HomeRecording Review: The MetropoliTones' "Time for a Breakdown"

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The third CD from the New York-based group The MetropoliTones is called Time for a Breakdown. Founded in 2001, this group of eight women covers classic and contemporary pop tunes. They promote themselves as “New York City’s premiere Seven Sisters a cappella group” (comprised of alumnae from the Seven Sisters colleges). Members Allison Lee and Carolyn Kiel are the group’s principle arrangers; however, most of the other members pitch in on a song or two.

Breakdown features some well-known songs that have been covered numerous times by aca- and non-aca groups (“Imagine”, “The Remedy”, “Life is a Highway”, “Lean on Me”), but the group’s better tunes are more obscure: “The Ladder” (Paula Cole), “Golden Touch” (Razorlight), “Ta Douleur (Your Pain)” by Camille – sung in French, no less - and “Lie Still Little Bottle” (They Might Be Giants). Lee and Kiel, with help from fellow members Christina Frieberg and Kate Marvin, work to capture the feel of these original songs. The creative arrangement of “Lie Still Little Bottle” is an excellent completion of the original tune performed by the duo. “Ta Douleur” is a faithful reproduction - full of the same sounds that Camille makes on her original down to the clicks, clucks, prrrms, and handclaps. The best song on this disc is “The Parting Glass” by the Wailin Jennys – it’s always nice to hear a “pop a cappella” group sing a beautiful song without any fuss. “The Parting Glass” begins with a pretty trio of voices, moves to a full-group section, then finishes with the trio once more. It is evident that much time and care was given when working on these pieces.  

Unfortunately, the rest of the CD does not shine as bright. The VP of the group rarely veers from simple snare/bass kick sounds. Better amplification and a wider repertoire of beats are needed to make the group’s arrangements feel more energetic. “My Lovin’ (Never Gonna Get It)” sounds stale as does “Black Horse and Cherry Tree”. The Razorlight song “Golden Touch” loses its edge without more creative kick from the VP.

Additionally, there are times when the vocal style of the group impedes on the overall sound. In the songs “Life is a Highway” and “Imagine” the syllables jow and za pop out everywhere. This small detail becomes distracting with repeated listening. At times the soloists’ style and interpretation (especially on “Black Horse”, “My Lovin’”, and “The Remedy”) do not match the pop style or feel of the individual piece. Some songs are pitched too low for some voices and cause tuning issues. Usually women’s groups have the exact opposite problem – music is pitched too high. However, the bass of this group very effectively handles E’s and lower without the use of an octave pedal. 

In the end, if you are a fan of uncomplicated, effect-free a cappella this CD is for you. Check out their website to buy your copy.

About the author:
Christina Smith is the Director of Choirs for Mad River Local Schools in Dayton, OH.  She is currently in her sixteenth year of teaching.  Her concert choirs consistently perform at the top of their classification, and her pop a cappella group, Down to the Wire, is enjoying success at community functions and a cappella festivals around the state.  Christina is an active Ohio Music Education Association adjudicator and choral clinician.  In addition to her adjudicating and teaching duties, she enjoys singing with the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Chamber Choir (Dayton, OH) and also in pick-up a cappella groups as a soprano.