HomeRecording Review: University of North Carolina at Greensboro Sapphires' “Tempest”

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Looking at the photograph of this fresh-faced group on the CD liner, and then hearing the opening track (“A Place for My Head,” originally recorded by Linkin Park) is an exercise in contrast. It seems a bit incongruous that these perfectly combed and elegantly dressed young ladies can bring da funk—but bring it they can. There’s even a hint of hardcore in this first track, complete with the requisite mix level that almost obscures the rap lyrics, something that can be annoying when done to extreme. With this group, it’s captivating.

It’s hard to imagine such a scrubbed, squeaky-clean gathering of young women having an “edgy” bone among them, but it’s even more startling in the following selection, Seal’s “Waiting for You,” with the soulful voice of Bekah Hilburn-Trenkle on lead. I found myself nodding and wanting to say, “You go, girl.” Quick note if you get confused while listening to this one: That’s not a woman with a freakishly deep voice singing bass; it’s a guest appearance by Kurt Sampson of the group Cadence on the bottom line.

After these two openers, the Sapphires do settle into some music that’s a little less “dangerous,” but they do it well. One nit-picky note just because I’m weird this way: The end of the fourth track (“Existentialism on Prom Night”) and the beginning of the fifth (“What I’ve Done”) are in the same key and have a similar affect, which gives a momentary and unfortunate sense of sameness. The listing for these two tracks is also mistakenly reversed on the liner.

“Colorblind” by Counting Crows has a languid sweetness and creates a contemplative vibe. The backup vocals weave some interesting angular harmonies, which could lead to jangly moments in a group that doesn’t blend vowels properly; not a problem with the Sapphires.

“Rush Together” and “Mexico” settle into a comfortable, quiet groove, allowing the pretty voices of Alicia Davis and Haley Bradsher, respectively, to shine. Davis then takes lead (with Bradsher on harmony) for “Kill” by Jimmy Eat World, which seems a little homogenous, although it’s performed beautifully.

By the time “Say (All I Need)” came along, I was starting to feel as though the textural landscape was beginning to want diversity. But the final track, “Not Giving Up,” offered that edginess again, reminding the listener that there is definitely more than meets the eye with this group. Kudos to vocal percussionist Jill Clark, with some nicely varied and unfailingly accurate grooves on this and several other tracks.

Ultimately, this is a musically solid collection of songs from a group that has something to say, and says it with great skill. I want to hear more from them—particularly the edgier stuff. The perceived contrast is not just fascinating, it’s pretty delicious.


About the author:
Melinda L. Thomas was a piano performance major at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and at San Francisco State University.  She has been singing all her life as well, and has performed with the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, Conservatory Opera Theatre, Sacred and Profane Chamber Chorus, and was a founding member of Voci women's chamber chorus.  She has also been a music director for many theatrical productions, including Godspell, Grease, Pippin, West Side Story, and Dracula: The Musical?  These days, she sings with an early music a cappella quintet called Harmonium.