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The Doo-Wop Shop

Flying Colors (2019)

4.3

May 29, 2020

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 3.7
Tracks
1 Grace Kelly 4.3
2 Oops!... I Did It Again 4.7
3 Make Me Feel 4.3
4 The Scientist 4.3
5 Pride and Joy 3.3
6 Cryin' 4.7
7 (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay 4.3
8 I'm a Believer 4.0

Recorded 2019
Total time: 26:18, 8 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Grace Kelly 4
2 Oops!... I Did It Again 5
3 Make Me Feel 4
4 The Scientist 4
5 Pride and Joy 4
6 Cryin' 5
7 (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay 4
8 I'm a Believer 5

Some albums just incite infectious energy so electric that they have the ability to overwhelm the senses and leave you dumbfounded. Flying Colors does just that and more through its quirky vocal antics, skillful arrangements, and astonishing and passionate performances, delivering an album that's truly for the people.

The Doo-Wop Shop's newest album embodies Tina Turner's famous lyrics "we never do nothing nice and easy" as the group flips the script on popular tracks, allowing listeners to fall in love with warm and inviting authenticity from these songs. This is a testament to the magical arranging skills of Evan Keller, Henry Zagarella, and Sam Jones, who finely tune each track to fit the talents and abilities of the group.

The swinging notes and big band feel of Pride and Joy feel wonderfully animated, balancing modern production with a purer a cappella feel. Similarly, (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay takes advantage of a vintage a cappella sound with its immaculate southern soul vibe, executed through incredible pacing and a heavy tone that really settles into the soul. I do wish that the track incorporated more of the downbeat elements presented in the song's beginning and end, though.

If there was ever a track that defined the Doo-Wop Shop, it would be Grace Kelly. The singing is cohesive, production is clean from top to bottom, and the track is brimming with personality. Each vocal part has range and color, infusing joy into the song while simultaneously incorporating non-singing elements that make the experience unique.

Make Me Feel exudes life and personality as well but offers a bit more complexity in chord and rhythm structure, culminating in a groovy musical offering. And while you may have heard covers of Coldplay's The Scientist before, I can assure you that none matches the emotional weight and impact of the Doo-Wop Shop's rendition. The unity and balance that the group presents is astonishing and will leave you floored.

While every track is commendable in its own right, the group's powerhouse trio of I'm a Believer, Oops!... I Did It Again, and Cryin' steals the show.

I'm a Believer has all the jubilation of the original track and humorous backing parts, all while still delivering a highly skilled vocal performance as energy continuously builds till the very end. Oops!... I Did It Again combines pop and jazz stylings to deliver one of the most innovative reworkings of a track I've ever heard. The performance stuns, excites and dazzles in a sultry and sophisticated way.

And Cryin' is by far one of the best tracks I've ever experienced ... a cappella or not! The group's sensational rock vocals are otherworldly, showcasing phenomenal range, tantalizing energy and some of the best vocal control you'll ever witness. This track is on par with anything currently being put out by the pros.

Flying Colors is the epitome of exciting and personality-driven music and is an album that you'll want to experience over and over again.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Grace Kelly 4
2 Oops!... I Did It Again 4
3 Make Me Feel 5
4 The Scientist 4
5 Pride and Joy 3
6 Cryin' 5
7 (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay 5
8 I'm a Believer 4

Just from the track listing alone, this album is a presentation I would love to see live. Over the past few years, there has been a strong shift among many groups to move towards a dark and angst-filled sound. While it's interesting to watch this paradigm shift, performances sometimes feel like a cheap imitation of another group. This is clearly not the case for Flying Colors. The Doo-Wop Shop gives a presentation that is fun and unique to the group. However, some of the elements of theatricality don't translate well from the stage to the studio and leave some room for the group to grow and become even better.

Start at the top. Grace Kelly has a gloriously sassy countertenor solo, and Travis Giragosian absolutely crushes it. The hardest challenge for a song like this is that the group has to be just as sassy as the soloist. Otherwise, the soloist feels out of place. For the most part, the energies of the foreground and the background match. However, there is a lack of theatricality that the studio takes away. For example, in the second verse, the background is constantly juggling staccato and legato motions. These motions are great individually, but the difference between them is minimal. The long notes don't always drive towards the next phrase and the short notes are at too loud of a dynamic to give the long notes a place to drive to. With a live performance, it's easy to see where the group could use body motion to visualize and deliver those dynamic changes. The recording captures most of that energy, but it can at times feel stagnant.

On the other hand, when the group fully delivers the energy, hold on to your hats. Cryin' is spectacular. Eric Weloth adds to the list of phenomenal soloists on this album with one heck of a Steven Tyler impersonation. This track has a strong difference between the powerful driving chorus and the smoother melodic verses. The arrangement isn't overly complex, which lets Weloth do what he does best. If it's not cool enough to have a soloist screaming notes that are out of the range of most people, there are some great rock harmonies on top of it. If Grace Kelly is all about being fun and flirty, this track shows the other side of the group; this one is raw, passionate, and downright impressive.

The hardest challenge for Flying Colors is that many of these songs would benefit from a visual element. It's easy to feel where the group members should be moving and how they would, but that absence of a visual element takes away some of the theatricality of these pieces. However, when all is said and done, this is a great album to dance to in your living room and pretend you're the soloist. Enjoy it and perhaps plan a trip to Massachusetts just to get that visual element.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Grace Kelly 5
2 Oops!... I Did It Again 5
3 Make Me Feel 4
4 The Scientist 5
5 Pride and Joy 3
6 Cryin' 4
7 (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay 4
8 I'm a Believer 3

You'd be hard-pressed to find many college a cappella groups having as much audible fun on their albums as The Doo-Wop Shop. The group's latest project, Flying Colors, has an infectious energy that's a bit too overwhelming for its own good, but that's still a way better position to be in than the opposite one.

That high level of pure, distilled fun is what allows such an eclectic tracklist spanning several decades and genres to fit together so surprisingly well. The final four songs — Pride and Joy, Cryin', (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay, and I'm a Believer — are incredibly hard to justify on paper together, let alone in that order, and yet The Doo-Wop Shop makes it feel natural. The voices behind that energy are not slouching either — background voices provide a consistently full and clean soundscape, while soloists are always the right people in the right place at the right time.

What results is some fantastic and consistent execution through an eccentric song selection, especially in the first half of the album. Travis Giragosian kicks off Flying Colors with an extremely charismatic performance on Grace Kelly, accented by the cute recorded dialogue quips and a strong bounce and flow from the rest of the group. The Doo-Wop Shop then dances gracefully on the fine line between quirky and tacky by performing and nailing a jazzy, bass solo version of Oops!... I Did It Again. I'm a sucker for a well-executed bass solo, and the vocal jazz embellishments and harmonic changes really double down on the reinterpreted feel for the song.

Flying Colors starts to hit a ceiling, however, on Make Me Feel, which continues this trend of bouncy energy with slick solos, but doesn't add much more and starts sounding less clean along the way. On several of these songs' arrangements or performances, there aren't a lot of deeper layers of texture or rhythmic accentuation; this limits my overall enjoyment of the album. On top of that, lack of dynamic contrast starts to feel less like a choice and more like a trapping. The overuse of pad whole notes as vocal harmonies without much swelling or growth in those phrases starts to create a sense of stagnation in the apparent audible fun I praised earlier. If Make Me Feel was the first song where I started to notice something bug me, Cryin' was where I started pinpointing these causes. Cryin' is probably the most high-octane song on the album, but by this point I was worn down enough that I needed relief — yet instead was treated with an overdose. By the end of the album, I would say while I don't dislike a single song on the album, I feel exhausted when I should've been left invigorated.

I skipped over mentioning The Scientist before because it was the contrast and relief of which I wanted more. Unlike most other songs on this album, it opts for a gentler texture in the voices with dynamic contrast oftentimes on the phrase-by-phrase level. Layers of background texture accent the more appropriate use of constant pad whole notes too. Perhaps most importantly, Nate Fisette finds power in his solo through warm vulnerability rather than through pure fiery passion. I did not expect this song to fit the Doo-Wop Shop as well as it does, and now I want more of it. (Sittin' On) The Dock of the Bay almost gets there, but even in its quiet moments, it feels a bit overpowering.

My recommendation for future Doo-Wop Shop projects would be to search for every instance of nuance and subtle performance choices in every song, and to then accent those higher energy songs with moments of relief and ease in songs like The Scientist. Flying Colors showcases levels of energy and enthusiasm that so many groups would absolutely love to have, and that results in a highly entertaining listening experience. Now, the Doo-Wop Shop needs to learn to control that energy more elegantly so that the listener never gets tired of it.

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