazz, you will certainly dig the obvious joy and energy that comes across on every track. From the bouncy Born to Worship to the Stevie Wonder-like break in Train, you'll be carried along by their enthusiasm and spirit. There are too many gorgeous moments on this album to mention them here. I'll stop wasting your time. Now, you know what to do...

GO BUY THIS DISC!


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Opening Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
2 Theme From Mahogany 4
3 Sit-Back-Relax... 5
4 WDRG-AM 5
5 Bridge Over Troubled Water 4
6 All of You 5
7 ...At the Tone 5
8 Born To Worship 5
9 Last Days (Preprise) 4
10 Blessed Assurance 3
11 Y'all Hear Dat 5
12 Train 5
13 Last Days 3
14 Bless This House 5
15 Closing Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
16 Have I Ever Told You (Bonus Track) 3

Naturally Seven's debut album Non-Fiction is a very strong offering from such a young group. Their blended sound and use of complex harmonies definitely put them in the top level of groups out there. Unfortunately, their sound conjures up visions in my head of Take 6 (maybe there's something about having a number in your group's name and singing gospel/r&b/jazz).

The album starts out with a nice rendition Beethoven's Adagio Cantabile (second movement) of his Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, Op. 13 (aka the sonata Pathetique). We find it again at the end of the album, providing us a nice feeling of closure. Then we move into what seems to be intended as a live sounding cover track, The Theme from Mahogany of which I'm not familiar. The fake feedback and randomly dispersed cheers from the audience neither sound real nor appropriately placed (why are they randomly cheering? It reminds me of opening track of St. Pepper's by The Beatles).

Their sound is very smooth and nicely blended. There are several tiny pitch-glitches that occur throughout. Nothing major, but it's not perfect. The sound production is definitely first-class, having no problems that jump out at you. The vocal percussion sounds are good, but they definitely sound sampled and played back with a drum machine which takes a little away from their note on the jewel case stating that "all musical sounds (including drums) [were] created by the human voice". I guess that statement is true but a little misleading. All sounds are human sounds, but played back by a machine. It's not a big deal, but gives the sound a Nylons sort of drum-machine feel. The baby sample used on "Born to Worship" sounds very gimmicky (a la Aaliyah Are You That Somebody) and feels very out of place (unlike the Aaliyah sample, which is mixed in well and feels right).

What is the point of listing a track as "Bonus Track" (as they have done with Have I Ever Told You)? Was there a large release of this album that didn't include that track and now they're giving their fans a little "bonus"? It's a particularly cool sounding track (featuring three guys known as "Da Horsemen" and Kenny Muhammad, "The Human Orchestra") that should just be swapped with the Closing Mediation and have the "Bonus Track" moniker removed.

Overall, this is a very solid album. There is some fine singing and arranging here. So if you like gospel/r&b/jazz-and-Take-6-sounding music go out and buy a copy of this album, you won't be disappointed.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Opening Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
2 Theme From Mahogany 5
3 Sit-Back-Relax... 5
4 WDRG-AM 4
5 Bridge Over Troubled Water 5
6 All of You 4
7 ...At the Tone 4
8 Born To Worship 3
9 Last Days (Preprise) 4
10 Blessed Assurance 5
11 Y'all Hear Dat 5
12 Train 5
13 Last Days 5
14 Bless This House 5
15 Closing Meditation (The Path I Take) 5
16 Have I Ever Told You (Bonus Track) 5

Naturally Seven is a perfectly named group. Totally at home in their voices, mature and confident in their repertoire, the seven members sound like they were born to sing these songs. The 1999 Harmony Sweepstakes winners have released a disc remarkable among a cappella recordings for exploring a range of genres while maintaining a cohesive and unified sound. The tracks incorporate countless influences: jazz chords, hip-hop sampling, modern gospel riffs, and classic spiritual themes. Yet the overall effect is of a distinctive group identity, marked by smooth, husky blend and attention to detail.

This is a professional album in the most literal sense; from beginning to end, you'll hear men who have found their life's work. So many a cappella soloists — even strong ones — sound like they're imitating the way they think real singers sing. Naturally Seven could teach a lot of boy bands that real vocal magnetism comes from singing (and rapping) like men. Even the religious songs exude the masculinity that comes from self-assurance and skill.

The track list includes a balance of covers and originals, but this group doesn't cover; they re-invent. They interpret folk rock, traditional hymn, and even a snippet of Beethoven, preserving the soul of each piece while making the rendition wholly their own. Bridge Over Troubled Water is virtually an original setting of Simon & Garfunkel's words, with elements of the familiar melody floating above lush, deep jazz chords. Rhythmically complex originals like Sit-Back-Relax... and Have I Ever Told You showcase every a cappella virtue, from dead-on tuning to seamless percussion to dynamic energy. The beats never drag, but these guys are in no hurry. They ease from tone to tone, lingering over each bittersweet chord.

On the negative side, I wish that some tracks weren't interrupted by jarring samples and sound effects. The chirping on All of You only distracted me from the song's pure simplicity, and annoying baby squeals ruin Born to Worship, an otherwise terrific track. Also, the nine real songs are separated by interludes, some of which work better than others. It's kind of fun to have a favorite group on your answering machine, but I'd rather download a track like ...At The Tone from a group's web page than listen to it every time I play the CD. But these complaints are more than outweighed by the across-the-board quality of this group.

Non-Fiction's last track asks and answers, "What time is it? It's time to be true. Time to be you." Few groups follow this advice as well as Naturally Seven. As Sit-Back-Relax... puts it, Non-Fiction is smoky, mellow, and on the cutting edge.

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