When I was asked to review a CD by Six13 I was unsure of what to expect. Having heard the group's name only on occasion and seen a few Jewish a cappella groups in the Chicago area, I honestly have a limited knowledge of that particular aca scene. But I was up to the challenge of listening, analyzing and reviewing something I was unfamiliar with. I am pleased to say that I am now acutely aware of not only another Jewish group but also about how insanely awesome these guys sound!
And that's the first thing I noticed upon hearing the opening seconds of the group's latest offering, Yesh Chadash -- the SOUND! The entire album has such a cohesive and balanced full-spectrum sound with an ample fit-and-finish shine to it. What the heck does that mean? Well, to me and my ears, it means it's a very radio-friendly pop sound that explodes with presence and clarity. It is evident that each track was meticulously recorded, mixed and mastered with care and attention to detail. Mike Boxer, whom I understand is quite an uber-aca-guy in Six13, takes the producer reigns with ease, having gathered many of the a cappella community's best minds and ears to create an amazing album. Names like Bill Hare, Ed Boyer and John Clark and Andrew Schwartz. I understand this method follows the trend from past Six13 recordings. The accolades from those audio imprints tell us that this group continues to improve their craft.
I can say without wavering, that every song on Volume III is worth listening to. Sometimes you hear "pleasing" or "nice" when describing an a cappella group or one of their songs. Every time I turn on Yesh Chadash, I can't help but smile, tap my toes and sing along. With my reviewers cap on, I can hear similarities to other groups such as FOCS, The House Jacks and Rockapella and even a bit of The Blenders. Some songs have more of a rock edge to them, using octavizing and guitar effects but most stay true to the pop feel. It is clear that Six13 is carving a path for themselves without ignoring a cappella history.
My personal taste usually hangs out on the upbeat side of the fence, but I have a special place in my heart for slower tempo fare. The ballad "Im Eshkachech" features the velvety low, smooth stylings of guest vocalist Michael Friedland, formerly of the Tufts Amalgamates and Duwende. Mr. Boxer's interpretation of the trumpet with all the subtle nuances is a nice touch. Uptempo standouts include "Ki L'olam Chasdo", "Mah Tovu", "Modeh Ani", "Ne'ilah" and "Shiru Lamelech". Although receiving mixed reviews, I happen to place "Ne'ilah" near the top of my stack of favorites from this release. The way in which the covers are sliced and cooked up is impressive from many angles. First, the ability to arrange with alternate parody lyrics that work can be difficult. They make the humor accessible to folks familiar with Jewish traditions and those who might not be. Second, the end of the medley features all of the tunes layered on one another resulting in a rich mix of harmony and rhythm that, again, works. Lastly, the fact that these guys can pull off the medley with such diverse lead styles says a lot about their singing and arranging talents. And oh yeah, it works!
Kudos to Six13 for a treat worth listening to more and more! Highly recommended. Go get it. Now. http://www.six13.net/
About the author:
With over 25 years experience singing in ensembles big and small, Chicago-based vocalist Jeff Swearingen has established himself in the music community as an ardent ambassador of a cappella. Using classical and jazz training as his backdrop, he infuses creative improvisation and vocal instrumentation into his music. Performing with Vocal Chaos since 2001, he also manages most of the group's engagements and marketing efforts. Jeff is Co-Executive Producer for AcappellaFest, the Midwest's premiere showcase of a cappella music.