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Opus Jam

Motown A Cappella (2014)


July 1, 2015

Tuning / Blend 4.7
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 3.7
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.3
Repeat Listenability 4.3
1 It's Alright 4.7
2 Georgia on My Mind 4.0
3 Ain't No Mountain High Enough 4.0
4 Lean on Me 4.0
5 Sir Duke 4.7
6 I Want You Back 4.3

Recorded 2014
Total time: 19:27, 6 songs

Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
1 It's Alright 5
2 Georgia on My Mind 5
3 Ain't No Mountain High Enough 3
4 Lean on Me 4
5 Sir Duke 5
6 I Want You Back 4

If you miss original-vintage Take 6, this Opus Jam album is the disc for you. The six singers here have a great sound, wonderful blend, big complicated chords, and a solid groove. The half-dozen secular hits here will sound fresh and shiny on your every listen.

Great voices and jazzy arrangements keep the songs interesting throughout. The group's considerable talents mean the singers rarely show traces of distracting foreign accents, as sometimes pop up on European albums. At the same time, not all of the editorial decisions are good ones. First of all, It's Alright isn't traditional, it's written by Curtis Mayfield, as even Wikipedia could tell you. Musically, the guitar on Ain't No Mountain High Enough was a distracting mistake. Also, almost every song has at least a few chords that got a little too enthusiastic with the suspensions. In those cases, the tuning can't quite keep up with the blend. That said, "too many notes" was a classic Take 6 trademark, and if it didn't bother you then it won't bother you now either.

Opus Jam's great strength is its ability to relax into the songs and give each a swayable, finger-snapping groove. Mike Louvila is my favorite soloist, carrying the first two tracks with considerable panache. All the other singers and lead vocals are strong, but in this set of songs he's head of the class.

Motown A Cappella isn't quite classic motown, at least not in the stripped-down, four-track format we're used to out of Detroit. That said, Opus Jam's performance means Temptations-style dance moves would be well earned. I'd recommend this album to anyone who likes early Take 6 and/or '70s soul, and the disc is strong enough to have an even broader crossover appeal.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
1 It's Alright 5
2 Georgia on My Mind 4
3 Ain't No Mountain High Enough 5
4 Lean on Me 5
5 Sir Duke 5
6 I Want You Back 5

Listening to a lot of contemporary a cappella may cause certain side effects, including fatigued ears, pop music brain meltdown, and occasional acute judginess. If you are experiencing these symptoms, consider this remedy: Opus Jam's EP Motown A Cappella. It's a simple 20-minute blast of feel-good classic soul music, sung with verve and style. This EP serves not only as a delicious palate-cleanser, but also as a clear reminder of the roots from which most contemporary a cappella music grew. The Motown Sound popularized in the '60s and '70s permeates modern pop music, and thus it is constantly with us in the vocal community, both overtly and covertly.

Opus Jam, a French vocal sextet, isn't necessarily innovative with its six tracks comprised entirely of familiar tunes, but who cares? Sometimes you want experimental, utterly original music, but sometimes you just crave great singing and great sound on songs that feel comfortable like an old shoe. Rich, grooving basslines, smooth and luscious harmonies, and engaging solos never go out of style, never grow tiresome, and quite simply remind us what we're all doing obsessing over this vocal music thing.

Opus Jam's got all that and more in this tight, lean package. Production from Eric Renwart is expertly transparent — by which I mean you can actually hear each voice at any point in a given song, but blend is uncompromised and praiseworthy. This is particularly important and enjoyable with a group like this, where each voice has character and each singer is making a unique contribution, even on the backing parts.

The group's use of mild instrumentation as ornamentation on Ain't No Mountain High Enough feels unnecessary to me, but it doesn't distract from the voices. I suppose it gives the song a slightly different flavor near the midway point of the EP, and if that was the goal, there is a certain logic to the strategy. Regardless, the song bops along with joyful abandon on voices alone, as do Sir Duke, It's Alright, and I Want You Back.

"Easy listening" is often a pejorative phrase, but it need not be and isn't when applied to Motown A Cappella. This EP is the best kind of easy listening, a brisk 20 minutes of enjoyable, familiar music arranged, sung, and produced to peak professional standards. So the next time you feel the discomfort of contemporary a cappella meltdown, try a dose of Opus Jam and call me in the morning. Relief guaranteed.

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
1 It's Alright 4
2 Georgia on My Mind 3
3 Ain't No Mountain High Enough 4
4 Lean on Me 3
5 Sir Duke 4
6 I Want You Back 4

There are lots of things that I think are better when they come from France. Things like castles. Wine. Cheese. Lace. Accents. Opus Jam, a French professional a cappella sextet, presents six tracks of what they label "Motown" hits tinged with French accents and jazz styling. Is this weird? Yeah, a little. Is it also good? Mais oui.

Motown A Cappella is fun, bouncy, and energetic. You've always wanted to hear Ain't No Mountain High Enough swung with someone singing "ain no mounteh eye enuh" in a French accent, right? Although that made me laugh, it's not as distracting as you might think. The accents melt away when it's important, and the group quickly gets to the soulful heart of these songs. I've never seen Opus Jam live, but if this recording is any indication, I can only imagine that the group's stage presence is very engaging. It's difficult to argue with song choices on a six-track album, but I would have chosen something other than Lean on Me, despite the less-boring-than-usual arrangement. It didn't show me anything that the other tracks hadn't already covered. At the other end of the spectrum is Sir Duke, a natural fit for these six voices which allows them to show off their fluid low bass.

Minimalist production choices make sense here, with a few panning drum fills and a well-mixed guitar addition (an actual guitar; be forewarned, a cappella purists) in the middle of one of the tracks. I wish the vocal percussion had been slighlty more sharp. The great blend of group voices is the highlight here, as it should be — these six singers clearly know each others' voices well.

Overall, the beautiful natural sound of Opus Jam shines through in Motown A Cappella. A six-track album left me wanting to hear more of what these guys can do. What's next?


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Ordering Information

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