HomeBlogsWarren B.'s blog5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-2 (Sept. 26), 2nd Hour: Round 1, Bracket 4

Hour two of episode two begins with Nick Lachey's sticking by his new catchphrase: "The show that's riding the wave of a whole new musical movement." You're a musicologist now? Stay out of it, Nick Lachey.

The Collective is introduced as a group "who put their solo careers on hold for a shot at the trophy." I feel like half of the groups of this season and the last season (and many groups I know who've auditioned) are pretty much assembling for the purpose of this series, so why make a big deal out of it?

Oh God, they're not going to sing "Rolling in the Deep", are they? Ugh, they are. Enough of this song already, people. Looking past my sickness of this song, Adele does sing the holy bejeezus out everything she sings, and Ruby, who is a confident performer overall, has a fragile Macy-Gray-ish voice that's hard to look past in comparison. (Apparently she does blend with everyone else, if the video package was any indication.) A minor bass hiccup leads to what starts as a very interesting channel ("the stars of your love"), but the build doesn't quite work and the chorus disappoints, mainly because the bass seems out his depth (no pun intended). There are no tuning issues per se, but this isn't holding together in the way that other groups are holding together. Sure enough, Sara B. says she's looking forwarding to seeing how they hold together in the future, but shouldn't groups be holding themselves together already when they get to the show?

In the video package for Soul'd Out (of Wilsonville High School in Oregon), Ethan introduces his group as an "a cappella singing group", which is the logical equivalent of "completely unanimous decision" or "ulterior underlying motive". Rachel sells the group as "the real life Glee," except that on Glee songs stay in tempo as the singers walk down the hall en masse and the chords of a licensed song like "Party in the U.S.A." are usually correct. The soloist is pretty awesome, though, and I hope we see more of her up front in the competition. (Note from the future: we won't.)

Nick says they're singing "Aquarius/Let the Sun Shine" from Hair, and I'm puzzled, as none of them were close to being born when that show debuted. (I mean, I wasn't even born yet, and I'm old.) I wonder whose parents suggested this one. Anyway, I'm impressed with the depth of the bass, I like the focus of the soloists' tones, and the moving harmonies kick in nicely at the end of the verse… and then the transition into the chorus ("will steer the stars") is rushed and choppy, totally taking us out of the moment, violating the first of Bloom's Rules of Vocal Performance (as established on my blog last season):

Rule No. 1: Every chord counts.

And it's not one person's fault-- it's like they didn't rehearse the transition, just the big chunks of the song, like they assumed that the song would assemble itself, and that's a collective rookie mistake.

They immediately redeem themselves in the chorus, which is really tastily layered and pitch perfect. Finally, a big group that sounds big! For once, I'm not clawing the walls in frustration that voices are being underutilized. The bridge is kooky, but hey, that's the song. (This is the only song I can think of that can justify those headbands, but those headbands seem to be mandatory for singing this song. It's a quite a symbiotic relationship, thanks to the datedness of this song.) "Let the Sun Shine" is much less elaborate of an arrangement in general, but still a lot of fun; the final chords are very tight. (Alas, Ben Folds and I disagree point-by-point on this; it must've sounded a lot different in person.)

North Shore, who've been somehow singing full-time since the '70s (didn't they go by "North Shore A Cappella" in the '90s?) [editor's note: yes, that's still their name; it was only changed for the show], have a great opening video package. I think this is the first true streetcorner group the show has ever had (no, Talk of the Town doesn't count), and damn, that kind of over-focused tone can make even a plain ol' major chord sound like it's coming down from the heavens.

"Runaround Sue" is almost a gimme for them. I initially had a twinge of unease at the idea, but then I remembered another one of Bloom's Rules…

Rule No. 3, a/k/a Musical Economics 101: Do what you're best at, and that will yield the best result.

…so this makes perfect sense. For a repetitive I-vi-IV-V song, they kill it. The problem is that even with their killer blend, killer tuning, a killer lead, a killer bass and a killer ending chord, we've heard such bigger and fuller things this season and even within their bracket already, making them seem so small in comparison, even next to the other small groups. I presume their musicianship will be impressive enough to the judges that they'll survive to the next round so that the judges can toy with them and see what else they're capable of; I'd like to think that the streetcorner technique of earnest high-energy singing is translatable to other genres.

The DelTones (of the Univ. of Delaware) have a video package with lots of odd collegiate big-group stances; college kids just don't know what to do with their hands when they sing, do they? I think the forced nature of a large group of people singing a ballad outside of a choral context is always going to cause that weirdness. And that was my reaction before I saw the guy on the left playing serious air bass!

Randy Newman's "Feels Like Home", their sentimental choice, begins with a count-off on pitch, which is both rookie-ish and brilliant at the same time. They (or whoever's staging them) has solved the awkward-stance situation by having them kneel or sit on risers, which other groups in other competitions should give serious thought to, because it looked great. I'm glad I'm watching the episode a second time on headphones, because I missed a lot of the beautiful voicings and harmonies the first time through my stereo speakers, like that slinky I9sus-I9-IV-iii-II7-V9 passage at the end. On the first viewing I dismissed it as yet another slow ballad, but the second time around this kinda blew me away. Wow.

Fourth elimination time, and I think The Collective is, sadly for their non-solo careers, the weakest link here. North Shore may seem to have a limited potential repertoire, but that's what I thought of Talk of the Town last season and they pulled out some surprises; Soul'd Out has serious potential to become an even bigger wall of sound.

And to my dismay we're left with a final pairing of Soul'd Out and the Deltones, the two academic groups with big sounds and thick harmonies. Neither of these groups deserves to go home, so this just bugs me tremendously. (Nick reminds us that Soul'd Out are high-schoolers, and I'm struck by the guy with serious beard going on. And one girl in the Deltones looks like she's being read a ghost story. At least the House Jacks's music bed is keeping me distracted from my annoyance at this pairing.)

Soul'd Out, for reasons I can't quite understand given what we heard from The Collective, is eliminated. I am really, really disappointed with this result. Their farewell rendition of "Mama I'm Coming Home", with that glorious final cadence, is better than the song the The Collective sang in competition. And no, that's not an unfair comparison due the difference in numbers; having your act together is having your act together, and The Collective's working musicians didn't have their act together like Soul'd Out's high-schoolers did.

NBC's resident show-infiltrator Sam Tsui explains really well why Messiah's Men had to go home, but presents no good reason for Soul'd Out's elimination:

(Gotta love the guy from Messiah's Men singing passionately with his Bluetooth on.)

Second round begins next week. The judges have gotten it right three of four times, so it could be worse.

About the author:
WARREN BLOOM is a vegetarian libertarian feminist capitalist musician educator. He was a founding member of mixed pop group Spur Of The Moment at Brandeis Univ., sang with Jazz Vocal 2 at the Univ. of Miami (Best College Jazz Choir runner-up, 1997 DownBeat awards), and musical-directed the summer pro group The Hyannis Sound. Upon returning home to New York, he joined the NYC jazz-pop quintet Doo*Wa*Zoo (Best Jazz Song nominee, 2000 CARAs). Since then he's been musical director and/or bass and/or VP for numerous a-cappella projects in NYC, including Dobsonfly (heard in the film The Rules of Attraction) and Invisible Men (Audience Favorite, 2005 New York Harmony Sweepstakes; 4 out of 5 on RARB). He served as a staff arranger for an early incarnation of the Ultimate A Cappella Arranging Service, and was MD, co-arranger and sound tech for Minimum Wage's Blue Code Ringo at the 2002 NYC Fringe Festival, and arranger for their 2007 off-Broadway production. He spent a year as a composer/lyricist in the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theater Workshop, but left to be director of instrumental music at Talent Unlimited High School in Manhattan. He currently teaches general music (K-5) at the Robert Fulton School (P.S. 8) in Brooklyn Heights, and has spent nine summers teaching musical theater (middle & high school) at the Usdan Center for the Arts in Huntington, L.I. "On the side" he's judged 17 ICCA and ICHSA shows since 2002 (including both 2006 finals), and is a freelance voiceover artist, live sound tech and music copyist. He holds music degrees from Brandeis Univ., the Univ. of Miami and CUNY Hunter College. He's from the beigest place in the world, and currently resides with his cutie and her cat in the Ditmas Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.

The Sing-Off, episode 3-1 (Sept. 19), 1st hour: round 1, bracket 1

The Sing-Off, episode 3-1 (Sept. 19), 2nd hour: round 1, bracket 2

The Sing-Off, episode 3-2 (Sept. 26), 1st hour: round 1, bracket 3: