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The Adelines

Waterville High School

Perfect Blend (2002)

2.7

June 24, 2003

Tuning / Blend 2.7
Energy / Intensity 2.7
Innovation / Creativity 2.0
Soloists 2.7
Sound / Production 2.7
Repeat Listenability 2.3
Tracks
1 Wade in the Water 2.7
2 The Coventry Carol 2.7
3 And So It Goes 2.7
4 All the Pretty Little Horses 3.3
5 The Longest Time 2.0
6 Time Gone 2.7
7 It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas 2.0
8 Music Alone 2.7
9 Summertime, Summertime 2.3
10 Amazing Grace 2.3
11 The Holly and the Ivy 3.0
12 The Rose 3.3
13 Christmas Chopstix 2.3
14 Nursery Rhymes 3.0
15 Silent Night 2.7
16 The Star-Spangled Banner 2.7

Recorded 2002 – 2003
Total time: 37:15, 16 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Wade in the Water 3
2 The Coventry Carol 3
3 And So It Goes 3
4 All the Pretty Little Horses 4
5 The Longest Time 3
6 Time Gone 3
7 It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas 3
8 Music Alone 3
9 Summertime, Summertime 3
10 Amazing Grace 2
11 The Holly and the Ivy 4
12 The Rose 4
13 Christmas Chopstix 2
14 Nursery Rhymes 4
15 Silent Night 3
16 The Star-Spangled Banner 3

Beautiful, light voices fill Perfect Blend, the new CD from The Adelines of Waterville High School. The young women in this group are musical and practiced, making the most of the distinct timbre of girls voices.

This is very much an ensemble record. No soloists are identified in the liner notes, and choral arrangements make up most of the recording. The lullabyes and Christmas carols are among the strongest parts of the disc, like their gorgeous rendition of All the Pretty Little Horses. Voices come together in unison, peeling off into a lovely and affecting harmony.

The pop songs have a tougher time keeping in tune than their choral counterparts, although it sounds like the girls are having fun singing them. The Longest Time starts off sloppy and ends weakly, but the momentum in the middle comes together pretty well. Wade in the Water is a great arrangement, with a terrific initial soloist and a great soprano line, but it too falls apart during the big finish. The highest soprano had a great run, nailing a tough part with near-perfect intonation for much of the way, but the arrangement overreaches at the end and the singers can't quite keep up. Still, that song showed The Adelines' breadth, as did an uptempo take on The Holly and the Ivy that featured a stunning arrangement.

This album is good enough that it doesn't deserve to be pigeon-holed as "just" a high school album. But it's true that it does shine when viewed in that light. The singers all sound so full of talent and promise, and the album seems to be a beacon for what will come in the future as well as what they have already accomplished. The Adelines have produced a sweet and endearing album that should appeal to fans and newcomers alike.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 Wade in the Water 2
2 The Coventry Carol 2
3 And So It Goes 2
4 All the Pretty Little Horses 3
5 The Longest Time 1
6 Time Gone 2
7 It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas 1
8 Music Alone 2
9 Summertime, Summertime 1
10 Amazing Grace 2
11 The Holly and the Ivy 2
12 The Rose 2
13 Christmas Chopstix 2
14 Nursery Rhymes 2
15 Silent Night 2
16 The Star-Spangled Banner 2

Like any high school album, Perfect Blend is not really for mass consumption; hence, the comments that follow are directed mainly to the group itself.

The disc's title is fairly apt. The Adelines, a women's chamber choir from Waterville High School in Maine, do in fact blend quite well, and their tuning is pretty good too. The occasional immature voice throws tuning and blend off momentarily, but the disc is largely free of cringe moments. Cutoffs and vowels are near perfect. The group is clearly very well-rehearsed, and this is a credit to their director, Carole Gilley.

But Perfect Blend is still an underwhelming listen.

You see, The Adelines are very precise. They're polite and proper. What they're not is expressive or soulful. They sing squarely, with little dynamic contrast. When they sing, "It's time to head straight for the hills / It's time to live and have some thrills / Come along and have a ball / A regular free-for-all" on Summertime, Summertime, I don't hear any of that happening. Tracks like The Longest Time and Amazing Grace are rendered unintentionally comical by The Adelines' flat delivery.

This leads to the larger problem with Perfect Blend, and I will here be forgiven for standing on a soapbox. The way to lead any musical ensemble to its full potential is to program challenging repertoire. On this disc, The Adelines often sing in unison or only two-part harmony. The songs they sing fall into four categories: nursery rhymes; overdone standards like And So It Goes and The Rose; Christmas carols; and dumb novelty pieces like Christmas Chopstix and Summertime, Summertime, the latter of which is the most obnoxiously catchy song you'll ever hear. With only a few exceptions, this is repertoire for elementary school, not for high school, and to be quite frank, if I were in a select high school choir and I were forced to sing this doggerel, I'd be too insulted to turn in the sort of energetic performance this disc so blatantly lacks. There's so much great music out there for women's choirs; to program such facile literature is to ensure that one's students will not experience any growth as musicians or as an ensemble.

I don't buy into the sort of "but they're only in high school" apologia that one often sees on RARB. I've been to two American Choral Directors Association national conventions and have heard high school choir performances that have been nothing short of breathtaking. The Adelines' luscious blend and impressive precision show that they have the potential to reach that level, but they desperately need to loosen up and to sing more interesting and challenging music. That said, they're by no means a bad group. Although I probably won't be listening to Perfect Blend again any time soon, I can't wait to hear where the group goes from here.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Wade in the Water 3
2 The Coventry Carol 3
3 And So It Goes 3
4 All the Pretty Little Horses 3
5 The Longest Time 2
6 Time Gone 3
7 It's Beginning to Look Like Christmas 2
8 Music Alone 3
9 Summertime, Summertime 3
10 Amazing Grace 3
11 The Holly and the Ivy 3
12 The Rose 4
13 Christmas Chopstix 3
14 Nursery Rhymes 3
15 Silent Night 3
16 The Star-Spangled Banner 3

There are two kinds of albums: albums that strive to paint a creative vision and albums that serve as a musical snapshot, capturing a moment in musical time. The Adelines, a high school women's a cappella group, has created an archive of a cappella standards to be enjoyed by family and friends.

Listeners must acknowledge that Perfect Blend is a high school recording. The album was recorded on one day in a barn-cum-community theater, and singers do not sound like they were individually miked. Mixing and mastering seems minimal.

With these disclaimers given for fairness and perspective, there remain several chronic problems. First, whoever mixed this album should absolutely have insisted on using a deEsser. DeEssers use equalization to remove overly-bright sibilant sounds caused by consonants like "s" and "t". Without their use, which takes just minutes per album, big high school choirs can succumb to the slippery slope of snake-pit syndrome, especially on songs like And So It Goes, Summertime, The Longest Time, The Rose, Silent Night, and The Star-Spangled Banner. Phrases like "worst mistake so" and "just say it's summertime" are distracting.

Second, the balance of most songs is consistently top-heavy. Though it may be difficult to find powerhouse altos at such a young age, certainly the recording engineers could have mixed the altos with more presence. Instead, the sopranos are overpowering, the altos timid, and many chords feel shallow. A particularly solid, soothing alto solo in Nursery Rhymes is lost because of an overbearing soprano line that eventually tires the listener.

Third, the structure of many arrangements is predictable: unison melody, add harmony, make it a round. Anyone who sang in high school has the format memorized. The nostalgia is lovely.

Lastly, despite its title, the album's blend is not perfect. The combined weight of high school pitch sensitivity, balance problems, the recording and mixing technique, and youthful vowels are too much to overcome.

There are some good things about the album, too. Most songs feature tightly timed entrances and cutoffs. The enunciation is very clean and the vowel sounds generally well-rounded. The group stays on tempo very well. The timing cleanliness is a testament to the director.

The cost of this precision is songs that sometimes feel stiff or low on energy. The girls sound bored singing Summertime. Amazing Grace lacks soul. The Longest Time sounds like the toy soldiers from the Nutcracker singing Billy Joel.

Still, I hope that Perfect Blend was an educational and fun introduction to a cappella singing. The album covers a wide variety of genres and, including seven old a cappella standbys, is a solid start to any a cappella repertoire. Perfect Blend is an album that the young women of The Adelines will treasure as a learning experience and that their parents and grandparents will love.

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