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Amazin' Blue

University of Michigan

ABEP (2015)

3.3

August 14, 2015

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 2.7
Innovation / Creativity 2.7
Soloists 3.7
Sound / Production 3.3
Repeat Listenability 2.3
Tracks
1 Gonna Get Over You 2.7
2 Moondance 3.3
3 Ordinary People 3.3
4 Andy Grammer Mash: Keep Your Head Up / Fine By Me 3.3
5 I Will Wait 3.7

Recorded 2012 – 2014
Total time: 19:10, 5 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Gonna Get Over You 2
2 Moondance 3
3 Ordinary People 3
4 Andy Grammer Mash: Keep Your Head Up / Fine By Me 4
5 I Will Wait 3

With a concise title and simple album artwork, the newest release from University of Michigan's Amazin' Blue is clearly about the music. Unfortunately, with low energy, little originality, and a lack of interesting arrangements, ABEP is neither particularly musical nor memorable.

Beginning with Gonna Get Over You, the arrangements are quasi-transcriptions that contain many key points from the original, but miss some elements that would make a transcription more pleasing. In the case of this Sara Bareilles cover, the lack of innovation does not allow the group to justify the lethargy from both the soloist and background singers that is brought front and center. While this song is typically known for its bouncy energy, this version falls flat as an album opener. Moondance contains little to no rhythmic or dynamic subtlety and reads rather heavy-handed, with most of the musicality appearing to be added in the studio. I Will Wait has a really excellent, engaging introduction that is unfortunately upstaged by major tempo inconsistencies, especially those sections that seem a few clicks too fast. And despite the potential loaded in the original, Ordinary People is just that: ordinary.

It's not all bad for Amazin' Blue on this EP. Consonance is readily available throughout ABEP, and many chord choices, especially those in Moondance and the introduction to I Will Wait, deserve mention for their slick voice leading and appropriate harmonic function. The shining moment for energy, innovation, and soloists is in the Andy Grammer mashup. Oddly enough, the mashup itself is my least favorite part of the track, but Keep Your Head Up and Fine By Me are executed very well separately, and at a level substantially higher than the rest of the album.

Four studios are credited for the making of ABEP: Voices Only Productions for producing, Northgate Productions for editing and mixing, Solid Sound Recording Company for recording, and Dave Sperandio for mastering. The studios deserve much of the credit for producing an album that has many attractive sounds. The group has to give more energy and musicality at the time of recording though, because there is little that can be done after the fact to compensate and still sound natural. I hope Amazin' Blue can infuse more of the energy the group shows toward the end of ABEP and apply more sound musical choices in its next release.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Gonna Get Over You 3
2 Moondance 4
3 Ordinary People 4
4 Andy Grammer Mash: Keep Your Head Up / Fine By Me 3
5 I Will Wait 4

My biggest complaint about Amazin' Blue's latest project, ABEP, is that I want more. There are only five songs on this EP, and I wish that the group had done more with these five songs. 

A cappella as a form is now about innovation and going beyond simply transcribing songs for voices. So when a group presents a song and the listener hears the original — except with voices — for me, this is a lost opportunity. With ABEP, I hear this clearly in the first three songs. That's not to say these songs don't sound good, because they do, but when there's nothing particularly intriguing to a cover, why not listen to the original instead?

This finally changes for the last song and a half of the EP. Sure, the Andy Grammer mashup obviously can't be just like the original because it is a mashup, but besides the clear change to the second song, it feels more like a medley until the end, when both songs are going at once and there is as much energy from the background vocals as the solo. In I Will Wait, it may not be drastic, but the decision from the arrangers to simplify things and rely often on just the harmonies of the lyrics makes it beautiful, fun, and makes the climax of the song that much better, too.

Solos keep me from giving this release a "3". Chris Kendall's performance in Ordinary People and David Magumba's in I Will Wait are highlights for me, with Travis Ward-Osborne's Van Morrison a close third favorite. These guys inject energy and style into their performances, going beyond singing the notes by giving the solos a personal flair.

I'm giving this EP a "4" overall, because while there are definitely matters to work on, at the end of the day it's an enjoyable twenty minutes of music. And that's the most important part.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Gonna Get Over You 3
2 Moondance 3
3 Ordinary People 3
4 Andy Grammer Mash: Keep Your Head Up / Fine By Me 3
5 I Will Wait 4

On the surface, Amazin' Blue's new EP, ABEP, is a solid yearbook recording that definitely provides a number of high points and shows off the skill of these talented musicians. And yet, I can't help but want just a little more from them across each track and was a little disappointed when what I was looking for didn't show up.

First, let's look at the positives. All of the soloists are tremendous, and their passion and emotion comes through on each and every track. While I wish I could highlight every soloist, two really stand out. I Will Wait, featuring David Magumba, is exceptional — I can feel the pain, longing, and even desperation at the end of the track, which is exactly what the lyrics demand from the musician. And Moondance transports me into my local jazz bar, just snapping away listening to Travis Ward-Osborne dancing over the verses. The percussion is well-placed in all of the tracks, both tastefully done and not overpowering the soloists. I'd love to give a personal shout-out to the group's percussionist, however, the group doesn't list a vocal percussionist in the liner notes.

What seems to be lacking is the balance on each track. In Moondance, for example, I am fighting to hear Travis's solo and the bass line over the other voice parts, particularly the soprano's "dah-dah"s in the first verse, and the "whoa whoa"s in the second verse across the top three vocal parts. There needs to be more of a dynamic awareness in the background, as many of the tracks are sung at the same medium-loud (mezzoforte) level. I would have liked — and I believe it's necessary — to have a little more variety. In Ordinary People, I wish the verses were delivered softer and with a little more intensity, so that the group opening up and growing on the choruses would have much more of a dramatic effect for the listener. Right now, I can tell that the group was trying to grow, but from where the singers were in the verses, there just wasn't anywhere to go at that point.

In addition to the vp oversight I mentioned, I wish Amazin' Blue had been more careful with the liner notes. The song Andy Grammer Mash: Keep Your Head Up / Fine By Me sounds like it has a third Andy Grammer song, Slow, introduced into the final chorus with a different soloist, but there was no mention of this in the liner notes. It took me a little while to recognize that there was a third song, and I question the value added to the arrangement by its inclusion. The track already has a lot going on in that last chorus with the two soloists and the background vocals, and the addition of the third song was done in a way that makes that last chorus sound jumbled.

Ultimately, this is a good yearbook EP put forth by Amazin' Blue. If the group spends a little more time on the next album focusing on matching the emotions of the background vocals through dynamics and vowels to match that of the soloist, I think we'll be in for something special.


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Ordering Information

ABEP is available on Loudr, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon MP3, Google Play, Bandcamp, and at amazinblue.org.

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