HomeRecording Review: Redline's "Inbound"

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Formed in 2007, Redline is a Boston-based all-male a cappella group and founding member of CASA’s Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL).  In November 2011, they released their debut CD, Inbound.  I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that I really enjoyed this album.  It has a great combination of strong musicianship and high energy.  The arrangements are full and textured, and for the most part were done by current members of the group.  Soloists are matched well to their solo songs.  The album is well produced; effects are used thoughtfully to enhance the songs.  Every time I listen, I find more and more things to enjoy.

Inbound
features 12 tracks that represent a wide range of pop musical styles.  The first track is Shake It, which starts the album off with a bang. Redline breathes fresh energy into a song that has gotten a lot of radio play.  The arrangement creates crisp, interesting differences between verses and choruses.  The chorus ends each time with all the backing vocals bouncing together in the same rhythm.  It’s hard not to dance when I’m listening to this song! 

The second song, Break Anotha, has the most “rock” feel of all the tracks on the album.  It’s a high-energy song that is also featured on the new Sing 8 CD.  Kudos to whoever decided to add distortion to the electric guitar line -- this really helps drive the song’s funk/rock feel.  The song also features an awesome beatbox breakdown.  It’s remarkable that the vocal percussion complements the rest of the vocals throughout the album without being overly conspicuous or distracting, but when it’s time for the VP to really “bring it” during this song, it delivers in a big way. 

Don’t Stop the Music is a cover of Jamie Cullum’s cover of Rihanna’s song.  It has a chill, laid back, jazzy vibe.  The low chimes in the beginning of the song add a unique timbre; they remind me of a marimba.  They fit well with the overall feeling of the song.

Dynamite is a fun song with a lot of interesting flourishes in the arrangement, such as vocal cascades in the chorus.  The soloist is very faithful to Taio Cruz’s original solo, right down to the pronunciation of the words.  However, this careful interpretation sounds a little forced in the chorus (particularly the enunciated “t” in “light” and phrasing of “dy-no-mite”).  Later sections of the arrangement use fun syllables after the bridge (g-ding, lakalakalaka) to help bring the song to a big finish.

Redline’s performance of Whistle for the Choir takes the Fratellis’ somewhat repetitive, guitar-strumming song and creates a truly charming gem.  The production of the intro and first verse set up an “old-timey,” “Coney Island Baby” feel to the song, making it sound like it’s being played through a victrola on an old scratchy vinyl record.  This provides a nice contrast to the rest of the song, which opens back up to full voices starting in the first chorus.  The performance evokes mental images of strolling along the boardwalk, and you can almost see Redline wooing their ladyfriends in front of the old five-and-dime store.  It’s very endearing and has more heart than the original song.  

Just the Way You Are is a well-executed mash-up of the popular Bruno Mars song with the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”  I almost hesitate to use the term “mash-up,” as that conjures an image of two songs awkwardly smashed together.  I assure you this is not the case here. Redline weaves the two songs together masterfully, creating a sweet sincere ballad that highlights the beauty of everyone’s voices and harmonies.  There’s also a brief musical allusion to a third song that will make you smile when you hear it.  The echo effects on the percussion during the instrumental bridge add to the dreamlike feel of the song.

Everything is a sweet version of the song originally performed by Michael Buble.  My only quibble is with the intro, in which the opening syllables sounded a bit awkward and complicated.  Starting out quieter and using simpler syllables in the intro would ease the listener into the song and provide more room to build and grow.  Once the soloist starts the verse, the song flows nicely.  The distorted guitar in the second verse is also a very nice touch (versus the softer plucked guitar in Buble’s version).

The arrangement of Love Again For the First Time (originally by Julian Velard) really showcases the musicality of Redline – great harmonies, interesting rhythmic variation in the choruses, and backing vocals that complement the soloist. 

Rhythm of Love is another great arrangement, with contrast between verses, nice chord building in the instrumental bridge, and rich harmony.  Rhythmic variation in the backing vocals make the song pulse nicely along.

Don’t Cry is a long song by a cappella standards (almost 6 1/2 minutes), but it held my attention the whole time.  The creative variation in the arrangement between each section of the song keeps it interesting.  A little more contrast in the dynamics could elevate the song even further – for example, starting out the introduction more quietly and building through the verses and choruses.  Also, I felt that the soloist should express even more sadness and rawness to match the emotion of the song. Overall, Redline’s performance of this song leads the listener on a moving journey.  

Everybody Needs Somebody To Love captures and elevates the energy of the Blues Brothers original.   John Kalish makes the voiceover sound effortless, with perfect timing and delivery.

The performances of Beautiful Child I’ve heard by the original artist (Rufus Wainwright) consist largely of repetitive guitar strums and heavy drums/bass and brass.  However, Redline’s performance of this song lightens up on the percussion and highlights the song’s sweet harmonies.  The arrangement also includes some chromatic runs and chimes for texture and adds a subtle, steadfast “talking drum” that helps pulse the song along.  The result is a lovely, lush vocal tapestry that is, well, beautiful.

Overall, Inbound is an amazing debut album that I would recommend to a cappella aficionados and newbies alike.  I really enjoyed being introduced to new songs via this album, as well as hearing fresh takes on familiar songs.  Inbound creates a great listener experience through a combination of excellent musicianship, great arrangements, and high energy.  Buy the album, you won’t regret it. http://www.redlineboston.com/

About the author:
Carolyn Kiel has been singing and arranging a cappella music for 12 years.  She got her a cappella start with the Vassar College Night Owls, where she sang bass, arranged her first song, and built the group's first website.  She currently performs with the MetropoliTones, an all-women's Contemporary A Cappella League (CAL) group based in NY City.  She has recorded five a cappella CDs.  By day, Carolyn works in financial services technology. Her other skills include original songwriting, vocal percussion, and driving in Manhattan.