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Voice Male

Hooked (2000)

3.8

January 29, 2001

Tuning / Blend 4.4
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.6
Soloists 3.8
Sound / Production 4.2
Repeat Listenability 3.4
Tracks
1 Walking on Sunshine 4.4
2 Good Lovin' 4.0
3 Only One 4.2
4 You Lift Me Up 4.0
5 Danny Boy 3.4
6 Love Boat Theme 3.4
7 The Rainbow Connection 3.4
8 Light in Your Eyes 4.4
9 It's All Been Done 3.0
10 Farmer Tan 3.2
11 Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag 3.4
12 Been There 4.2
13 Give Them a Vision 4.2

Recorded 1999 – 2000
Total time: 43:34, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Walking on Sunshine 4
2 Good Lovin' 4
3 Only One 4
4 You Lift Me Up 4
5 Danny Boy 4
6 Love Boat Theme 4
7 The Rainbow Connection 4
8 Light in Your Eyes 4
9 It's All Been Done 2
10 Farmer Tan 3
11 Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag 3
12 Been There 3
13 Give Them a Vision 4

It's hard to take the theme to The Love Boat seriously. Hard, but not impossible. On their new CD, Voice Male tackles the tune with astonishing respect. They know it's goofy, and give it a suitably swanky solo to prove it, but they don't do so at the expense of the song. They aren't making fun of the song's cheese factor; they're paying tribute to it.

Immediately after they take on The Love Boat, Voice Male tries another song that doesn't normally get a lot of respect: The Rainbow Connection. Most covers of songs by the Muppets feature bad impersonations of the Muppets. This is not only disrespectful of the source material, but it also misses the appeal of the original song. The original Muppet performances were so appealing because they were so direct and honest. If you do a crappy impersonation of Kermit, you're not only saying, "I think this is a dumb kids' song", but you're also cheating the song of the honest solo it deserves. Voice Male doesn't fall into that trap. Like they do with The Love Boat they give the song the solo it deserves. Except this time around, the song isn't cheesy, despite the title. (It's a serious exploration of why people sometimes have cheesy sentiment even though they ought to know better.) Accordingly, soloist John Luthy sings in his natural voice. He's not hiding behind Kermit — he simply sings it from his own point of view. That aside, he could have delivered a better performance. The song is bittersweet. Voice Male captures the sad tones of the song, but they're missing the optimism. Luthy doesn't lilt enough, which is surprising since on the very next track (Light in Your Eyes), he proves to be playful and light on his feet when he's serving as the groups vocal percussionist.

Although the performances of The Love Boat and Rainbow Connection both take the songs seriously, putting them back to back on the album makes them come off as novelty songs. If they had each been tucked between more obviously serious takes on pop songs, they would have fit right in, but side by side they come off as jokey. It's simply a matter of bad track sequencing (even though it was an interesting idea to put the two songs written by Paul Williams next to each other). On the whole, that's the problem with the album: too many novelty songs. The album starts off with a bunch of tight performances of enjoyable pop songs, but the second half of the album is heavy on the humor, and that colors all that comes before it. By the end, it seems like a comedy album with some pop songs thrown in. And that's bad because Voice Male's strength is pop music, not comedy.

Give Them a Vision, the album's closing track, is borderline gospel (you could read it as a secular number if you're so inclined). It's definitely not a comedy number, but since it's not a pop song it has the same effect as the comedy songs: it detracts from the group's pop sound. Maybe if it hadn't ended the disc, it would have served as a nice break from the regularly schedule pop lineup, but since it ends the album and follows the comedy songs, it just waters down the album's focus. It would be wrong, however, not to acknowledge that it's a beautiful song: beautifully written, beautifully sung. As an added bonus, they have a guest choir join them part way through, but, wonderfully, not in the way you might expect. They don't burst into a crescendo the way you might expect a gospel song to do. Instead, the song maintains a steady and peaceful pace, and the added voices make it grow richer and warmer. It's not a rejoice-to-the-heavens kind of joy, but rather a perfectly contented sigh. So, the track hurts the album as a whole, but taken on its own it's subtle, it's fresh, and it's pure joy. That's pretty much the running theme of this CD: When otherwise enjoyable songs are poorly sequenced (and combined with a few misguided comedy numbers) they can end up diminishing the album.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Walking on Sunshine 4
2 Good Lovin' 4
3 Only One 5
4 You Lift Me Up 4
5 Danny Boy 2
6 Love Boat Theme 2
7 The Rainbow Connection 2
8 Light in Your Eyes 4
9 It's All Been Done 2
10 Farmer Tan 2
11 Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag 2
12 Been There 5
13 Give Them a Vision 3

I was truly torn while listening to this album. The studio was used perfectly to produce a nice, professional sound. The performers are filled with energy, and there is nothing wrong with their pitch or blend. The problem that I had was with the song selections. Some of them are great tracks (I was actually surprised that I liked them), but the few runts really brought my opinion of this album down.

Let's start with the positive. As I said before, Voice Male has great tuning. These guys really seem to know each other's voices. This can only come from constant practice and spending lots of time together.

This album is also the perfect example of how to use a studio. There are no flaws that I could hear. The backgrounds and percussion are all set at just the right level, so while they're still prominent, they don't overshadow the solo. I wouldn't consider these guys as plugged in as KiCKSHAW or Boyz Nite Out, but they still use a good amount of effects. It elevates the sound from amateur to professional.

I was also pleasantly surprised by some of the arrangements. When I first looked at the song list I thought, "Oh no. They do Walking on Sunshine and Good Lovin'.". After I played the tracks, though, I understood why they were added. They are filled with energy and performed in a way that improves on the originals and brings them into the 21st century.

Now to the negative. There are a few selections included on this CD that do not fit at all. While as a whole the disc is very good, these songs kept it from being excellent. The first is Danny Boy. It's a very pretty arrangement, but it's done completely straight with no variation in the lead or background. This makes the song uninspiring to listen to when it's a song that should be filled with so much passion. It was also very out of place on a disc on which every other song would be considered contemporary.

I also had issues with Love Boat Theme, Farmer Tan, and Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag. These songs are probably great in performance when the group can really interact with their audience. This interaction is essential for comedy. Without it, the songs really aren't that funny and shouldn't be included on a studio CD.

My final gripe is with Rainbow Connection. This song is extremely tough to do, and I give Voice Male credit for trying, but this version just doesn't work. The problem is that Kermit the Frog originally sang it. Like Dave Matthews, Bob Dylan, and Janis Joplin, Kermit has a very distinctive voice. When you cover the songs that they made popular, they can never sound the same. As someone who grew up primarily listening to the Muppets, this is probably just a personal prejudice, but this arrangement was not enough to make me really enjoy listening to the song.

This album is an excellent example of what a good group can do with some studio time. While I wish they had picked some different songs to include, this is still a good album and can fit into most a cappella collections quite nicely.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Walking on Sunshine 5
2 Good Lovin' 3
3 Only One 3
4 You Lift Me Up 4
5 Danny Boy 4
6 Love Boat Theme 2
7 The Rainbow Connection 3
8 Light in Your Eyes 5
9 It's All Been Done 2
10 Farmer Tan 4
11 Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag 4
12 Been There 5
13 Give Them a Vision 5

Voice Male. An interesting name for a group, though I don't really like it. Hooked. A catchy title for an album, though the album didn't really grab me.

This album is eleven songs short of a masterpiece. Voice Male has all the ingredients to be one of the top a cappella contenders in the nation, but they limit themselves by singing only two original songs out of thirteen tracks. Cover songs are meant to be fun for the listener, not the backbone of a professional project.

Since I lean toward being a realist, I realize that I can't review the album based on this fact alone. Maybe Voice Male enjoys performing cover songs, and would rather sing old standards than create their own fresh sound for the a cappella world? With that in mind, this project falls consistently above average compared to the general body of recorded a cappella...easily.

The arrangements are solid, though some lean toward cheesy, and the soloists are very respectable. The stand-out track on this album is Light in Your Eyes, arrangement and solo by Mike Bearden. Simply fantastic. To say that this is the best arrangement on the album would not be saying enough. It's quite possibly the perfect arrangement for this song. Great voicing, feel, style, and originality.

The mix never bothered me as I listened through the album, but the consistent reverb wash-over effect did. Using a group reverb causes a choir-like sound instead of a sound more attributed to vocal bands. I would suggest using a different, less-noticeable reverb on each part separately. Singing choir-genre, or chorally arranged songs like Danny Boy and Rainbow Connection didn't help to combat this feeling.

No doubt in the world that this group is the definition of fun. Just listen to Farmer Tan or Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag if you don't believe me.

If you happen to like a lot of the covers on this album, then I'd snatch yourself a copy before they sell out. If you don't, then I'd wait. Something tells me that these boys are going to release an album in the future, filled with originals, and with a polish to their already solid sound. If they do, you better wait your turn. I plan to be first in line.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Walking on Sunshine 5
2 Good Lovin' 5
3 Only One 5
4 You Lift Me Up 4
5 Danny Boy 4
6 Love Boat Theme 4
7 The Rainbow Connection 4
8 Light in Your Eyes 4
9 It's All Been Done 4
10 Farmer Tan 4
11 Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag 4
12 Been There 4
13 Give Them a Vision 4

Reviewing for RARB has quickly taught me that there is a cappella music being made all over the United States, not merely in the major cities such as New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Earlier this year, it was an album from a group called Four Shadow that alerted me the a cappella goings-on in Minnesota. And now comes Hooked from Voice Male, a six-man group (they were once nine) headquartered in Utah. Guess I need to get out more.

Actually, Hooked is Voice Male's fifth album and marks a return to the eclectic mix of songs presented on their first two albums (their third and fourth albums featured primarily religious songs and Christmas jingles respectively). In fact, it is the widely varied choice of material that is this album's biggest pro and con.

If you enjoy quality covers, the first three songs will leave you begging for more. Granted, there is a certain sameness about Mike Bearden's (one of the group's tenors) arrangements of Walking on Sunshine and Good Lovin'. But John Luthy's vocal percussion, coupled with Mike Willson's mellow bass, plus a whole lot of enthusiasm, makes the energy in these tunes infectious (even if the v.p. is laid on a tad thick in the third track, James Taylor's Only You, making it sound a little Backstreet Boys-ish).

With You Lift Me Up, we are presented with the first original track — rendered well, but not a terribly interesting song musically, and something of a letdown after the first three tracks. They follow with Danny Boy, assuming an almost glee-club-like feel and moving away from the strengths exhibited earlier. Falling under the heading of "cute, if not spectacular", the guys give us renditions of the Love Boat Theme (with one of the best note-for-note vocal trumpet reproductions I've heard) and The Rainbow Connection, both of which will likely bring a smile to your face, even if they don't bowl you over.

Next, back onto solid ground with two songs I didn't know from groups that I did know (kinda). The tunes are Light in Your Eyes from Blessid Union of Souls and Been Done from Barenaked Ladies. Both are strong performances, heavy on the layered vocal percussion, but feel a bit long to my ears. Trying their hand at humor, our fearless sextet next tackles Farmer Tan, a one-joke song that never really pays off, and Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag, whose one joke is only slightly more developed than in the preceding song.

Penultimately, we have Been There, a Clint Black tune with a nice groove and a nifty harmonica effect, though the vocal percussion has inexplicably been mixed almost to distortion. And lastly, there's Give Them a Vision — a positively lovely song, don't get me wrong, but one which I'd more expect 'N Sync to sing at the Olympic opening ceremonies than these talented six who can do so much more.

So basically, I'm torn. Like a number of other top-notch B-list groups, these guys are capable of so much but only sometimes actually fulfill their potential. They do lack the vocal prowess on the extreme high and low end to truly rank with the best of the best, and their choice of repertoire is a bit hit and miss. On the other hand, they make beautiful music together and the fun they seem to be having comes through even in a recording. So as an a cappella fan, you may want to give this album a try. I think you'll find it to be a pleasant surprise.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Walking on Sunshine 4
2 Good Lovin' 4
3 Only One 4
4 You Lift Me Up 4
5 Danny Boy 3
6 Love Boat Theme 5
7 The Rainbow Connection 4
8 Light in Your Eyes 5
9 It's All Been Done 5
10 Farmer Tan 3
11 Send Me to Glory in a Glad Bag 4
12 Been There 4
13 Give Them a Vision 5

Voice Male is a Utah-based contemporary a cappella group with wonderful blend, flawless rhythm, tight harmonies, and great vocal percussion. Their latest album, Hooked, reflects this and much more. The professional production of this album sets it apart from the standard contemporary fare. Without adding a plethora of effects, Hooked achieves a clean and sharp sound that remains very a cappella.

With the exception of Love Boat Theme and the gorgeous Give Them a Vision, I felt that the overall energy of the group was low. While the blend and harmonies were beautiful, Voice Male didn't sound very excited to be there. With certain songs, especially Walking on Sunshine, I would rather have had a less refined and more boisterous sound.

The trumpet solo on the Love Boat Theme had me checking the liner notes to make sure the album was 100% a cappella. In Give Them a Vision, the Logan LDS Institute's New Horizons Choir adds depth and beauty to an inspirational song. In some of the other songs, the interest and intensity was lacking.

For the next time around, all I would suggest is some Red Bull before going into the studio. On the whole, however, this is a solid group with a solid album. So buy Hooked, and you might get hooked. (Bad pun, sorry. I couldn't resist.)

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Hooked can be purchased online from Mainely A Cappella and Primarily A Cappella.

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