HomeRecording Review: “Bang” by Rockapella and "The Best 10 Seconds"

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It’s not every day that a child gets to meet his idol. Many children grow up never having the chance to shake the hand of that heroic figure that, to them, is bigger than life. Well, I had my chance on October 20, 2001. Rockapella was performing a free concert in Baltimore for the re-opening of the Walters Art Museum. It was my first time hearing them live and I was standing right up against the outdoor stage. I was like a 16-year-old girl at a Backstreet Boys concert, except I was a 16-year-old boy at the concert of my favorite a cappella group of all time. I was giddy.

Afterwards, the group stayed around to sign autographs – Barry, Jeff, Elliott, Kevin… and Him - Quite possibly the sole reason I got into a cappella and pushed myself as a high tenor. The Man from 1Man1Mic. The master of vocal pyrotechnics himself – Scott Leonard. I walked up to him, opened my mouth, and no words came out. I simply handed him my copy of Don’t Tell Me You Do and a black sharpie with a dumb smile on my face. Since then I’ve actually talked to Scott (can I call you Scott?*) and I’ve come to the conclusion that, though he is a man of extraordinary talent, he is still just a man (though sometimes I have my suspicions). I’ve seen his shows, studied his music, and followed him and Rockapella as they’ve changed over the years. And now, I have the pleasure of sharing with you, my readers, a very exciting moment for we Rockapella fans – the release of a new album!

Rockapella's Bang, which was officially released on Tuesday, October 12, 2010, was also released for download on iTunes before the official date. Before I continue, however, I will make one concession. Scott Leonard said in an interview, and I concur, that Rockapella is best enjoyed live; there is simply something magical about the sound they make and how it couldn’t possibly be coming from just five voices. However, for those of us who live in a state that rarely sees a Rockapella concert (like myself), the CDs are all we have.

It has been six years since the last CD was released (Live in Japan) and a lot has happened since then. We lost two long time Rockapella group members – Elliott Kerman, a founding member who left shortly after George Baldi took over as bass for Barry Carl, and Kevin Wright who replaced Sean Altman as Tenor 2 when Sean left the group in 1997. But the group has gained two fantastic and unique voices in John K. Brown and Steven Dorian.

Rockapella’s new sound is different and exciting and yet has a familiarity that cannot be denied. It’s like your mother would make a steak for dinner. Normally she would just season it with salt and pepper, maybe put some barbeque sauce on it, and it was good for a while because it’s steak – who’s going to complain? There are starving kids in China, for goodness sake! But one day she changed it up and marinated the steak London Broil. It’s still the same steak, but the flavor is different – it might take longer to prepare, but the steak comes out tender with flavor coursing throughout. That is Rockapella’s new sound. It took a few years to bring together – a new Bass in George, and two new Tenors – and it’s the same Rockapella, but the flavor is rich, new, and exciting.

Bang starts out with a "Bang" – literally. The first song on the album is the title track – a track that Rockapella has been teasing about on their website; and what a way to bust out a new album. This track rocks! This song is all about the secret agent man and his explosive adventures, and this track certainly explodes with Baldi’s poppin’ bass, the great percussion we’ve come to know and love from Thatcher, some great off beat harmonies from Dorian and Brown, and of course some high flying vocals from Leonard.

 “Hard Time” keeps the groove going with a song about a girl playin’ games. The track is smooth and silky, but has a head-bobbing beat that is infectious. And the high energy doesn’t stop there. “4U4Now4Life” is a great song about… well I’m not sure, but it has a couple of funny lyrics. One of my favorites is “I know he’s tasty, but a manwich is a meal / Don’t go hungry.” I have to say, though, the chorus is probably one of the most contagious sections of any song. The combination of rhythmic intensity, great vocals, and great lyrics combines for a song that will get in your head, pull up a chair, and stay for dinner.

 “Tell Me What You Want” is a song that really displays the greatness of this group and their inimitability as individuals. Each member of the ensemble is featured in this song – Scott during the verses, Steven during the choruses, John during the bridge and breakdown, and of course we can never ignore George’s thumpin’ bass or Jeff’s hard-hitting percussion. Of course the next track, “Nuthin’ But,” gives G-Man his big solo song. Along with some suave vocals from John, George explains to his lady that, he may have limo drivers and platinum rings, but “baby, we ain’t nothing.’” This song is smooth in all the right places and John has a great artistry with his voice that is just cannot be duplicated.

We finally hit a ballad in our tour of the new Rockapella album – “California Sad-Eyed Girl.” The song is very charming and very much against the grain of the previous songs. It’s low-key, no percussion, one of those candlelit dinner songs – warm and cuddly.

But watch out ladies, because “G is on the prowl tonight.” The most anticipated song for me on this CD has to be “Tonight,” which features some great vocals from all parties, including G-Man. If you haven’t heard Rockapella do this song, look it up on YouTube. This is a really fun song about looking forward to the end of the work day so that we can come home and… well… have some fun! Great rockin’ beat and fantastic harmonies. And if that party wasn’t enough, John takes us to the tropics with “Shemibos.” This song is also very off the cusp from what the rest of the CD is, but it really shows what Rockapella can do with their new vocalists.

 “Malibu Grand-Prix” shows off Dorian’s engaging vocals and has gotten me very excited about Steven as an addition to this great vocal band. This song flies like a car around the track, and includes some vocal percussion from the group in the form of car engines. And as we cross the finish line, we get “Too Much,” the next track. This track also features John on lead. He has a polished style that is spotless – he just flows. And this brings us to the final song, a second ballad called “Baby Girl.” This song features Baldi on lead and includes some really nice light thumping from Thatcher. Baldi has a great solo voice – a great lower end as well as a mid-range that could challenge some baritones.

As I said before, Rockapella is best served live, but for us that don’t have the pleasure of being able to see them, I’ll take this CD to go. This album rocks all night and every day. But to be fair, there are a couple of things that I’m not fond of about this CD. I’m a purist at heart, though I understand that effects have their place in our art. However, the use of auto-tuning as a style – the way T-Pain has made famous - should never have found its way into a cappella music. Rockapella only uses this technique in a couple of spots, but it’s noticeable, and I think it’s a poor choice. There is some other effecting that I think is just a little too much, but again, this is all very few and far between for it to be a big problem. I think, though, the best part of this CD is how well it shows off the new group. As I mentioned, more than half of the songs were solos by other members other than Leonard, though he definitely was the primary vocalist. I think this is great and really harnesses the abilities of the new vocalists in a great way. Their game plan has changed – this is an entirely new set of songs than previous CDs which is a welcomed relief. The group has really come together in a new and exciting way. I know the true fans, like me, are already looking forward to this change, while new fans will certainly embrace the fresh sound with open arms. I haven’t decided whether this is my new favorite CD for theirs, but it’s definitely in the top two. This is a must have album for a cappella fans. It’s steak, and it’s what’s for dinner! Go out and get the CD now. Leave your comments below!

*I like to think that Scott is actually reading this!

Oh and for those who are following my reviews – “The Best 10 Seconds” of this CD have to be the first 12 seconds of “4U4Now4Life” (so much so that I made it a ringtone for my iPhone). First I like it because it has a cool bouncing rhythm that is infectious. It’s also just Scott, John, and Steven – three voices making beautiful music with minimal effects or anything. Just three voices and tight blending. That’s real a cappella, and real Rockapella.

http://www.rockapella.com/

About the author:
Jeeves Murphy: "I've only heard the a cappella version of that song before." If Jeeves had a nickel for every time he's said that, he'd be a rich man. Jeeves has been singing ever since he can remember (even before he was "Jeeves"). He's performed in classical and renaissance a cappella groups, as well as contemporary groups and barbershop quartets.  He helped found multiple groups while he was in college, including the first of it's kind at UMBC (The Mama's Boys) where he graduated with a degree in English Literature. Jeeves currently works in Columbia, MD as an ITS Engineer. In his spare time, he is an all around musician - playing piano, bass guitar, cajon, and of course singing Tenor (high-tenor), arranging, and vocal percussion. He's the Maryland State Ambassador for CASA and writes semi-regularly for the site (or at least when the mood strikes). Jeeves' articles focuses mainly on performance and CD reviews.