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Pieces of 8

Hook, Line & Sinker (1998)

4.8

July 15, 1998

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.4
Innovation / Creativity 4.4
Soloists 4.6
Sound / Production 4.4
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 The Saga of Jenny 4.6
2 Baby It's Cold Outside / Heatwave 4.6
3 Hook, Line & Sinker 4.2
4 We Can Work it Out 4.2
5 Blue Meridian 4.6
6 Gold Chain 4.6
7 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 4.2
8 Walk Between Raindrops 4.8
9 With a Little Help From My Friends 4.8
10 I Got Rhythm / Accentuate the Positive 4.8
11 One Race 3.8
12 Berceuse 4.6

Recorded 1998
Total time: 55:05, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 The Saga of Jenny 4
2 Baby It's Cold Outside / Heatwave 4
3 Hook, Line & Sinker 5
4 We Can Work it Out 3
5 Blue Meridian 5
6 Gold Chain 3
7 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 4
8 Walk Between Raindrops 5
9 With a Little Help From My Friends 5
10 I Got Rhythm / Accentuate the Positive 4
11 One Race 3
12 Berceuse 5

It is a great pleasure to be able to write that the best thing about a new a cappella album is its original material. St. Louis-based Pieces of 8 has produced a not-quite-traditional vocal jazz disc, on which the strongest material comes from the pen of artistic director Charles Mead. He doesn't sing with the group and there's not much info on where he fits in, but his compositions have an amazing sense of the strengths and musical feel of the group as well as being interesting in their own right. The catchy Hook, Line & Sinker, the smooth Blue Meridian and album-closing Berceuse all seem to bring the best out of these voices and show them at their best advantage.

This album strikes me as something that will delight vocal jazz fans with some new directions, but it's not one I expect to have a lot of crossover appeal. The musicality is good, but individual voices are a lot more prominent in the blend than in some of the top vocal jazz groups, which use a perfect mesh to play up their chords. The singing here is a little heavier, a little richer (in a classical sense) than your typical vocal jazz sound, which works well on the originals but takes some getting used to.

Of the cover material, I especially liked Walk Between Raindrops, which they credit to Donald Fagen of Steely Dan fame, and their nifty arrangement of With a Little Help From My Friends. The other Beatles song, We Can Work It Out, was my least favorite song on the album. And I thought Saga of Jenny was overambitious but credible.

This disc isn't what I'd call easy listening, and I expect some wouldn't like it. But it's got some neat ideas and some new ideas lurking around. I recommend it to those with an open mind and the desire to see more of the a cappella possibility.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 The Saga of Jenny 5
2 Baby It's Cold Outside / Heatwave 5
3 Hook, Line & Sinker 4
4 We Can Work it Out 5
5 Blue Meridian 5
6 Gold Chain 5
7 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 4
8 Walk Between Raindrops 5
9 With a Little Help From My Friends 5
10 I Got Rhythm / Accentuate the Positive 5
11 One Race 5
12 Berceuse 5

The title says it all: Hook, Line & Sinker. That is how I fell for this album. I am truly thrilled by this album from the St. Louis-based octet Pieces of 8. The first time I listened to it, I was just swept along by their enormous, dynamic sound. When the last song finished, I whined to my wife: "Is it over?". I'm not kidding. I had not wanted it to end.

Why am I gushing over this? Because it really deserves it. I have not been this excited over an album since I first heard It's All About Harmony by M-PACT.

Hook, Line & Sinker is a rare piece of art. It is an album full of great sounds, made by great voices, singing great arrangements of great songs. There are 12 songs here, and five of them are originals. I'm tellin' ya, there's is not a stinker in the bunch. A few Gershwin numbers, a couple of Beatles tunes, originals... it's a great balance.

Everything on the album was written or arranged by Charles Mead. And before you wonder about the covers, let me tell you that the arrangements are outstanding. They are original, inventive, interesting, engaging... (I'd better be careful before I run out of good words!)

They take an old standard like Baby, It's Cold Outside, mix in some Heatwave, totally change your expectations and really make it groove (I can hear Austin Powers just saying "Groovy baby, yeahhh!!") and swing and blow your mind.

Then they take something like We Can Work It Out and make it sound fresh, new, fun and familiar all at the same time.

The voices in this group are very good. They are even better together. The bass keeps making me say "Wow!" Another thing that makes me go "Wow!" is the fact that this album was recorded live — no overdubbing or adding of tracks. It was just them and the microphones. I did a double take on that one! Their blend and intonation and... everything was virtually flawless. The soloists are strong and full of style. Each song stands out on its own as a little gem.

This album has found a place in "heavy rotation" for my stereo. This is a very good album, and if you like a cappella you should buy it.

The last thing I want to say about this album goes out to the members of Pieces of 8. To Debbie, Juliet, Wendy, Jan, Tom, Ray, Joshua and Collie (and to Charles): Congratulations on making a piece of art.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 The Saga of Jenny 4
2 Baby It's Cold Outside / Heatwave 5
3 Hook, Line & Sinker 5
4 We Can Work it Out 5
5 Blue Meridian 5
6 Gold Chain 5
7 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 4
8 Walk Between Raindrops 5
9 With a Little Help From My Friends 5
10 I Got Rhythm / Accentuate the Positive 5
11 One Race 4
12 Berceuse 5

Uhhh...wow.

That's about all there is to this one. This is some of the most creative and..well..pretty singing I've ever heard. The album very much invokes the King Singer's school of a cappella, even on the contemporary rock I've heard on the album. The music is impeccably sung, the originals sound fantastic, the production is top notch...Pieces of 8 is an incredibly professional ensemble.

So why is the only 3 or lower grade on repeat listenability? This album is very much for people who enjoy a certain kind of a cappella. If you're into the hard-driving rock of a House Jacks or a Ball in the House, you're not going to find it here. Nor are you going to find the innovative rock of an Off the Beat, where you just don't know what you're going to hear next. That's the kind of a cappella I'm interested in, and that's why this album, as good as it is, and as well executed as it is, will probably only get played once in a blue moon. But if you're looking for tight harmonies, lighter fare, or are just into good singing, buy this. This is a beautiful, beautiful album, with some of the best original songs since the Accidentals sang You Win.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 The Saga of Jenny 5
2 Baby It's Cold Outside / Heatwave 4
3 Hook, Line & Sinker 3
4 We Can Work it Out 5
5 Blue Meridian 4
6 Gold Chain 5
7 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 4
8 Walk Between Raindrops 4
9 With a Little Help From My Friends 5
10 I Got Rhythm / Accentuate the Positive 5
11 One Race 3
12 Berceuse 4

Director/arranger/composer/producer/mastermind Charles Mead has done a very refined job with Pieces of 8 — reminiscent for me of some of the Swingle Singers' work — complex arrangements, impeccable tuning, and careful dynamics, combined with excellent voices and highly skilled musicians. Soloists are more than competent. Kudos to Joshua Vorvick, "the new guy", for landing a gig with this St. Louis-based group just last fall and then cranking out a high-caliber album so soon.

For being a live album (no audience, but a concert hall recording), the sound is impressively clean. Dynamics are well-controlled, and levels overall are well done. Only a few times in select moments (e.g., chorus 1 of Blue Meridian) does the balance get a little off, which is admirable. Tuning is squeaky clean in all save a couple rare spots. Wow.

Song selection is nicely varied — The Saga of Jenny is a great opener for this CD. Gold Chain is one of the nicer originals, upbeat and fun without any loss of polish or tuning in performance. The Beatles covers are two of the best arrangements to be found here. While the racial harmony message of One Race is certainly a valid one, it got a bit heavy-handed for my tastes.

My only problem: a couple of "square" moments in the title track. Potential buyers should know that this CD is "highbrow a cappella" — not as easy a listen as the Swingles, but a fine album. It's certainly not background music — the arrangements are too complex (and the sopranos are too high) for this to blend into the background. Not that that's a problem, just FYI. That's also why my repeat listenability rating is lower than might be expected — this isn't a CD I feel I can just pop in for a quick fun listen over and over... it requires a dedicated listener. But it's worth it — serious vocal jazz fans will love this one.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 The Saga of Jenny 5
2 Baby It's Cold Outside / Heatwave 5
3 Hook, Line & Sinker 4
4 We Can Work it Out 3
5 Blue Meridian 4
6 Gold Chain 5
7 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 5
8 Walk Between Raindrops 5
9 With a Little Help From My Friends 4
10 I Got Rhythm / Accentuate the Positive 5
11 One Race 4
12 Berceuse 4

Whether you are looking for music for that perfect dinner party or you want something to ease your nerves at the end of the day, Pieces of 8 has a wonderful album for you. The liner notes describe a sound that is original, and they hold true to that comment. With a combination of original tunes and some familiar favorites (such as some Gershwin and even The Beatles), this group takes professional a cappella music and sharpens it even more.

My biggest frustration with the album, however, is that soloists aren't listed. Very often the female soloist sounds like the same person from one track to the next, and I'm not sure if it's the same person or a sound that all of the women are trying to capture. Also, the album dominates in female soloists, and my ears were edging to hear more men after listening a few times. However, all of the soloists have smooth voices that blend excellently with the rest of the group, and intonation is at its finest. We have no obnoxious, wavering vibratos here!

Percussion is limited on the album but not needed; simple snaps and claps don't overpower songs but add a subtlety that only improves the clean, sharp arrangements by Charles Mead. Mead is also the director and leads eight talented people; no part dominates another. His talent shines through as well with creative original works that he composed.

Tracks in particular to listen to are The Saga of Jenny with a new approach to each verse of the song (a great opener on the CD). A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square deviates from the arrangement that we hear all too often, made famous by the Manhattan Transfer. One of my favorites is I Got Rhythm / Accentuate the Positive where the sound literally grows out of nothing into a gigantic, full, fast-paced piece.

Other than rare out of tune chords, occasional rushed lyrics, and lack of extremely creative percussion (it's there, however, on several tracks), this album falls nothing short of a perfect score.


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Ordering Information

Drive All Night Productions
10425 Old Olive Street Road
Suite 205
St. Louis, MO 63141

for information on ordering by credit card, please call (314)993-2432.

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