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Stouxingers

...Nothing Is Real (2008)

5.0

May 30, 2008

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.7
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 5.0
Tracks
1 Six Voices 5.0
2 Yes We Can Can 4.7
3 Everything Ain't Everything But Nothing Is Real 4.3
4 Waterfalls 4.7
5 When Love Comes to Town 5.0
6 Funkjoe (live) 4.7
7 Tired With All These 4.7
8 Boogie Down / Jungle Boogie 4.3
9 Humanizoo (live) 4.3

Recorded 2007
Total time: 41:48, 9 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Six Voices 5
2 Yes We Can Can 5
3 Everything Ain't Everything But Nothing Is Real 5
4 Waterfalls 5
5 When Love Comes to Town 5
6 Funkjoe (live) 5
7 Tired With All These 5
8 Boogie Down / Jungle Boogie 4
9 Humanizoo (live) 4

The Stouxingers have outdone themselves with the new record, which rocks out and sounds great. Great voices, some decent jazz and all around good singing are the hallmarks. A couple of tracks are less lovable, but don't let that stop you from taking a listen, whether or not you liked their previous album.

Overall, ...Nothing Is Real has a real, and real standout, sound. Everyone in this group has a strong sound, and they all know how to lock a chord as well as sing out on their own. Also, their English is pretty good, especially for a group of German speakers. Waterfalls goes over great, with the same vivacious spirit as Five Live's I Like Your Smile, the song that set the gold standard for German covers of American music. The Stouxingers don't hit every brass ring — the Jungle Boogie segment trips on the language barrier — but they do a very credible job.

The variety on this disc is great. It skews toward the uptunes, which always a good choice. But it doesn't dwell overlong on jazz, even though they bill themselves as a jazz group. Instead, ...Nothing Is Real offers a mix of R&B covers, original tunes and improv jams. When the jazz comes out to play, it's got chops, but to my ears the genre doesn't stick out on a straight-through listen.

The improvs are cool, but kind of a mixed bag. That shouldn't be a surprise — even improv groups like SoVoSo aren't interesting 100% of the time. Funkjoe was cool and worth a connection, while Humanizoo was kitchier and less interesting. Still, it's an interesting exploration, and it's nice to see a group that is technically good enough to record its live vibe with a straight face.

This is a great album, European a cappella at its accessible best. If you think you might be open to the genre, give it a spin.


5
Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Six Voices 5
2 Yes We Can Can 5
3 Everything Ain't Everything But Nothing Is Real 4
4 Waterfalls 5
5 When Love Comes to Town 5
6 Funkjoe (live) 4
7 Tired With All These 5
8 Boogie Down / Jungle Boogie 4
9 Humanizoo (live) 4

Though the octet is now a sextet, the sentiment is the same: The German vocal jazz-pop-soul-folk group Stouxingers makes some of the most mesmerizing and compelling music on the planet. Their sound and approach to making a cappella music is just short of brilliant. It's earthy and organic and groovy and delicious. In fact, I'm going to call them liars right here. Some "thing" is real ... and it's called the Stouxingers. And it's real good.

Leading off the disc is the CARA-awarding winning Six Voices. This light jazz number makes you wish that you had practiced just a little bit harder in your voice and articulation classes so you could attempt to keep up with the rapid-fired delivery of Katharina Debus and Konrad Zeiner. Granted Zeiner's rap during the bridge is borderline comical, but much joy flows out of the speakers as well. You bop, groove and snap right along with every beautiful note that comes out of the background. The sound is still very earthy and urban and totally contagious. They should teach a masterclass on what it means to truly sing in the pocket.

Six Voices leads into one of my favorite songs. Yes We Can Can is such a joyous and effervescent ode to positivity. And the Stouxingers bring every infectious bit of joy to each chord. This song transforms attitudes and miseries if you let it. The original carried me out of many dark places, and this version has continued to uplift my spirit in a rough '08.

The ballads don't hold up nearly as well on this recording as they did last time I was able to check them out. There isn't a Sometimes It Snows In April that completely makes the CD for me. Though on the other hand, this is a much more complete package with all of the tracks being at the 4+ or better range. Nothing disappoints, just everything may not be your cup of tea.

The title track Everything Ain't Everything But Nothing Is Real seems a little wimpy and distracting where it is placed in the tracklisting. The powerhouses of Yes We Can Can and Waterfalls completely overshadowed what could possibly be a fantastic song. After umpteen hundred listens, I still can't tell you much about that particular song except to say that it's enjoyable.

The live tracks Funkjoe and Humanizoo are a bit treacly and droning. But both go on to showcase the amazing talent of the group and are as seamless in terms of maintaining the quality of the studio recordings. At seven minutes Humanizoo is too taxing for the casual listener to stay invested in, especially after the dance party of Boogie Down/Jungle Boogie. The novelty wears off after the first three minutes ... and it's definitely not the type of song that I would end a disc with. But with the audience participation, I do understand why they did.

Tired With All These is the exception to the uninspiring ballads, though. Taken from a Shakespearean sonnet (Bill really is having a renaissance in our musical realm. LOL), the whisper-like quality of the delivery is breath-taking. Michael Eimann's solo is delicate and touching, piercing the heart not with an erotic dagger, but a pensive arrow of love.

I'm lifting this directly from my last review — not because I couldn't think of anything else to close the review — but dang if it's not still apropos: If you like your music highly nuanced and slightly adorned, Stouxingers' ...Nothing is Real is the jazz/pop album to get. They describe themselves as an emotional and groovy a cappella delight. I couldn't have put it in better terms myself.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Six Voices 5
2 Yes We Can Can 4
3 Everything Ain't Everything But Nothing Is Real 4
4 Waterfalls 4
5 When Love Comes to Town 5
6 Funkjoe (live) 5
7 Tired With All These 4
8 Boogie Down / Jungle Boogie 5
9 Humanizoo (live) 5

With tight jazz, groovy funk, and smooth R&B, each infused with serious vocal panache, the Stouxingers' ...Nothing is Real will knock you flat.

It starts with six phenomenal singers, each radiating audible confidence and technical skill. They approach all their material with innovative avidity, and they execute with sound musical justification. Eimann's arrangements and originals are subtle and sophisticated, and each song on the album transmits the effortless perfection that can only be gained through copious shared performance experience.

The Stouxingers start strong with the original jazz tune Six Voices. Some of the words don't quite make it through, and I suspect it has something to do with their accents. In this and in some of the other songs, namely Boogie and When Love Comes To Town, they try much too hard to hide their accents. For my part, I would rather hear a genuine representation of the voices than obviously affected accents. A minor criticism, next to the incredible tightness and dynamics.

The instrumental solos — Waterfalls, Boogie, When Love Comes To Town, Yes We Can Can — sound neither gimmicky nor over-processed, a rare perfect blend of vocal prowess and tasteful, light mixing. Konrad's throat singing in Humanizoo is freakishly loud and awesome, especially when one considers that this is a live track. Both live tracks, Humanizoo and Funkjoe, earn their spots next to the studio tracks, and in my bitter jealousy I'm going to go ahead and question their "liveness". Stouxingers, are you sure you didn't just add an applause track?

Eimann's Waterfalls arrangement is phenomenal. Katharina's lead (and Gregorio's backup vocals) are exemplary, but the backing block had trouble conjuring that aged, soulful vibe the arrangement demands. They try to generate the raspy, warm vocal quality in the mix by cranking the high end, but it starts to sound tinny. It is very difficult to create that quality when it is not executed in the studio — perhaps the "pack of cigarettes and fifth of Jack the night before" method would work better.

My least favorite tracks, Tired, Everything, and Yes We Can Can, each exhibit a metallic shininess, contrasting sharply with the other more organic songs. The leads create problems in the mix, by being either too thin with not enough pre-delay (Everything, Tired) or by being way too hot, necessitating that pesky reach for the volume knob (Yes We Can Can). The annoying lip-smacking in Everything and Tired is a product of the digitally-enhanced warmth (cranking the high end as they did in Waterfalls). Such vocal artifacts ought to be addressed during the editing.

Funkjoe and Humanizoo will be required listening in A Cappella 101. The Stouxingers push their vocal comfort zones. Hard. The solos in both are transcendent, and each song pays a brief homage to the most powerful vocal jedi of all time, Bobby McFerrin.

The Stouxingers are absolutely fearless, and the innovation that fearlessness affords and the confidence it provides make for an ear-opening and intensely enjoyable listen.

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