HomeRecording Review: Ball In The House's "One Night Only"

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Ball in the House’s “One Night Only” is a live album so this review is more of a concert review than an album review. The album has 19 tracks, which is a bit long for a live show AND for an a cappella album, so grab some coffee before you try to undertake reading this review. I understand that using a sleeve rather than a jewel case with an insert severely limits the space for textual components, but I prefer the track list to cite the original artist, arranger, soloist, etc. There is also no mention of the group members and their voice parts. Overall, the group does a great job at showcasing their beatboxing talent, but their rich bass gets lost in the mix of a live setting. Dozens, if not hundreds, of other groups have done the majority of Ball in the House’s tracks and without rearranging or cutting parts out of the songs, they tend to fall flat and drag a bit.

Ball in the House’s mash-up of “I Don’t Wanna Be / Use Somebody” is a good choice, considering tempo and mood, for an opening song. However, the combination seems forced and the emotions of the song don’t really match up. The transition between the two songs is empty and lacks a natural feel. The solos are too precise for the styles of the original songs, lacking any real raw emotion. During the majority of the song, the soloist overwhelms the background and the even so the melody is lost among the harmonies. This is where the difference between a live show and a studio album is most apparent – the balance in a live show has to be rehearsed and perfected.

Following with another mash-up (in fact, the only other on the album) seemed a bit odd, but I went with it. “Superstition / Rapper’s Delight” fits together much more naturally. The fun syllables in the background keep with the feel of the songs, and while some of the background feels empty, the soloists do a great job of making up for it. The soloists seem to really have fun with these songs and they maintain the natural, raw sound necessary to pull of songs like these.

“Love the One You’re With” seems to have one syllable in the background for the majority of the song, and for such a classic song that has been covered by so many other groups, a lackluster arrangement is the last thing anyone wants to hear. The soloist performs the song very well and gives great energy, but is overpowered by the harmonies of the background rather than being complimented by them.

The next track, “Ladies Night,” has awesome moments, especially for a live performance, from the soloists and the background. However, there is no real soul or originality in the arrangement. Similarly, the solo is full of growls, but the raw feeling seems forced. The original rendition of this song relies so heavily on the bass line for motion and direction, yet “Ladies Night” as performed by Ball in the House lacks a real bass presence other than in the solo bass section.

The percussive intro to “Think About it” drew me in, but the high tenor line throughout the song pushed me away. The arrangement has a lot of creative and interesting moments, but they are ultimately drowned out. This is another song where the group needs to come together to decide what parts of the song are important, so that they can be featured. Right now, everyone seems to think they have the most important part.

I find it interesting that one of the most recent songs on the album (“Nothin’ on You”) has the most originality in the solo and background. There is a lot of adopted stylization in this song, as evidenced in the discrepancy in style between saying “New Or-leans” rather than “New Or-lins,” but then keeping the line about Nintendo Sixty Four as it was in the original, which makes it feel inauthentic. In the second chorus, the echoing of the solo in the background is annoying rather than adding dimension to the section. Again, the background overpowers, especially in the bridge and the sections following it.

I like that Ball in the House starts off “Waiting” with a breakdown for listeners who don’t really understand the parts of a cappella. The chorus has great harmonies to the solo, and the soloist is strong enough to hold their ground. The majority of the song sounds the same, which makes it drag. The melody doesn’t change much, and is then echoed between the chorus and the verse, which is just too much. Most dynamics in the song were either very loud or very quiet – it would be nice to hear some of the middle ground, as well. The most dynamic part of the song was the (almost) subito forzando at the end of the piece.

“Beat Box Solo” is one of my favorite songs on the album, because I truly appreciate good, live percussion. There are nice transitions from section to section, and the percussion is quick and precise.

Especially for such a current song, “Just the Way You Are” sounds old and tired. Switching it up and transforming the song into a ballad or taking a completely different route with it would have made it much more interesting. The solo is, again, very precise, and the background is lackluster and not very engaging. Current songs like this need to have more added to the background, because in the original there isn’t terribly much going on other than a piano line and percussion. Toward the end of the song there are too many repeats of the chorus, which makes the song drag.

“Ain’t No Sunshine” has one of the most raw and real solos on the album, and other than the intro, which seems to drag a bit at the tempo performed, keeps the audience engaged. There is amazing gradual growth from the whole group during the bridge; that kind of energy and natural build is exactly what the group should strive to capture in all of their songs. Having the bass solo and a more present bass line in “Ain’t No Sunshine” makes me want to hear more of the bass in other tracks on the album.

Another good example of a resonant bass line can be found in “Let You Lead,” especially in the intro to the song with the syllables chosen. The percussionist really drives the song, and the soloist does a great job keeping the audience engaged. The background has a lot of passion behind it, and I enjoyed the forte entrance after the false ending.

Ball in the House picks a lot of songs that have been done to death, and “That’s the Way (I Like it)” is no exception to that rule. I don’t think it would bother me as much if the group chose to include unique twists on classics, but their arrangements are pretty standard. The soloist sounds almost bored, which is strange for such an upbeat song. The crowd involvement was nice, but again if the soloist sounds bored, the audience is just going to repeat that energy back

The background in “Oh What a Night” has too many words and the chords don’t seem to lock, especially in a live setting. The soloist is underwhelming and the background has quite a few pitch issues. The switch into head voice in the solo seems uncomfortable and forced.

The solo over the intro in “I Want You Back” almost seems as if it’s in the wrong key. The background is hovering around the pitch instead of centering in it and embracing the chord. Again, there isn’t much passion or movement in the background, which makes the song drag.

Following with another Jackson song (“Billie Jean”) when the set is 19 songs long and separating them would be so easy seems a little unnecessary. My favorite parts of the song, as usual, are the bass and percussion. The background is very simple and the notes don’t lock as well as they could. For such a raw song, the background feels very choral.  The melody gets lost at a few points in the mix, and though there are moments with interesting syllable choices in the background, for the most part it’s overly simplistic.

The arrangement of “Summer Breeze” has so much potential to be something more, but using a simple syllable like “la” throughout the entire arrangement is a surefire way to kill it. The harmonies don’t sound very confident and don’t really seem to fit with the melody. The audience involvement in this song seems superfluous and continues the excessive use of “la.”

With a song called “Set the Mood,” you have to do just that – set the mood. Start smooth and soft and gradually grow through the song. That said, the background has a lot of moments with great character and energy. There are problems with chords locking again, which might be a result of the soloist hovering around the pitch instead of centering on it. The bridge goes on way too long with simple repeats, and the end comes on very suddenly.

For a song like “Falling Slowly,” there needs to be a lot more tenderness in both the solo and the background. For the soloist, tenderness might mean simply having more phrasing and starting at a lower dynamic. For the background, the note that tenderness doesn’t necessarily mean that the notes have to be inaudibly soft and lacking in energy; in fact, tender moments at a softer dynamic should be twice as difficult to sing as a high energy and high volume phrase. The harmony to the solo has the right tender feel. As before, the higher voices need to work on balancing in a live setting so that other parts have the opportunity to bring their parts to the forefront.

“Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours” is a good choice for a closer, because it’s memorable and has a good energy. The Ball in the House rendition drags a bit, not at the fault of the soloist or the background, but rather the tempo; taking Stevie’s original tempo could help this.

For a group with such history and recognition, I wanted more quality from Ball in the House as a group, but I wanted less in the quantity of tracks. Putting out a studio album would fix a lot of the problems with the overall mix of the group, but studios tend to amplify boredom, and taking that into account could lead to greater success in Ball in the House’s future. 

About the author:
Nina Beaulieu is a student at James Madison University, studying Media Arts & Design with a focus on Converged Media and a Music Industry minor. She is a proud member of The BluesTones and has arranged various songs for them as well as for other groups. Nina hopes to stay very involved in the a cappella community after graduating. She likes ice hockey, peacocks, and dissonance.