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The A Cappella Group

Cypress Lake High School

Bright (2015)

4.7

December 27, 2015

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 5.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 Ugly Heart 4.7
2 Hold My Hand 4.7
3 Burn It Down 5.0
4 Infinity 4.7
5 Bright 4.3
6 Close Your Eyes 4.3
7 Boomerang 4.0
8 If I Had You 4.3
9 No Other Plans 4.7
10 High 4.3
11 Kingdom in the Sky 3.7

Recorded 2013 – 2015
Total time: 41:00, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Ugly Heart 5
2 Hold My Hand 5
3 Burn It Down 5
4 Infinity 4
5 Bright 5
6 Close Your Eyes 5
7 Boomerang 4
8 If I Had You 5
9 No Other Plans 5
10 High 5
11 Kingdom in the Sky 4

I'm spooked by how great Bright turned out, though not surprised: The A Cappella Group (TAG) reliably pumps out some the sweetest a cappella jams in our land.

Each and every song on this album sounds special to the group. You can tell by the awe-inspiring emotional conviction that ties Bright together even more tightly than its cosmic theme. The kids are really amped to sing the upbeat fun pieces, Ugly Heart and High most notably. And the sensitivity and pour-your-heart-out performances on the ballads? Oh man. While everyone is hiding in their cars and homes to envelop themselves in Adele's bittersweet crooning, I'm like, "Don't bother me, TAG's No Other Plans is playing ..." No Other Plans is a stops-all-time song whose success stems from the exquisite lead, Jade Lusk, and the heartfelt backs supporting her. Track after track, the soloists completely dazzle on Bright, and could all be listed here for recognition. Someone else deserving of another round of recognition? Alumna Gabrielle Macafee for her fantastic original song Burn It Down. 

This particular iteration of TAG is huge, with 23 album-contributing members listed. That's really an a cappella choir, and credit goes to its professional arranger roster (Tom Anderson, Carrie Wade, Troy Dolendo, and group director Gary Stroh) for making pop songs work so cleanly for this arsenal of voices. While all the source material completely works, given the sheer volume of sound and already mastered emotional presence, I'm craving a traditional foot-stompin' spiritual or a shouty, bluesy anthem that'll bring down the house. Something with roots in folk music, something with grit and funk; I think now's the time to pull out another A Change is Gonna Come, a la the 2012 make-up of TAG. (I was briefly tricked that I got what I asked for when zany Kingdom in the Sky started playing!)

Previously released Stay Gold is both of my daughters' favorite album in my entire collection of music, and I suspect Bright will have a similar hold for them and many others. Though students yourselves, members of TAG, you are role models, too, and you're doing an absolutely awesome job.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Ugly Heart 5
2 Hold My Hand 4
3 Burn It Down 5
4 Infinity 5
5 Bright 5
6 Close Your Eyes 5
7 Boomerang 4
8 If I Had You 4
9 No Other Plans 5
10 High 5
11 Kingdom in the Sky 4

Bright is an apt name for The A Cappella Group's latest album: these singers — from Cypress Lake Center for the Arts — have channeled a super-bright sound on these eleven tracks. These are pop singers singing pop songs — in many ways, the album is the product of the Glee generation; listeners can almost hear that style of performance shimmering in these songs.

That theatre-inspired sound may not be everyone's cup of tea, but Bright is still worth hearing. Only once or twice does a solo slip into an overwhelmingly musical-theatre vibe (Kingdom in the Sky in particular has a Disney sound to it, but that actually works, given the song's content). These singers have nailed the sound they're going for, from the opening "doodley-dop-bop-bop-a-doodle" of Ugly Heart to the soaring solo on High, which lead Allan Faria sings with stunningly effortless grace. Even if that bright, pop-inspired tone isn't your thing, you'll be hard-pressed to find anything wrong with the performance, execution, or delivery of these songs.

The quality of these songs is impressive enough on its own — and perhaps even more impressive considering that TAG releases albums on an annual pace, and, oh yeah, they're all high school students, too. They've enlisted the arranging help of Tom Anderson and the recording expertise of Liquid 5th, but those voices, those performances, and that energy didn't come from Anderson's pen or Liquid 5th's computer.

TAG has traditionally been very good, but with Bright the group crosses over to great: there's not a misplaced solo or a filler track on this album. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Burn It Down, a song penned by TAG alumna Gabrielle Macafee and soloed by Brittany Russell, who sings it as if it was her own. Infinity and No Other Plans are both stunning as well.

The only major space to improve here is dynamics. On too many of these songs, a listener could skip from one chorus to the next seamlessly: there's no build, nothing to make one part of the song sound notably different from the next. These singers have so much energy and focus when performing these songs, but I want them to use these songs to take a journey, and bring the listener with them. As beautiful as the brightness is here, I want to hear more tones and more emotional range. TAG always delivers solid albums — from the performances down to the liner notes — and Bright is no different. But I also know that these singers can push themselves even farther along the path to greatness, to a spot where they're truly unstoppable.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Ugly Heart 4
2 Hold My Hand 5
3 Burn It Down 5
4 Infinity 5
5 Bright 3
6 Close Your Eyes 3
7 Boomerang 4
8 If I Had You 4
9 No Other Plans 4
10 High 3
11 Kingdom in the Sky 3

One thing I would love to know is what they put in their water over at Cypress Lake, because these kids can sang. In a number of ways, Bright, the latest release from The A Cappella Group (TAG) is similar to the group's previous album, Stay Gold: covers of Jillian Edwards, AJR, and The Summer Set, a number of arrangements from Tom Anderson, and another (excellent!) original song from former group member Gabrielle Macafee. On Bright, however, the songs seem to highlight the soloists more and really put the amount of talent in the group on display.

It might seem easy to write off the group members themselves when it comes to creating the album. They have the advantage of having a dedicated group director (Gary Stroh), excellent arrangements (from Stroh, Anderson, Carrie Wade, and Troy Dolendo), and professional sound production (provided by Liquid 5th), but at the end of the day not a single track on here would be as enjoyable without the amount of energy, intensity, or heart that The A Cappella Group brings to each recording. The album opener, Ugly Heart, is an excellent example of this, featuring a number of the girls in the group on lead, and setting a pretty high standard for leads that the rest of the tracks have no trouble meeting. I won't list them all, but my top standouts are Callie Atkinson on Hold My Hand, Ashley Hudson on Bright, and Jade Lusk on No Other Plans.

While a team of people goes into bringing this album to life, most groups could learn a lot from checking it out. There are great examples of how to build an arrangement to really engage your listener; just listen to the second verse of Hold My Hand or the brilliant Stand By Me throwback intro to Infinity. The liner notes are thorough and detailed without requiring tons of space or absurdly small fonts, and the song selections are appropriate and well suited to the group.

So why a "4"? Ultimately, I still think TAG has a bit more up its sleeve, and I'm holding out for it. There are a few tracks on Bright that, while fun and enjoyable, just don't grab me the way others do. I can see the growth from Stay Gold to here, and I have no doubt that TAG will continue to build and improve for the next album, which I'm already eagerly awaiting.


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Ordering Information

This album is available through CD Baby, iTunes, and at Cypress Lake Center for the Arts.

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