singofflogoNow that was a hell of a title.

I have to admit, the promotion for this show left me stunningly confused. “Shorter season,” “Two week Special”, “Holiday special”… Well, it would seem that we’re back to a 7 episode run that will be multiple episodes in a week. This feels a might bit rushed and pressured. We know that the actual production time is much longer. So, there may not be any instrumentation on the voices, but there is definitely a tonne of behind the scenes being cut to remove some of the reality of what goes into this show.

In my previous post, I had the chance to review 6 of the 10 groups that would be competing. Would we see another Pentatonix? Would we have another Fannin Family? Could a college group not sound pristine with a wall of sound? Could a classic Doo-Wop group modernize?

To answer these, let me get into the analysis and review

The Sing Off came back with a bang and much like “Family Guy” made no bones about being away for ‘too long.’ The show launched right out of the 2 minutes over finale of “The Voice” into it’s always big production number. A nice change is that each group gets a carve out to give a taste of their style and sound. You could tell that the Judges were thrilled to be there as they quietly mouthed (or sang) along from their box. There were fireworks. I figure if we can’t eliminate groups, 2nd degree burns are a good start. Both Shawn Stockman and Ben Folds were like giddy kids getting to see Santa again after missing him the previous year. (Not too far off). This year had one noticeable change. Jewel in for Sarah Bareilles. More 0n Jewel as the recap continues

For me, the thing that told me it was back was not the opening number, but the fun little opening theme to the show. It’s simple but captures the feel of the program. This of course was promptly followed by 98 Degrees own Nick Lachey making his fourth appearance as host. Initially I found Nick a little abrasive but he’s got a good feel going this year so he feels like part of the family.

The first episode (as is tradition) features “Signature Songs” I assume these are songs that are free pick from the groups to show what they think best represents them. (Assuming NBC can get the clearance for a performance. Pentatonix lost this one in season 3 as they couldn’t get clearance for their audition piece “Telephone”) The new season also adds a new wrinkle. “The Ultimate Sing Off.” At the end of the show the bottom group from the first half will sing against the bottom group from the second half for a chance to survive until next we… um…err… the next show. (Did I mention the schedule confused me?) I’m not going to go into detail here on the “Ultimate Sing Off” but I assuredly will later.

Onto the competition.

vocal-rushGroup 1: Vocal Rush – “Bottom of the River” – Delta Rae

Vocal Rush is a group of 12 high-schoolers from Oakland, California’s ‘Oakland School for the Arts.’ They’ve won the international championship for High School a cappella for the two years they’ve competed in it since the groups inception in 2011. Vocal Rush is the youngest group on the show for this season.

My review: The performance honestly surprised me. The song had a noticeable complexity which surpassed my preconceived guesses. The dancing in the group invoked a little too much show choir for me, but that’s not necessarily going to count against them. The two things that I noticed the most working against them was:

  • A noticeable bit of unevenness on entries. You could here a lot of separation in voices.
  • Male voices don’t deepen and richen (typically) before 18. The male voices were very thin.

The judges:

  • Ben Folds: Good soul, very focussed, Strong beat box, Great lead
  • Shawn Stockman: Shows strong maturity for age, excellent dynamics (swell) Liked the dancing Lead sold the song.
  • Jewel: Beautiful performance, Good swell, Good musical influences (Reminded her of Nina Simone bringing righteous anger)


home-freeGroup 2: Home Free – “Cruise” – Florida Georgia Line

5 Country singers from Minneapolis (and the road by way of RV) Home free travels the country performing at fairs and festivals trying to make a name for Country a cappella music. The performance of this piece was seeded to YouTube a week or so before the show. I had the chance to view this one in advance.

My review: I am assuredly not a fan of country music. I will respond to the occasional cross-over piece or mainstay. (I actually like “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy” though I’m not sure if it’s country or cross-over. That’s how far out of the country-loop I am) Home free to me played like Pentatonix – the tricks + Country. They have an amazing bass who (thanks the style) gets to run free a lot more. A good beat box which is not expected in the style at all. The vocal stylings were potent and strong. Tight harmonies… A contender for the series.

The Judges:

  • Ben: Felt the bass, loved the lead vocals by Austin, Great focus on the song
  • Jewel: Bluegrass tight harmonies that lend well to a cappella. Noted the bass range going from bass to tenor 1. Loved the lack of vibrato.
  • Shawn: Country is the White Man’s R&B. Tim is a natural “freaky” bass. Not trying to be a bass, simply is a bass. Loved Rob’s beard. Wants to hear more from them.



Group 3: The Princeton Footnotes – “I Know You Were Trouble” – Taylor Swift

The Princeton Footnotes have an Ivy League Legacy that dates back to the early 1960s and…um… The 13 man singing…um… Sigh. I prescreened a song from the Footnotes and was sadly underwhelmed. I really try to enter in with an objective view; but the prescreen song was what I expect from Ivy League, College Glee. A lack of soul and personality. In the pre-performance group spotlight one of the members commented, “We each have our own little quirks.” Unfortunately, this read to me like, “See our tenor over there? He collects stamps!” Then I saw what they were performing. If you haven’t seen the a cappella performance of this piece by YouTube sensation “Walk Off The Earth with KRNFX” please watch it, because that is truly a canonical version of the song. And WOTE isn’t actually an a cappella group by nature. Needless to say, going in, this is the WRONG song for an Men’s College group. The problems?

  • Out of the get there were chord collisions
  • The lead vocalist was horribly tinny (along with most of the group)
  • Dynamic was “Wall of Sound” which readers from season 3 know I hate.
  • And the most offensive, inserting, “We love you, Ben” into the lyrics.

The Judges:

  • Shawn: Taylor Swift would never have imagined this version (A polite insult to the group), tenors/baritones held the core (suggestion others didn’t), Leads weren’t loose, too uptight.. But blames them coming from Princeton for that. (Not a good eval)
  • Ben: Good opening chord. Came unglued in the harmonies. Had an arc.
  • Jewel: Love’s Swift’s writing. (Does not relay that to the performance) “Melted down a bit”, notes that while there were tenors and baritones, the three basses which are the tonic of the chord didn’t lock it in and weren’t tight.



Group 4: Calle Sol – “Pon de Replay” – Rihanna

6 professional musicians from Puerto Rico who bring Latino a cappella along with some very fiery dancing. 4 women and 2 men (The men are the beatbox and the combined bass, bari, tenor) Calle Sol (Sun Street) hope to bring Latino music to a cappella and break into US audiences.

My review: The initial entry felt full enough to not sound like a cappella music. The women all share very strong chemistry and harmony. The dancing was energetic but left the attention on the men which are definitely a touch weaker than the women. The downsides:

  • While the beatbox had some great melodic percussion instruments (Block and cowbell) at times it seemed a little messy.
  • The vocal male was spread too thin and is neither bass nor tenor leaving the midrange feeling a bit thin and empty.


  • Ben: Really fun and really unique sound. This can be an asset and a liability. Noticed the lack of a full sound.
  • Jewel: Everyone got a chance to shine. Female vocalists had a very good showing. The Plena rhythms were very impressive. Loved the melodic percussive instruments.
  • Shawn: Prime example of how a cappella lends to any style of music. If they can meet the challenge of filling the middle and the midrange, they have the potential of a greater height.



Group 5: Street Corner Renaissance – “What Makes You Beautiful” – One Direction

Every season of The Sing Off needs at least one good ol’ fashioned Doo-Wop group where the age of just one of the members is likely to exceed the total age of all the members of another group. SCR from Los Angeles brings in that old school sound. The concern with the Doo-Wop group in this series is that they play from a niche. They sing the old songs, they sing them one way.

My review: I saw this performance much like I did with Home Free. I was stunned to discover that this song is from a young English-Irish pop boy-band and is only about a year or two old. The original is assuredly not Doo-Wop. SCR on the other hand completely made this song their own. The song felt like a classic that was in my dad’s set of 45s. I don’t know if this kind of stunt arranging will get them thru the competition, but I want albums from them. Honestly, I just want to hug them.

The judges:

  • Shawn: Hug them was exactly what Shawn did. Each one at a time. You could tell this was his roots and his respect and his love. His comment upon sitting down, “Children, take notes.” he added that this was swag, it had texture, the harmonies are classic. This style will ALWAYS sound good. He pointed out the falsetto was smooth and enjoyed it immensly.
  • Jewel: Doo-Wop is about the feel. It’s not about tight or technical. They testified. The arrangement was just perfect.
  • Ben: The group had an honesty that gets lost in singers. He liked them


So… at the end of one half here were my picks from top to bottom:

  1. Home Free
  2. Street Corner Renaissance
  3. Calle Sol
  4. Vocal Rush
  5. Princeton Footnotes.

The judges call three safe… grill two, then pick the 4th safe eliminating the 5th.

3 safe:

  • Street Corner Renaissance
  • Vocal Rush
  • Home Free

And then add in: Calle Sol

Princeton Footnotes is at the bottom of Part 1 but will ‘Fight again?’ in the “Ultimate Sing Off”

In all it was a good mix of groups.

Tomorrow: the 2nd five groups, the Ultimate Sing Off, How the Judges did. And how the series looks going forwards in my less than edumicated opinion.


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