HomeBlogsWarren B.'s blog5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-8 (Nov. 7): Top 6 (2nd Hour)

Hour two opens with a long en-masse video package about the groups' familiarity with country music and/or its worst stereotypes, all of which may be true as far as I know, as I was raised on techno-crazy Long Island. (Anyone who remembers "Out-Q, your club and concert calendar!" will know what I mean.) Urban Method hitches its choreographical wagon, Vocal Point jams on "Life is a Highway", and the most midwestern-looking member of Delilah (Ingrid) screams "I hate you!" from a mechanical bull. Good times, good times.

Myke of Urban Method, practically canceling out the bravado from his earlier video package, says "This country stuff is just out of my league, but we have to embrace it, and we have to sell it, or we'll be going home." Riiiiiiiight. Because you guys, um, never switch up genres. Ever.

The Dartmouth Aires need a big, raucous number to play to their strengths, and I think the title alone-- "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy"-- says it all. (Pretty racy for prime time, no?) After a brief Roy Rogers moment, they go into a thick country-rock texture that's really strong, and then the verse introduces something I can't recall happening yet this season: a lead doubled doubled down an octave, featuring Michael O.-O. and Will. (This a good change from the original Big & Rich version which starts with one guy singing while the other kinda chants the words, and go into octaves eventually.) Everything is very full here and leaves nothing to the ear's imagination, although Clark putting his ten-gallon hat on his nether-regions is awwwwwwkward. The movement in general, while not difficult looking, is well coordinated. I think this kind of hewing so closely to the theme both musically and visually (the hats, the pants, the arm-wrestling) is kind of silly, although I guess they had no choice given the title of the song. (What were the Aires' and Yellowjackets' excuses for the ridiculous baseball caps during hip-hop week?)

In the cut-time "saddle up" coda [1:30], there's a sliding duet up high in there, reminiscent of a fiddle (but not in a corny way), that gives it a perfect bluegrass feel. The Aires (or this song's arranger, anyway) are really good at being busy-sounding without having parts collide with each other, and this performance is a perfect example. This is a big group who knows how to use their size to their advantage. Both Shawn Stockman and Sara B. say there were issue of things "coming apart," but I thought this was solid all the way through.

When Nick Lachey says "Performing 'Need You Now' (by Lady Antebellum), here's Afro-Blue!" I'm immediately envisioning a balladized version chock full of modal harmonies that will take away the bad taste of their first song. The intro, starting on a major 7th arpeggio on the VI, bodes well for them. Christie's lead is, of course, smooth as silk, and then we see Trent (as a lead for the first time?), and both of the voices blend shockingly well. The verse ends on a IVma7, and I'm glad they've gone back to chords with some bite. The chorus is also crunchy in spots-- the "quarter after one"/"said I wouldn't call" tonic chord might be a maj6/9, and the "I don't know how" IV chord is a ma9 (finally!) [at 1:04]-- and we're finally back in five-or-six-part-harmony land where Afro-Blue belongs.

Reggie's bass has been solid so far-- it's weird to hear the show's resident jazz master singing the same note more than once in a row!-- but his effects are little excessive. (Alas, I can hear Eliza's voice sticking out in a duet during the transition; last week I said she had a "girly" voice, but here it's nasal, maybe more cabaret than R&B. Mariah's voice is solo during the transition, but I can listen to her flirty voice all day.) The changes during the "I'd rather hurt" section are quite beautiful and well-balanced (lots of baritone notes, but they're offset by the amazing blend of the women), and then for reasons I can't comprehend they go from a lovely bVI [at 1:24] to… a plain V? Oh man, just when this getting good, too. Fortunately, they go into a solid (and emotional) final sequence that, while not in their typical millieu, shows that they can master another genre without selling out. The judges gloss over the obvious harmonic improvement from earlier and effuse over their emotional connection, and now we know that Delilah hasn't entirely cornered the market on crying. After "American Girl" they must've known they were now singing not to "win it all" but just to stay on the show. If they hadn't brought it here, a group would have to collapse terribly for them to stay in. Oooooo, foreshadowing…

After what we heard tonight, I wasn't even go to try to guess how Urban Method would approach Carrie Underwood's "Before He Cheats". And good thing, because I totally didn't see this coming: they're doing it totally straight. Whoa.

On the intarwebs, people are going on about Katie's voice being too screechy, but how else would you do this intro? It's supposed to be loud and in your face. I think the judges' comments about some alleged wimpiness on the part of Katie, ? and Kim got their goat, because they're up front and kicking butt from the get-go. The VP kicks in nicely*, and the first verse's textures are eerily reminiscent of the song Afro-Blue just did. Even in the verse, things are low-key but really intense, and now Urban Method is proving its versatility too. The bridge [1:01] is a bit weak, with the guys (most baris and basses) singing low chords that, while not out of tune, are too muddy to support the women's trio. Then there's a slide up to the chorus again, and the energy is fantastic. Kim, finally (finally!) taking a lead role [at 1:19], is downright scary (or scary-hot) singing "carved my name into his leather seats" and going on about the Louisville Slugger. (Thanks to the closed-captioning, I now know what a violent song this is. Yikes.)

Tony and Troy were on bass? Huh. That might explain the muddiness of the bridge, but other than that they must've been insanely coordinated, because (as discussed regarding Vocal Point in the 1st-hour posting) that could've been a disaster. And they didn't have to use Myke as a crutch, either! (You know what is a disaster? That enormous cactus that Nick has to stand in front of.)

I'm kinda sick of The Band Perry's "If I Die Young" at this point, but I was sure Delilah, who brought their A+ game in the first hour, would find some way to make it interesting. Well, kinda. I'm assuming their strategy was that by going bluegrass-choral for the first chorus and verse, they'd show diversity, which they probably assumed would be important on a two-theme night. However, they had no way of knowing that everyone else was going to go full throttle on the country side, and that they'd end up "bringing down the room" by comparison.

Ingrid (is this first lead of the season for her?) is a very capable and powerful soloist, but when others join her there are harmonic holes that disappear and then reappear-- trio to duet to unison and back, and later there. Johanna, who I'd imagine is a hero to female singers everywhere, seems to be singing "wrong" notes in parallel motion [from 0:26 to 0:50], as though her part was arranged to complete the chord, and not to establish the roots, despite a bass's very specific role (and the very specific EQ on her mic).

When Geena's beat kicks in, they sound more in their element (and Johanna is back on the roots, which increases the stability). It's very pretty all the way to the end, but… it doesn't go anywhere. (I know it sounds picky considering they have 120 seconds to establish an arc, but… that's the show. And Nick needs to stop editorializing! That's not his job!) All three judges pick up on harmonic issues, although they see it as more of a tuning issue (Ben specifies the very first IV chord), which I didn't hear. Probably yet another studio-vs.-television thing, but either way it was step down for them. (If the rumors are true that the producers influence what the judges say, then this performance would "justify" what Sara B. said about "Dream On", though that would be a heck of a retroactive edit.)

As previewed before, Vocal Point will be performing "Life is a Highway". In the previous hour they went the rock-harder route, which surprised me; a more hummable song like this is in their traditional wheelhouse, but now I want to see more of them outside of that wheelhouse! I'm sure it won't suck though. And for the most, it doesn't. The intro section (after the engine sounds) is strange, with low harmonies and exposed moving parts (high and low) that are technically correct but don't layer well. There are tempo issues in the first verse (might be the VP); you can hear a marked difference in tempo between the intro [0:13] and the middle of the first verse [0:31] already. The moving parts become less distracting as the verse starts to cook, and then a killer loud iimi9(?) [at 0:48] leads into a great layered chorus which a solid lead-- all of the leads throughout are pretty solid, come to think of it. I'm disappointed that the "all night long" duet in the chorus [0:58 & 1:05] didn't do an add2 callback to the Lionel Ritchie number from episode 3, but you can't have everything.

The bridge [1:09] has every right to be low-key, but the voicings go back to too-low territory (more so than before), which is doubly frustrating because they then settle on a vi9sus that should be a poke in Afro-Blue's eye but doesn't ring well, and the first chord of "now we look it in the eye" might be a tonic but also might not be. Thankfully, the last chorus is good and loud, and they can at least say they ended on a solid groove. The ^3 doubled down the octave in the last tonic chord irks me, though.

(By the way, what "distant shore" would there be in country, er, country?)

Pentatonix has, as I reluctantly quote Nick, "made a name for themselves" with an aggressive sound. However, I know nothing of Sugarland's "Stuck Like Glue", so I'm a blank slate as far how it's "supposed" to sound. And this first half sounds suspiciously reminiscent of North Shore's "Lazy Song", although not as well voice-led. This relaxed Jason Mraz-ish reggae feel is very unlike them; this may seem funny and/or mean, but this seems like the first time they've appeared genuinely happy on the stage this season. All of this smiling from them during a song is so strange and new! (I mean, we've seen the adorable Kirstie smile before, but it was when she was dressed in a Britney Spears getup.) I think Kevin's VP is too strong here and creates an urgency that isn't reflected by the other four. They get to the chorus [0:39], and despite Kirstie's flirty manner, this is first time I've been kinda bored by Pentatonix, even if it's just for about 15 seconds. And then we hit the second verse [1:05], and WHOA.

The harder, half-time shuffle feel (rocksteady? dub? I'm woefully unprepared to speak about reggae sub-genres) taps into their strength, using the bass, VP and sparse but well-placed upper parts to create their patented less-is-more sound, replete with coordinated stops and even a musical gag on "feelin' kinda sick", and it cooks. Is there any style of lead Scott can't do? He's insane. The rest of the song then settles back into the less interesting Mraz vibe, and I'm a little torn. Does the stronger second verse outweigh the cheery but mediocre beginning and end? (At this point I'm desperately trying to justify not eliminating Afro-Blue or Delilah, which I thought was very likely at that point, but I also don't want it to be at Pentatonix's expense.)

(I'm now looking for a video of the original recording. Ah, there it is and it seems quite peppy at the beginning and WHAT IN THE WORLD OH MY GOD THIS VIDEO IS SO TWISTED! Yikes! Looking beyond the twistedness, I'm not sure what qualifies this strictly as country; maybe because she sings with a twang? The reggae part really does verge on reggae, despite the incongruous Jane Fonda Workout look.)

So in the elimination, we're left with the previously unthinkable bottom two of Delilah and Afro-Blue. Both groups had uneven nights, but In the "season series" Afro-Blue has the edge, so it's no surprise that Delilah is the group to go. Damn, this is a really good group, and, now that their run is over, I can say that they are the greatest all-female contemporary a-cappella group I've ever heard. They won the talent lottery of course, as they have the strongest female contralto and VP I've ever heard, and while in the abstract such a solid rhythm section can cover up a lack of strength up top, they were strong all around, which makes them even more criminally brilliant. It's a shame they're all geographically dispersed at the moment, because they should be touring on a record label's dime by now. They Go Into The Light with Destiny's Child's "Survivor" and nail it like they're challenging us to demand they come back, and cement their place in the history of the show.

Are we at the Top 5 already? All of these groups are so different at this point, we've gotten to a true "comparing apples to oranges" point. That said, Afro-Blue shouldn't be making these kinds of mistakes. How blessed are they to have their sound, their musicianship and their comradery? For them to go home for things as careless as not doing what they're good at would be such a horrible squandering of these qualities that other groups spend years honing, or will never be able to hone at all. Don't screw this up, guys!

* At that moment, the NBC closed-captioning says "(introducing beat)", which is hilarious.


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. Since returning home to New York, he's been musical director and/or bass and/or VP for numerous a-cappella projects in NYC, including pop/jazz quintet Doo*Wa*Zoo (Best Jazz Song nominee, 2000 CARAs), pop/rock sextet Dobsonfly (heard in the film The Rules of Attraction) and rock/R&B septet 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 Total Vocal, and was MD, co-arranger and sound tech for Minimum Wage's Blue Code Ringo at the 2002 NYC Fringe Festival, and co-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:

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-2 (Sept. 26), 2nd Hour: Round 1, Bracket 4

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-3 (Oct. 3): round 2, bracket 1 (1st hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-3 (Oct. 3): Round 2, Bracket 1 (2nd Hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-4 (Oct. 10): round 2, bracket 2 (1st hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-4 (Oct. 10): round 2, bracket 2 (2nd hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-5 (Oct. 17): Top 10 (1st hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-5 (Oct. 17): Top 10 (2nd hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, episode 3-6 (Oct. 24): Top 8 (1st hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-6 (Oct. 24): Top 8 (2nd Hour)

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-7 (Oct. 31): Top 7

5th Judge: The Sing-Off, Episode 3-8 (Nov. 7): Top 6 (1st hour)


correction: bass doubile last

correction: bass doubile last time was Aires, not vocal point =]


=] was waiting for this. I always love reading what experts think of music, because even if they like something as a whole, they can go in and tear it apart limb from limb. 


While I agree that Stuck Like Glue was 'boring', I personally thought it was a nice change of pace, and they got to just chill out on. Watching Kirstie on this number was great, like, right before the change, she's got this little hop kinda thing going on, haha. But, yeah, Jason Mraz-ish is still something people like, so it's not so much a mis-step as just not something in your taste. And that's the hard part of this competition now, we're down to taste. 


Broadway. Jazz. Rap-rock-stuff. Vocal Point or Pentatonix (seriously, I can't find names for them!). 

As for Jazz..am I the only one who liked Groove for Thought way more than Afro-Blue? 


Oh, and can I ask you..what exaclty makes some 'x-part harmony'? Because you mentioned a difference between multiple two part harmonies and a 3 part harmony. =]


Thank you so much for constantly doing this!


and Invisible Men is awesome, I liked ya'll (I'm in theme!) on facebook.

3-part vs. multiple 2-part

> what exaclty makes some 'x-part harmony'? Because you mentioned a difference between multiple two part harmonies and a 3 part harmony.

Three-part harmony is literally three notes sung at around the same time and meant to "go together" (close or spread), while "multiple two-part harmonies" are usually duets that are meant to create more interesting textures in relation to each other.  In my experience, acoustically speaking, a complete (three-part) chord will sound "bigger" than two incomplete chords that don't stay in one place in relation to each other.

The Delilah Dismissal

Pitchpipe stepped into a pile (both in his own comment section and on CASA.org) when he suggested that Delilah's supposed lack of low-end was their ultimate undoing.


Little John of Street Corner Symphony says everything I would've said, and more.

thanks for the sugarland

thanks for the sugarland video, Warren, though I can't get past the fact that the star of the show is Mr. Awesome from Chuck. w00 w00. nerd alert.

[=#8040BF]http://www.rarb.org/people/thomas-king.html http://www.deltacappella.com CASA Dir. of Ambassador Program SoJam Producer & Concert Mgr Sing Producer CAL jd All Things A Cappella FOTS #1 ICCA Producer Emeritus "the

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