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Recorded 2002 - 2003
Total time: 50:37, 14 songs
Rhythm & Blue CDs can be ordered through the group website.
Have you ever seen a bride in a burlap dress? What about a Christmas present wrapped in toilet paper? If you saw either of those tomorrow, what would you think? That's the dilemma I was faced with when beginning my review of Adios, Kansas from Duke University Rhythm & Blue.
This album has quite possibly the worst packaging (liner notes, design, and picture quality) that I've seen in my four years as a RARB Reviewer. The only information to be found in the liner notes are the names of the individual group members arranged by voice part. No contact information, no studio recording/production credits, no mention of the original songwriter or proof of rights to record the song, and no hint of creativity when looking at the design of the album. This album looks like the ultimate after-thought.
Luckily for Rhythm & Blue, it doesn't sound that way.
The talented vocalists in this group are prevalent right from the beginning. They have a couple of stand-out soloists (Shalisha Francis and Jeremy Cromer) and a very talented arranger, Erica Featherstone, at the helm. Tuning and blend are solid throughout most of the album with only a few minor lapses that are occasionally distracting to the listener. You can't argue that Rhythm and Blue isn't an extremely talented troupe.
The group maintains a very casually cohesive sound throughout most of the tracks. They sound like they are comfortable sitting in the pocket rather than looking to expand into different realms of sound. You're not going to find any fiery or energetic tracks on this album, just a collection of songs being covered (yet again) within the realm of collegiate a cappella.
Because of the comfortableness of the album, there really aren't many major clunkers or shining highlights. I enjoyed Somewhere Out There for the emotion of the soloist, and Turn Me On for the seductive delivery and simplistic arrangement. I just wanted more out of everything. Rhythm & Blue can sing, they just haven't learned to rock yet. They need to get funk-da-fied. They need to find their groove. Let your hair down, have a drink, and show me your boobs.
Adios, Kansas has a lack of modern-day production techniques and is mastered at an extremely low decibel level. It just sounds wimpy in comparison to other collegiate a cappella albums. This album would have made some serious waves about six or seven years ago, but against today's standards, it's only average.
The title of Rhythm & Blue's recent release, Adios, Kansas, suggests that the disc is going to take you somewhere completely different, showing you things you've never heard before. Unfortunately, the CD is a pretty generic coed collegiate album. The disc's most striking aspect is its lack of energy throughout, which prevents soloists from realizing their potential and blocks the humor that the group is trying to convey with several of their tracks.
There are several humorous tunes on Adios, Kansas, but the group does little to transmit the laughs to the listener. The solos on both "Weird" Al's One More Minute and the Arrogant Worms' Celine Dion turn in understated performances that come off as lackluster and almost invite you to ignore the clever lyrics ("You soft rock my world", for example, is pretty funny if you're paying attention). The backgrounds don't help either, without any punch to lend them a hand. On Celine Dion and The Muppets Medley, the basses are given some fun words to sing, but they sing them as if they don't want you to notice them. Why?
The lack of energy mars nearly every track. Turn Me On, Fallin', Beautiful, and Stars Go Blue have really nice solos and decent blend, but have no build or emotion (in individual sections or in the song as a whole), despite the efforts of the leads. They are mellow and pretty and thoroughly uncompelling. Moby's Porcelain is a song that should not be attempted by a group with energy problems, since it relies on the arrangers to create interesting textures, and the singers to provide motion and interest in the song. There are no swells, there is no build, they don't give their notes life (and don't hold them to the ends of the bars), and it ends up being four minutes of "wah" that could have been so much more. Not nailing the modulation doesn't help, either. The group sounds nice on the mellow tracks, but the lack of development keeps them from being especially good.
The one place where the energy seems to come up to a better level is on En Vogue's Givin' Him Somethin' He Can Feel, because the women take on the role of back-up singer, which impels them to care about putting feeling into their lines. This gives the group's sound more attitude, supports the solid lead from Shalisha Francis, and makes me want to hear the track more than any other.
And I can't make it through this review without mentioning that the group does not credit any of the original artists anywhere on the disc (nor do they say where the disc was recorded, mixed, mastered or duplicated). Not only is this an insult to the artists they cover, but it makes me do more work tracking down that information in writing this review, and that makes me mad. Grrrr.
Rhythm & Blue is more successful with their mellow tracks, but I'd like to hear them learn to develop their skills to maintain my interest in these tracks. Hopefully they will learn to feel them more and make them more musical, because they've got some nice raw material to work with.
Duke's Rhythm & Blue declined to cite composer credits, list copyright information, or pay royalties. Here are the people that are legally and ethically entitled to credit and/or royalty payments for the commercial use of the songs on this disc:
Copyright EMI April Music, Inc. (ASCAP)
James M. Henson, et al
Copyright Jim Henson Productions, Inc. et al (ASCAP) (BMI)
Somewhere Out There
Coutts, Maida, & Taggart
Copyright Sony/ATV Tunes LLC (ASCAP)
Turn Me On
John D. Loudermilk
Copyright Acuff Rose Music, Inc. (BMI)
One More Minute
Alfred Matthew Yankovic
Copyright Ear Booker Music/Ensign Music Corp. (BMI)
Copyright Famous Music Corp. (ASCAP)
Moby & Daniel Cerman
Copyright Mute Records Limited
Full of Grace
Sarah Ann McLachlan
Sony/ATV Songs, LLC (BMI)
Giving Him Something He Can Feel — this is the legal title
Curtis L. Mayfield
Copyright Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Co. (BMI)
Uncertain — maybe Trevor Strong
Most famously performed by The Arrogant Worms
When the Stars Go Blue — this is the legal title
Copyright Barland Music (BMI)
Corr, Corr, Corr, Corr & Lange
Copyright Zomba Enterprises (ASCAP)
Cigarettes & Chocolate Milk
Dreamworks Songs (ASCAP)
Rodney L. Temperton
Duke's Rhythm & Blue isn't ready to leave the black and white, down-home comforts of Kansas and venture into the colorful, greater world of recorded collegiate a cappella. I don't know how long the group has been around, but Adios, Kansas comes across as a beginner's effort.
Ms. Shalisha Francis has only two solos on this album. That's unfortunate. She's the real deal, and I wanted to hear more from her. There's plenty more room for improvement in other areas.
I want to hear better tuning. It doesn't ring or lock. Close doesn't count, especially on a studio project. Once the accuracy is there, some emotional investment is always nice. There's just no substitute for intense, passionate singing. I want to hear percussion that's creative and driving and functions as something more than an inaccurate metronome. I want to hear arrangements that flow and grow and take me on a journey. Too often, they're directionless and disjointed. Unfortunately, the mix, especially in its panning choices and occasional brief use of cheesy effects, only reinforces the weaker points of the arrangements. I want better production across the board, including such basic elements as an even mix of backing vox and soloists who aren't obscured by the accompaniment. On a fundamental level, I want more of all the basic elements of a good recording.
Collegiate a cappella albums have different goals and can be successful in many different ways. But for an album to be valuable as a commercial product or to the community at large, the basics have to at least be covered. Adios, Kansas functions fine as an a cappella yearbook for Rhythm & Blue, but that's about it.
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