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Briarcrest OneVoice

Made To Fly (2022)

4.7

July 26, 2022

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.3
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Wings 4.0
2 Love's A Waste 3.7
3 Tell Me You Love Me 4.3
4 Scars To Your Beautiful 4.7
5 Tears of Gold 5.0
6 If I Go 5.0
7 Here Comes The Sun 5.0
8 Ain't It Fun 4.7

Recorded 2021 – 2022
Total time: 29:49, 8 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Wings 4
2 Love's A Waste 4
3 Tell Me You Love Me 5
4 Scars To Your Beautiful 5
5 Tears of Gold 5
6 If I Go 5
7 Here Comes The Sun 5
8 Ain't It Fun 5

Made To Fly is another sonic dazzler from OneVoice, but a bit different from the usual annual release.

What's the same? Robert Dietz remains the primary arranger, with Johnny Del Toro penning Love's A Waste. OneVoice is still very upper-voice prominent; no male leads at all this go-round, with fantastically rich female harmonies rolling all over the charts. The production is still as modern and showy as it gets — the blueprint others will follow after this release — and the overall package is still firmly as good as scholastic a cappella can achieve. What's different? The album's more compact offering — both in running time and source material — and the time it takes this release to make a significant impact on the listener.

Wings is huge and hugely impressive, but this bird probably lands more authentically on stage than recorded. The volume rarely goes below eleven until the final surprise sotto voce moment, the meter continually shifts, and the tempo is so breakneck that it's hard to keep up with these singers. Despite lead Anna Baccus's outrageous power, despite the impressive technical prowess of the backs, the offering as a whole feels a bit overwhelming instead of purely exciting. I appreciate the pulse-slowing follow-up, Love's A Waste, which is expertly layered in the arrangement with the voices offering so much dynamic and creative rhythms that maybe we don't even need the actual percussion. But unlike the first track, this one has the opposite effect; can we punch the overall impact up a floor? Some of it lies with the lead's range, and the song's pacing is another area to explore. Tell Me You Love Me turns the tide back to easy swimming waters: a poppin' lead, a great beat, and a message to rally behind. And yet, Made To Fly doesn't become something permanent, something wholly necessary and wholly alluring, until Scars To Your Beautiful gracefully uncoils from the speakers. On an eight-track release, it's a little late to get going; but here we are, held prisoner by soloist Gabby Pence's gift to us, and awaiting the next visionary idea from Dietz.

How's the second act of Made To Fly? I dig the bold vowels in snazzy Tears of Gold and the pouty whimsy of If I Go. The delicacy and youthful vibe of Here Comes The Sun is just right to warm the heart, and Ain't It Fun is the clap-along closer we need for closure. It all lines up for me.

The beginning is a bit bumpy, but if you step back and appreciate what this group achieved here and has achieved in its tenure, you'll be satisfied with Made To Fly.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Wings 4
2 Love's A Waste 3
3 Tell Me You Love Me 4
4 Scars To Your Beautiful 4
5 Tears of Gold 5
6 If I Go 5
7 Here Comes The Sun 5
8 Ain't It Fun 4

What happens when a perennial powerhouse continues to produce professional, high-quality music, but misses its own lofty bar? Such is the tale of Briarcrest OneVoice: a group that deserves every ounce of its stellar reputation, but one whose most recent albums do not reach the same stratosphere of yesteryear. Made To Fly is still a must-listen for the reasons to follow, but the jaw-dropping highs that were once a staple of annual OneVoice releases are fewer and farther between.

Perennial a cappella community award contenders, OneVoice has achieved greatness through a team effort, involving some of the best in the business for studio production. In support of J.D. Frizzell's educational institution in which students are turned into pre-professional rockstars, Made To Fly features an exceptionally clear sound with strong tracking, mixing, and mastering. Beyond the studio production, nearly every track was once again arranged by Robert Dietz, which is a welcome sight for any listener, reviewer or otherwise. His arrangements feature dynamic shifts in texture, rhythmic feel, and harmonic structure, among other elements. Perhaps there is no finer display on this album than Here Comes The Sun, with its lush calls and responses between different vocal ranges, harmonic color, and timely cascade effects that maintain genuine sweetness. Amidst the flurry of more contemporary pop tunes, many OneVoice albums feature one older tune that considerably reinvents its source material, and this one does not disappoint.

The story of Made To Fly is one of unevenness. As a listener, I do not feel that any track has a fully cohesive energy until Tears of Gold, the fifth on the eight-track album. The epic quality is matched both in Skylier Clark's solo, Dietz's arrangement, and the articulation and emotional tone of the background vocals. Directly following, If I Go is a high-octane feature for vocal percussionist Parker Mednikow, whose chops are on display for the entire album but truly shine here.

Before that late stretch of excellence, there are individual performances of note, such as solos by Anna Baccus for Wings, Tell Me You Love Me by Sophia Bonasso, and a pleasantly consonant group sound throughout. But the shift in feel for OneVoice's cover of Wings makes it come off far more casual than the driving original by Little Mix without making a strong choice to actually be more laid-back. Scars To Your Beautiful, while a gorgeous ballad, gets stuck in a rhythmic pattern that takes away from the naturally conversational quality of the pop chart, resulting in something that sounds more elementary than it was intended. Love's A Waste is an early ballad that remains dynamically middling and without a substantial point of arrival.

Such is the stringency that comes with the high standards OneVoice itself has set. If you go to an arcade and get a great score, but you don't crack the leaderboard littered with your own initials, can it be considered a failure? In this reviewer's opinion, the answer is no; this "4" was the closest to the cusp since last year's Everything I Wanted. Made To Fly is far from a fall from grace, though: OneVoice is still one of the great a cappella groups of the last decade and this album is still a must-listen, even if it is not the pinnacle of the group's output. It is quite likely that the best is yet to come.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Wings 4
2 Love's A Waste 4
3 Tell Me You Love Me 4
4 Scars To Your Beautiful 5
5 Tears of Gold 5
6 If I Go 5
7 Here Comes The Sun 5
8 Ain't It Fun 5

Almost like clockwork, it's time for another release from OneVoice. Every year, these albums are a showcase of some of the best of scholastic a cappella. Made To Fly is the latest release. However, while still a great album, at times it doesn't live up to the legacy of the previous releases.

The opening half of this album faces a lot of pacing issues. Wings is a strong opening statement from the group. Anna Baccus has a great voice that demands the attention of the listener. However, the track is constantly bouncing back and forth between cut time and common time feels. Robert Dietz's arrangement does a phenomenal job of keeping the track interesting with a bunch of harmonized backgrounds and some very slick chords, but the bouncing between time signatures is less pointed as an opening statement.

The next three tracks all have ballad-like energy. I am an absolute sucker for a ballad, but having so many consecutively becomes taxing. Love's A Waste is a very open track, with Brooke Story telling a wonderful tale of holding on to love and fighting through the hard times. The track then pushes forward to a bit higher tempo for the chorus, but without a satisfying climactic release. Tell Me You Love Me is driving, but still a surprisingly downtempo piece and an almost surprising thematic juxtaposition by saying you're nobody without somebody. Scars To Your Beautiful is the more standard ballad I've come to know from OneVoice, and I'll happily listen to this track again and again. Dietz knocked this arrangement out of the park. The backgrounds are a flowing story, and Gabby Pence's voice floats along perfectly to provide the focal point and let the listener experience the story both audibly and emotionally.

The back half of the album is the upbeat half of the album. Tears of Gold feels more on-brand for an opening track for OneVoice. The piece has a phenomenal build throughout the opening verse before exploding to the chorus. Even after multiple listens, I'm still unpacking small musical phrases in the background that make everything more interesting. This is immediately followed by If I Go, which is an unrelenting flood of dense chords and rhythmic patterns, and I'm loving every second of it. Here Comes The Sun is a final emotional deep dive before Ain't It Fun delivers a last sendoff just dripping with energy. Despite my issues with the first half, the second half of the album provides that satisfying statement of what the group is capable of in terms of reaching through the speakers and demanding that the listener pay attention to every second. My only wish is that I didn't have to wait to hear the group finally make such a statement.

The challenge of reviewing this album has been the history of OneVoice. Made To Fly is a very strong release, but it is graded on scale of 1 to 5; this album feels too good for a "4", but is not the same caliber of "5" that I have heard from past OneVoice releases. Previous releases have been far more impactful in their opening statements, filled with many different emotions and finished with a song that seems to encapsulate the entirety of the album. This album is more a collection of well-executed songs, and has some pacing issues. Therefore, I'm not sure if this album is a "4.5" or if I need to go back and rate a few albums a "6." It's not my favorite release from the group, but it's still welcome in any a cappella collection. Take a listen and see if you agree.


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Ordering Information

Made to Fly streams on Spotify and Apple Music.

  • iTunes
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