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Harmonytryx

Fine Whine (2002)

3.3

May 25, 2003

Tuning / Blend 3.3
Energy / Intensity 4.3
Innovation / Creativity 3.3
Soloists 3.0
Sound / Production 3.3
Repeat Listenability 3.0
Tracks
1 Ladies' Night 3.0
2 O Sifuni Mungu 3.3
3 His Mother's Legacy 3.7
4 Sunday Morning, Yellow Sky 3.0
5 Train in Vain 3.0
6 Fear from Paradise 4.3
7 Another Train 3.3
8 For Each Day (for Forrest) 3.0
9 Homeless 3.0
10 Testosterone 3.7
11 Freedom 3.7

Recorded 2000 – 2002
Total time: 45:02, 11 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Ladies' Night 4
2 O Sifuni Mungu 4
3 His Mother's Legacy 4
4 Sunday Morning, Yellow Sky 4
5 Train in Vain 4
6 Fear from Paradise 4
7 Another Train 3
8 For Each Day (for Forrest) 3
9 Homeless 2
10 Testosterone 4
11 Freedom 4

Harmonytryx has a very distinctive sound. It reminds me of a woman who is almost of a certain age, but already wears a little too much makeup, owns more than one feather boa and has a speaking voice that carries for a city block. She's a great person, but just a little ... grating.

I wouldn't recommend Fine Whine to anyone who wasn't already a fan, but I'd recommend it to fans without any hesitation. The women of Harmonytryx sound better than ever. The production is natural and clean, the tuning is usually good, and the blend is consistent and at times lovely. Check out some of the block chords behind Ladies' Night or His Mother's Legacy.

But the grating part — it's still there, no way around it. There's too much ambient vibrato, which brings a pronounced muppet effect whenever it manifests in the solos. There are an awful lot of high piercing soprano lines with so much tone that you really notice when the intonation misses from time to time. The bass line is frequently sung in a tone that manages to be both loud and breathy, a rather overbearing combination. And the foreign language pieces are definitely being sung by Americans.

Homeless is the classic example of well-meaning effort that drives me nuts. In a misguided effort to sing the song phonetically, Harmonytryx seems to have entirely ignored the words that Paul Simon helpfully provides in the Graceland liner notes. For example, the beautiful, aspirated "nhliziyo yami" becomes the wince-inducing "di-ziyo yami". The whole song is one big linguistic cringe, despite their obvious care in learning the music and attempting the text.

If you've heard Harmonytryx live, or if you hail from their native New Jersey, enjoy. Anyone else should approach with caution.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Ladies' Night 2
2 O Sifuni Mungu 3
3 His Mother's Legacy 4
4 Sunday Morning, Yellow Sky 2
5 Train in Vain 1
6 Fear from Paradise 4
7 Another Train 4
8 For Each Day (for Forrest) 3
9 Homeless 4
10 Testosterone 2
11 Freedom 4

"Dedicated to total harmonic dominance." So reads the back of the Harmonytryx CD.

Fine Whine falls rather short of this mission statement, with various songs making this listener really prick up his ears, and other songs making me reach for the mute button on my stereo's remote control. It's hard to understand how a group that can produce the lovely, lush chords that open Fear from Paradise and the tight harmonies of Paul Simon can still stumble so badly on tuning onto other tracks. In particular, a promising arrangement of Sunday Morning, Yellow Sky was derailed by poor tuning between parts and an especially egregious soprano line, soaring a good quarter-pitch flat over the rest of the block.

His Mother's Legacy and Homeless were particular standouts, with a comfortable groove and style on the first and a palpable energy coming through on the latter. But this made the weaknesses of the CD's pop contributions all the more apparent. The opener Ladies' Night completely lacked the raunch and fun of the original, dumbed down to an all-too pretty and overly acappellified trifle. Train in Vain was absolutely awful, with a cheesy arrangement using far too many forced backup vocals to try to fill space.

In general, the solos were capable but uncompelling. Most of the voices here are solid and work well in harmony and backing vocals; however, few had enough edge or substance to really grab the ear. This likely accounts for the success of Harmonytryx' more group-oriented songs; as an ensemble, the group fares far better than when their individuals are on display.

Bottom line: Fine Whine lacks the oomph or spark to make this recording one to note. I'd recommend some more nuanced arranging and better solo selection (play more to your singers' strengths!) on the pop pieces in particular. Then we'll see about that whole domination thing.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Ladies' Night 3
2 O Sifuni Mungu 3
3 His Mother's Legacy 3
4 Sunday Morning, Yellow Sky 3
5 Train in Vain 4
6 Fear from Paradise 5
7 Another Train 3
8 For Each Day (for Forrest) 3
9 Homeless 3
10 Testosterone 5
11 Freedom 3

Harmonytryx is an all-female pop/world/eclectic vocal sextet from New Jersey. I've always considered New Jersey a perfectly worthless place — or at least, the worst state to have to drive through. Fortunately, these ladies make me optimistic that Jersey will someday have more to offer than just Bruce, Bon Jovi, "The Sopranos", and Princeton.

The key word in the previous sentence is "someday". Harmonytryx' latest release, Fine Whine, falls above "average" but below "good". They're in that ambiguous realm of "sorta good, sorta decent". Sadly, while the singing is mostly in tune and mostly quite pleasant, there is very little remarkable or memorable about the group's current lineup of tunes. Overall, the album features no dominant soloists, no blinding energy, no deeply emotional ballad, and very few moments that take things over-and-above.

As you can see from the song scores, there are a few highlights. Testosterone has a consistent rhythmic feel (even groove, dare I say it?) and a charismatic attitude; the track really shows Harmonytryx in their element. The ladies also prove themselves up to the challenge of Fear of Paradise, which features some tight harmonies.

More often than not, however, the ladies sound out of their element. They take on a number of R&B/soul and Ladysmith Black Mambazo-type tunes, but end up sounding very sweet and inauthentic in their renditions. On tracks like Ladies Night, and O Sifuni Mungu, I often found myself thinking along the lines of Simon from American Idol (imagine in a British accent): "I felt it was a cabaret performance.". For those not familiar with the show, that remark is not a compliment. Harmonytryx may want to reevaluate what their strengths are in terms of repertoire.

One of the crucial pieces that Harmonytryx needs is a very low, powerful, resonant bass voice. They're out there — in fact, I know a few girls who sing as low as I do (low E). It's just very tough to create interesting arrangements and bass lines without one. Secondly, the vocal percussion is occasionally solid, but overall lacks the complexity and variety of sounds that expert spitters have in their arsenal.

Harmonytryx's Fine Whine may not be a must-have, or even a strong maybe, but there are moments on this disc where these ladies show a great deal of potential for being a top pro female group down the line. If they get there, I'm sure I'll be able to find a little more space in my heart for the Garden State.

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Ordering Information

To order a CD, please send $16.50 to:

Harmonytryx
c/o Erica Cohn
111 S. Fullerton
Montclaire, NJ 07042

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