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Take 6

Feels Good (2006)

4.7

August 16, 2006

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.7
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.3
Tracks
1 Come On 5.0
2 This Is Another Day 4.7
3 Feels Good 4.7
4 Wait For The Sunshine 4.3
5 Family Of Love 4.3
6 More Than Ever 4.7
7 Set U Free 4.7
8 Vinterlude 4.3
9 Just In Time 4.3
10 Lamb Of God 4.3
11 I'll Never Turn Back No More 4.7
12 You Can Make It - Go On 4.7

Recorded 2005 – 2006
Total time: 39:29, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Come On 5
2 This Is Another Day 5
3 Feels Good 5
4 Wait For The Sunshine 5
5 Family Of Love 5
6 More Than Ever 5
7 Set U Free 5
8 Vinterlude 5
9 Just In Time 5
10 Lamb Of God 5
11 I'll Never Turn Back No More 5
12 You Can Make It - Go On 5

Last weekend I passed up a chance to hear Take 6 live — near my house, no less — in favor of a Catfish Hodge (http://catfishpond.com/) gig across town. It was probably the right call — cheaper cover, plus I had friends in the band. But I have mixed feelings, since Take 6 is apparently back in style.

Let's be straight — if you're into a cappella and you haven't gotten the original Take 6 record by now, skip the rest of this review and go buy it right now. Even if you are allergic to overtly religious music, the catchy arrangements and flash stylings that have made such an impression on so many of us deserve to be heard. The record sounds good and it stands up — there's a reason it was mass produced and remains readily available, cross-marketed as jazz and gospel and vocal and more. Since then — well, the group's track-record has been spotty. There was some light fare with instruments, some collaborations (notably with Ray Charles) and what I recall as less engaging contemporary Christian fare. I have a neat jazz record where they solo over a traditional instrumental rhythm section, and there were various solo projects. But I lost track somewhere along the way, as Take 6 ceased to be one of the dominant influences in our internal community.

But Take 6 hasn't forgotten its a cappella roots, and now there's Feels Good, which actually delivers as advertised. The songs are pleasant and well executed, with great voices and a big heap of professionalism. The Christian thing is neither hidden nor intrusive, which should allow this album to appeal to a wide variety of audiences. Song lyrics focus on family and love and God, but they don't condemn or preach unduly. I didn't fall in love with any of these songs the way I fell for Mary and Get Away Jordan back in the day, but they all made for a nice listen and a steady groove. There are no spirituals on this album (unless you count the gorgeous I'll Never Turn Back No More duet with the group and an acoustic guitar), and no Mervyn Warren. But the lineup is otherwise fairly true to the original group, with the strong results to prove it.

I really like this album. Even though I don't adore it, I have enjoyed it on each and every listen, and I am thrilled these guys are still making such great vocal music. Now I just need to catch up with the live show ...


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Come On 5
2 This Is Another Day 5
3 Feels Good 5
4 Wait For The Sunshine 5
5 Family Of Love 5
6 More Than Ever 5
7 Set U Free 5
8 Vinterlude 5
9 Just In Time 5
10 Lamb Of God 5
11 I'll Never Turn Back No More 5
12 You Can Make It - Go On 5

For twenty years, Take 6 has been at the leading edge of a spectacular synthesis of vocal jazz, gospel and R&B music. Possessing perhaps the greatest collection of soloists in any single vocal group, Take 6 also lays claim to some of the most spectacular ensemble blend and phrasing. It's impossible to measure the impact this group has had on contemporary a cappella. Take 6's recordings have given countless listeners a new appreciation for consistently dense voicings. It's like we went from a diet of bread and water to wine and cheese. Some listeners literally hear music differently because the group's work has been nothing Take 6. To have done this while maintaining pop-sensibility is nothing short of miraculous. Feels Good is another worthy addition to a rich discography and if you have even the slightest interest in contemporary a cappella, you better make sure you own it.

If the opening wasn't sufficiently sycophantic, allow me to state that in nearly every musical category imaginable, Take 6 displays exceptional talent. That said, I'd like to give some criticism to this untouchable bastion of talent. But let it be known, this is merely a fan's little wish-list.

Lyrics. I can respect the group's profound faith. I can even respect the commitment to make each and every song one of faith. But after 20 years, I'd love to see some lyrics that explore the deeper, grittier aspects of that faith. Take 6 says a lot more than just "God is Good", but when one imagines the stories of life on the road, the characters and struggle ... well, these lyrics barely scratch the surface. Take 6 is truly innovative musically. So many musical choices are unexpected and yet satisfying, a surprisingly perfect fit. Lyrically, the line is a bit more straight and the turns more expected.

Melody. Take 6 has such virtuosity, such nimble, agile, gymnastic vocal performers that sometimes the simple allure of a pure, unadorned melody goes unheeded. I feel like the King of England speaking to another musical genius in the movie Amadeus: "Too many notes, Mozart". There are a few catchy fragments that Feels Good will leave listeners humming, but for the most part, the enjoyment comes from the rich texture, incredible solos and deep grooves.

Those are the scraps placed in the suggestion box. Nothing more or less. But leave that aside. Feels Good sounds great! It's a must-own.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Come On 5
2 This Is Another Day 4
3 Feels Good 4
4 Wait For The Sunshine 3
5 Family Of Love 3
6 More Than Ever 4
7 Set U Free 4
8 Vinterlude 3
9 Just In Time 3
10 Lamb Of God 3
11 I'll Never Turn Back No More 4
12 You Can Make It - Go On 4

Feels Good is a contemporary blend of smooth jazz, easy listening R&B, and positive, uplifting Christian affirmations. Take 6's jazz chords are impeccable, super smooth, and perfectly tuned. Feels Good is the smoothest of smooth jazz, the easiest of easy listening. But Take 6's Feels Good makes me feel old.

Much of the songwriting on Feels Good leans heavily on Christian lyrical cliché and standard vocal jazz elements: walking bass, ride cymbal, scat, traditional jazz syllable combinations, and horn-like vocal stings. It's all a little too familiar. Many songs rely on repetitive elements that become tiresome. The album's title track repeats scooping chords of the phrases Feels Good and "sure feels good" often enough that I squirmed uncomfortably by song's end. Family Of Love repeats its song title ten times and the phrase "family of God" ten more, interchanging three and two syllable pronunciations of "family" throughout the song. More Than Ever vamps "I need you" and "ever" in typical R&B style, but the added length is unneeded.

The Christian language is so cliché for the genre that it almost slides by unnoticed. Lots of people eat this stuff up, and there are some songs that get a bit carried away; "feels good, so amazing... perfect love", "such a colorful tapestry... woven in harmony", "I'm here to satisfy", "I love that holy lamb of God".

Feels Good does occasionally depart from convention, but I found many of these departures to be quirky and a little unsettling. One high tenor pops out of the blend from time to time with a vibrato that bleats. There's an Aaron Neville moment at the end of a phrase in Wait For The Sunshine, and Family Of Love feels oversung. Just In Time opens with a richly layered and creative scat section, but breaks abruptly into a bass and deliberately badly equalized solo line. The bad eq was an awful mixing decision, as the singer is robbed of the color and clarity of his voice, left only with gushed oversinging and warbly vibrato. I'll Never Turn Back No More is a wordless song that begins warmly and opens to a Manhattan Transfer-esque phrase of open vowels — all accompanied by a fingerpicked classical guitar. Vinterlude is 31 seconds of jazz syllables "hi oh", vocal kick drum, and light snapping.

Take 6's singing is excellent, with few exceptions, but I've heard better jazz and R&B songs than these. Were the entire album as entertaining as Come On, as enjoyable as Set U Free, and as engaging as You Can Make It — Go On, Feels Good would set an example for similar groups. These three songs are positive, uplifting, and could be taken secularly with lax attention to the lyrics. Come On opens the album with smooth blend and good balance. The soloist's voice is clear and warm, with a pleasing style. The alternating interplay between solo and background vocals is upbeat, celebratory, and fun. Modest VP adds to the energy, and the bass line combines warm tone with sprightly motion. The arrangement is carefully crafted with attention to the ear's focus; listeners will enjoy what they are intended to hear from moment to moment.

Set U Free enters with salsa-like percussion, loose whistling, and groovy Latin feel. It's one of those songs whose lyrics you couldn't remember if you tried, but they don't matter as much as the song's atmosphere and free feeling. The soloist has a colorful voice, but his vibrato is tight and a little bleaty, which I found distracting.

You Can Make It — Go On has songwriting quirks that work. Take 6 keeps the VP modest and understated, yet the song grooves along with the help of a cool, scooping bassline "huh-woommm" sound. There is contrast between verse and chorus, with clipped lyrics in the chorus adding impact after the smooth tones of the verse. The feel of the song reminds me of The Magnets: hip, groovy, clearly part of the R&B genre but with their own unique stamp.

Take 6 has long been known for the abilities of its smooth-voiced singers. The repertoire of Feels Good reminds me of my hometown's easy listening radio station, 101.3 The Rose FM, which didn't bat an eye at playing Barbara Streisand back-to-back with Boyz II Men. If you prefer smooth to edgy, Feels Good may feel good for you.

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