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The Overtones

James Madison University

Synesthesia (2015)

3.7

December 16, 2015

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 3.7
Tracks
1 Uptown Funk 4.0
2 Chandelier 4.7
3 I Was Here 3.7
4 Miss Movin' On 4.0
5 I Wouldn't Be A Man 3.0
6 Give Me Love 3.7
7 Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 3.3
8 Guilty Pleasures Medley 4 3.3
9 I Want It All 4.0
10 Something In The Water 3.3

Recorded 2014 – 2015
Total time: 41:38, 10 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Uptown Funk 4
2 Chandelier 5
3 I Was Here 4
4 Miss Movin' On 4
5 I Wouldn't Be A Man 4
6 Give Me Love 4
7 Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 3
8 Guilty Pleasures Medley 4 4
9 I Want It All 4
10 Something In The Water 4

It's rare that an entire album can have every track make a statement, but Synesthesia does. I cannot recall the last album to accomplish this. Every track might not be your favorite, but the JMU Overtones make each one an engaging experience. Whether you'll be dancing, teary-eyed, or simply amazed, the ride is definitely worth it.

From start to finish, the album has appeal. For starters, the album feels right for its time. Current tracks like Uptown Funk actually manage to channel the groove of the original. The arrangement has plenty of style, creativity, and moments where even the backing group is given a chance to shine, making the whole experience fun.

Both Miss Movin' On and I Want It All are great female-driven tracks that pack a serious punch in their own respective rights. Miss Movin' On capitalizes on simplicity mixed in with some great harmonies, whereas I Want It All is funky and sassy, almost as if the Overtones traveled back in time to headline a '70s disco club.

Synesthesia also has moments of surprise. I Wouldn't Be A Man and Guilty Pleasures Medley 4 come out of left field. The lead's voice on I Wouldn't Be A Man is strong and deep, along with the group's sound. The foundation is cohesive without being over the top and simply provides the necessary support to make the song enjoyable. I'm going to need more groups to tackle country songs.

Normally when a group does a medley, it has a tendency to not be complete on all fronts, but this is not the case for Guilty Pleasure Medley 4. Each transition is smooth, features a mix of ballads and upbeat tunes, and even has good impersonators at times (like the Toxic soloist).

I Was Here showcases a well-balanced group that culminates in the most effortless song on the album. My favorite track, however, has to be Chandelier. Soloist Audrey Rinehart has a stunning voice fitting of the somehow darker Overtones' arrangement of the popular Sia track. It's a well-controlled lead that's flawless, with an arrangement heavy with emotion.

Both Give Me Love and Something In The Water are commendable, although the latter at times feels like it has build-ups to moments that never arrive. Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You is not quite on the level of the other tracks, but has a sense of life that at the very least makes it interesting.

There are simply not enough good things to say about Synesthesia. Soloists are strong and captivating, and the Overtones have such a complete and polished sound with a serious skill level for rhythm and attitude. Minor critiques such as stronger contrasts in dynamics, more complexity in arrangements, and an even greater push in intensity (which I sense the Overtones can offer) to move the listener are what make them just miss the mark for a "5".

But do purchase this album. One listen will easily make you a fan of the Overtones.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Uptown Funk 3
2 Chandelier 4
3 I Was Here 3
4 Miss Movin' On 4
5 I Wouldn't Be A Man 2
6 Give Me Love 3
7 Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 3
8 Guilty Pleasures Medley 4 2
9 I Want It All 3
10 Something In The Water 3

The best generic a cappella cover band ever. This was my first thought after listening to Synesthesia by the Overtones of James Madison University. Imagine eating the best vanilla ice cream that exists. It's delicious, but at the end of the day, it's still vanilla.  Synesthesia has a few sprinkles and chocolate chips to add variety, but its strong production value and solid vocals make this album worth the listen, not the originality.

Some of the gems here include Chandelier and Miss Movin' On. The Sia cover has a tenderness that brings out the heart-wrenching lyrics beautifully. Miss Movin' On takes the listener on a journey of empowerment that the arrangement captures perfectly. The soloists on these tracks enhance and reciprocate the musical canvas the other voices create. Other notables in the solo department are on Give Me Love and the legit Britney Spears imitation at the beginning of Guilty Pleasure Medley 4.

The thing that frustrates me is the missed potential. The songs flow well enough from one to the next, and I'll admit that I got inappropriately excited when I heard the bass intro to Uptown Funk. But with all the talent, I didn't get to know the group at all. And the title, Synesthesia, misled me. I was expecting a journey through audio colors, an experience that would transcend the superficial layer of musical enjoyment. I expected to be enriched in some small way. Instead I got A Cappella Radio. There's even the obligatory country track with I Wouldn't Be A Man.

I should state that there aren't any bad tracks on Synesthesia. Every single one is well done and sounds great. It really is the best vanilla ice cream you could have.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Uptown Funk 5
2 Chandelier 5
3 I Was Here 4
4 Miss Movin' On 4
5 I Wouldn't Be A Man 3
6 Give Me Love 4
7 Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You 4
8 Guilty Pleasures Medley 4 4
9 I Want It All 5
10 Something In The Water 3

The Overtones from James Madison University have delivered a record that is enjoyable to listen to from start to finish. From the clever and complete arrangements to some dynamic solo performances throughout Synesthesia, tied together with amazing touches from James Gammon Productions, this album is sure to have many a cappella fans groovin' to each and every one of these tracks.

As soon as you click play, Uptown Funk lets you know that you are in for quite the musical ride. Justin Evans delivers a powerful and energetic solo that catches your attention and also shows off a dynamic falsetto that would make Bruno Mars proud. The arrangement by Alex Hubbard is very slick and allows for each voice part, both solo and background vocals, to have their own little moments to shine, particularly in the choruses and the bridge. Specifically, the repeating "uptown funk" in the bridge is very interesting and fun, where each syllable of the phrase is traded off between the tenors and the women voice parts in an almost waterfall effect. The stunning solos continue in the next two tracks, with Audrey Rinehart finding a balance of both subtle and powerful in her rendition of Chandelier, and the emotional rollercoaster that Courtney Jamison takes us on with her rendition of I Was Here. Toward the end of the record, Rachel Cowgill leads the Overtones into Karmin's I Want It All, which just makes me want to get up and dance around my house. Between Cowgill's powerful solo and the ever-present bass line and smooth vocal percussion, I have to keep reminding myself that, no, I'm not out at a club. 

A couple of things, however, keep me from giving this album a "5". I Wouldn't Be A Man falls a little flat for me. This could partially be because it follows Uptown Funk and Miss Movin' On, but we don't get the same energy from the group or the contrast in dynamic levels that we receive on the preceding tracks or the tracks that follow — it just leaves us wanting more. And then there's Guilty Pleasure Medley 4, which has me a little confused. While I do enjoy the track as a whole, which features seven different songs including Britney Spears's Toxic, N*Sync's Pop, and Where Is The Love? from The Black Eyed Peas, I find myself trying to figure out if there's a reason why these seven tracks were selected. I think it would have been more effective if the songs were pieced and put together to illustrate some sort of story, or if there was a more clear understanding of how the songs fit together. I also think that the track lasts maybe thirty seconds to a minute longer than it should — if the group had just five or six songs, it would have had the same impact. Kudos goes to Christopher Little, though, on the arrangement and finding ways to seamlessly transition from one track to another, be it with tempo changes or introducing one song in another's chorus.

Overall, I think the Overtones do a great job of creating their own little creative moments in these ten tracks. For the next recording, I challenge the group to take those little creative nuggets they give us and do that for an entire track — take a track and completely turn it on it's head to create something that the original artist may not have thought of. Based on these arrangements, the Overtones definitely have the skill and talent to do this on future records. 

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