Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

The A Cappella Group

Cypress Lake High School

Reality Lately (2019)

5.0

December 26, 2019

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 4.7
Soloists 5.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 4.7
Tracks
1 JT 4.3
2 Come On Over Baby 4.3
3 Cool/Fire 5.0
4 Last Drop 5.0
5 Lovely 5.0
6 123 5.0
7 Inside 5.0
8 6/10 5.0
9 Call Off the Dogs 5.0
10 Abbey Road B Side Medley 3.7

Recorded 2019
Total time: 45:19, 10 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 JT 4
2 Come On Over Baby 4
3 Cool/Fire 5
4 Last Drop 5
5 Lovely 5
6 123 5
7 Inside 5
8 6/10 5
9 Call Off the Dogs 5
10 Abbey Road B Side Medley 4

Full of ambition, driven by a palpable air of celebration, and as professional and polished as ever, Reality Lately is certainly a special release from TAG.

Would you like to discuss the musical elephant in the room upfront? Alright, let's go there. TAG recorded an 11.5-minute Beatles medley, arranged by Tom Anderson. Normally in recorded a cappella, medleys are dangerous affairs: jamming pieces together with transitions that are rarely smooth enough to warrant the jam in the first place can be hard to listen to through speakers. Length is another dangerous affair in recordings of all stripes: the Beatles' original medley was a whopping sixteen minutes, but does any song warrant this much production attention in today's distracted world? This was a bold move, and a track longer than some EPs, but one I can get behind for two reasons: the journey through amazing TAG leads, and giving music students a proper History of the Fab Four education in a meaningful way.

Lucky you: if you're just not into it, everything that comes before this medley is absolutely stunning.

There's a new songwriter in TAG, and her name is Isabella Sbarra-Michelland. Remember that name: she could be famous galaxy-wide. This senior penned Last Drop and sings her own work, too. It's clever, and it's strong.

Graduate Ryleigh Plank returns for another showstopping performance, too. You'll love her confidence on Christina Aguilera's Come On Over Baby, but her solo work on Inside had me noting: "This is the best voice TAG has ever had." Her projection is so mature, her sound is unique, and her attitude is fearless.

Listeners also get our hallowed TAG alum back for a few more tunes, Gabrielle Macafee. It's refreshing to hear a male get a turn on one of her compositions, Cool/Fire, and wow does Phillip Stringham deliver. The way he glides through his registers while singing the story is enticing, and totally heartbreaking when he reaches, "I am fine." Musicians always work under the goal of captivating an audience, and Stringham achieves this beautifully. Macafee also composed Call Off the Dogs, which fans will know is hers soon after it begins. The intensity and urgency-building from soloist Talia Tumminello complements Macafee's work perfectly.

Sincerely, it's all of the leads of TAG that make The A Cappella Group so noteworthy. Collectively, you'll be hard-pressed to find more cohesively gifted and memorable soloists in any a cappella group. Their confidence and technical skills must owe a great deal to director Gary Stroh and what goes on in his music program.

For the group's next release, I'd like to see more thought given to album programming and arcs. Starting this album with two tracks that are perfectly fine but not reflective of the substance to come had me a little worried about this release. Ending on The Beatles and calling the album Reality Lately concerned me, too. Worries were put to rest, but as more groups go through the design process of creating sophisticated concept albums with themes and connections stitching the messages of the music together, it's probably time for TAG to do the same. It's the last bow this group still needs.

Until next time, wunderkinds...


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 JT 4
2 Come On Over Baby 4
3 Cool/Fire 5
4 Last Drop 5
5 Lovely 5
6 123 5
7 Inside 5
8 6/10 5
9 Call Off the Dogs 5
10 Abbey Road B Side Medley 4

For the past few The A Cappella Group albums, listeners have been treated to originals by TAG member (and now alum) Gabrielle Macafee. Macafee continues her contributions here, with the songs Cool/Fire and Call Off the Dogs, each of which suits the group's pop-with-just-a-twinge-of-musical-theater vibe. Macafee is a wonderful songwriter in general, but her songs are also well-tailored for TAG, and Tom Anderson's arrangements fit the songs and the group like a glove. Anderson arranged all ten songs on Reality Lately, and that consistency really shows throughout the album.

But there's a new voice in the TAG songwriting circle: Class of 2020 singer Isabella Sbarra-Michelland wrote a song for TAG's 2018 album 11:11, and she's back on Reality Lately with the song Last Drop, which might be the most memorable of all the originals here. With its percussive panting and entrancing lead (by Sbarra-Michelland herself), this track is attention-grabbing from top to bottom and every second in between.

It says a lot about TAG that the group's originals are the best part of this recording. That's no shade on the covers here, which also hold up quite well. Inside in particular really stands out; soloist Ryleigh Plank sounds phenomenal, and Sbarra-Michelland showcases another talent with her take on a sax solo. The group also sounds great on Lovely, really delivering well on an arrangement that begins sparsely, builds through a nice crescendo, and then tapers off again at the end.

TAG takes a big risk with the album-closing Abbey Road B Side Medley. This track — inspired (as the name would suggest) by the medley of Lennon/McCartney songs on the second side of Abbey Road — is hard to take out of context of the original album, and the medley arrangement of slamming one song into the next will sound disjointed to anyone who isn't familiar with the original medley. It's a really, really bold choice to take on such an epic track, which is over eleven minutes long here and doesn't contain a single well-known or hit melody. I absolutely love that TAG took on such an ambitious medley; I'm just not sure it will appeal to or make sense to most listeners. Then again, sequencing it as the final track on the album makes it a B-side of its own, which is probably the best place to put a track of this magnitude.

With Reality Lately, The A Cappella Group brings another solid album of covers and originals; as with the past few TAG albums, the originals are the most impressive tracks here — if you're not already familiar with the names Gabrielle Macafee and Isabella Sbarra-Michelland, then their contributions are the absolute best place to start.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 JT 5
2 Come On Over Baby 5
3 Cool/Fire 5
4 Last Drop 5
5 Lovely 5
6 123 5
7 Inside 5
8 6/10 5
9 Call Off the Dogs 5
10 Abbey Road B Side Medley 3

When I sat down to listen to Reality Lately, the latest album by TAG (The A Cappella Group) from Cypress Lake Center for the Arts, I expected some talented high school students doing some fun a cappella that would make me feel nostalgic for my own high school a cappella days. That's not at all what I got. Being part of an arts school must be far more competitive than I imagined to get this level of talent in one group of teens!

Every piece of this album is finely crafted; from the always wonderful arrangements by Tom Anderson to the musical direction from Gary Stroh, the natural abilities of these young musicians has been honed to a razor's edge. And there's no loss of emotional resonance in the performances of the soloists or the vocal soundscape that the rest of the group creates.

The production value is as close to perfect for my ear as you can get. The mix is balanced, it feels radio-worthy, but doesn't have the extra distortion and effects that some groups use. I have no problem with distortion or effects, but it's always nice to hear a fantastic recording and immediately know that it's a cappella.

JT kicks off the album well. It sets a tone that is maintained nearly throughout. Come On Over Baby gave me the nostalgia I was looking for, but better! Reality Lately is the type of rare album that makes it difficult for me to even consider hitting the pause button. The arrangements and songs run together slightly, but it only makes me want to listen more closely on subsequent playthroughs. 6/10 stands out as my favorite. It's not flashy; in fact, it's quite simple. But while all the tracks read as honest, 6/10 feels the most vulnerable.

Then there's Abbey Road B Side Medley. This track is extremely well-done ... and I didn't like it. The piece would be a fabulous track for a different album, but it kicked me out of all the feels that all the previous tracks had built up. The engineering and performances are spot on, but the tone takes a sudden left turn. And because it's such a long medley, I found myself just waiting for it to end.

Reality Lately by TAG will definitely be a regular on my playlist ... I'll just shift Abbey Road B Side Medley to a separate playlist. But overall, it's a must-have!


How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

×

Ordering Information

Reality Lately streams on Spotify

×