Saturday, December 25, 2010

Have a Jewish Christmas?!

When I was growing up, one of my favorite comedy albums was "Have a Jewish Christmas...?"  It came out in 1967 and was a bit risky and edgy for its time.  Hanukkah was still a minor Jewish holiday that was no competition for this spectacular Christian holiday with its snowmen who come to life, jolly white-whiskered gift-givers, and dancing and prancing reindeer.  Christians had the lock on the local garden stores with their mistletoe, Christmas trees and poinsettias.  Dozens of songs and movies and TV specials were devoted to the holiday.  It seemed like the whole world was green and red, with houses festooned with Christmas lights, stockings and candy canes. 

This album took on squarely what it meant to be Jewish during the Christmas holiday season.  It posed the ultimate question -- to celebrate or not to celebrate.  And it did so as Jews know how -- with laughter and with songs.  The first song set out the problem simply, to the tune of Jingle Bells:

The lights are being strung, The streets are full of cheer,

The stockings have been hung, Christmas Time is here.

Its joyous revelry and spirit capture you;

"At Christmas Time it's hard to be a good religious Jew." ("Oy")


Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle night and day.

It's "Yo-ho-ho" and mistletoe and Santa's on his way.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, If Santa Claus is true,

his joy is fun for everyone, but what's a Jew to do?

He goes to synagogue, it doesn't matter which,

He's Jewish and he's very proud, "I'd rather fight than switch."

When Christmas Time is here, he wishes it would pass,

"Last Sunday morning I got up and almost went to mass!" ("Oy")


Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, Jingle night and day.

It's "Yo-ho-ho" and mistletoe and Santa's on his way.

Jingle Bells, Jingle Bells, If Santa Claus is true,

his joy is fun for everyone, but what's a Jew to do?

I still have my old LP and I played it last year and it still gave me a chuckle.  I was thrilled to find out it's available for purchase on Amazon !  I know it may seem outdated now.  Thanks to Adam Sandler, kids growing up in the 90s had their own funny Hanukkah song (four versions, actually, with the release of his latest update in 2015) and even their own movie, Eight Crazy Nights.  But for oldsters like me, it's a trip down memory lane and a reminder of how things used to be, when there was more pressure to conform, to blend in, as well as a desire not to miss out.
I may have come down on the side of not celebrating Christmas as a Jew, but I sure enjoy the season!  Endless replays of It's a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Story and Miracle on 34th Street?  Count me in!    Spending time with friends and family?  You know it!  Eggnog?  Yes, please!  And I don't believe in the watered down, politically correct "Happy Holidays."   So I wish to everyone reading this a very Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 20, 2010

NBC's The Sing Off Finale

So am I good, or am I good?  Let's go back to my post after the first episode.  I picked three teams, Committed, Street Corner Symphony and the Whiffenpoofs.  Now, the latter team I selected because my son's former freshman roommate was a member of the group, so I'm not sure that counts as an official pick.  Favoritism, bias, hearing with my heart and not my ears -- something else was at play.  But the other two groups -- made it to the top two.  And the winner is...

But first.  Let's have a bunch of songs highlighting our featured guest performer while the purported stars of the show, the a cappella groups, are relegated to background singing.  Committed is overpowerd by BoysIIMen and the Backbeats barely get noticed even though they have a 15-to-1 advantage over Sarah Bareilles (for the record, I spelled Bareilles right on my first try, but not Sarah) on  her song King of Anything

But then it's the producer's favorite, Jerry Lawson and the Talk of the Town and suddenly the contestant group gets a co-lead on the song Ain't No Mountain High Enough.  Shocker.  Jerry actually did a nice job and I thought maybe giving him such a big role was not because they've been pimping him from day one but because they worried Nicole Sherzinger couldn't stand up to comparisons with Diana Ross (hey, who could)? 

When Street Corner Symphony came out with the adorable and talented, but let's not add singer, Ben Folds, and were only given the job of backup, I was dumbfounded.  Someone must have heard Ben's "voice" and realized he needed a lot of vocal support, not subtle background harmonies.  He's talented and gifted, but from the Neil Young/Bob Dylan school of I don't have to be great at everything.

So the winner is...

But first, we have two more guest performances.  First, by Sheryl Crow, in the spotlight.  What's that in her hand. IT"S A GUITAR!!!  Call the police!  This is an a cappella show and I may not know what a cappella means (to hair?), I know what it doesn't mean -- with instruments.  She has violated the sanctity of the show, she has made a travesty, sham and mockery of an all singing competition.  Yes, this performance was an actual traveshamockery!  Actually she sounded pretty good and looked even better.  Over not in the spotlight, sitting on a stool, a familiar looking left handed guitarist.  It's Doyle Bramhall, II, getting no mention as he was not assigned his own spotlight.  He toils in the darkness with his six string as Talk of the Town and the Backbeats sing all around him.

If you're looking for a new drinking game, take a swig every time the cameraman hits a close up of Courtney, the beatboxer from the Backbeats.  You'll be in a coma before the end of this song.  There are some thirty, forty other members of the Backbeats (or maybe ten) and four of them could go undercover right now and pretend to be atonal mutes because no one has ever seen their faces!  Courtney, on the other hand, has been on my TV more than the Geicko gecko. 

The next superstar song was fronted by newly elected Rock'n'Roll Hall of Famer Neil Diamond.  After discussing which was the favorite Neil Diamond song for the various singers and realizing that Neil Diamond has written every song recorded over the last thirty-five years, host Nick Lachey announces Neil and company will be singing -- Ain't No Sunshine, by Bill Withers.  Go figure.

They did a tremendous job on the song and you can tell why Street Corner Symphony and Committed would later be the top two teams.  They have seamless transitions, sparkling harmonies, good backing percussion and strong lead vocalists.  I was waiting for the obligatory Courtney close up, but my cup remained untouched for two entire minutes.

And the winner is....

But first, one last performance from each of our groups.  Except when it got to the last group, Street Corner Symphony, who sang Coldplay's Fix You better than the original, the other three teams were allowed to come out and steal their thunder, I mean join in the song.  It was beautfiul and moving, but I felt that their moment was taken away.  But not to worry, it probably meant that they were going to win the whole thing.

So it's time to announce the winner.  And the winner is....

Well, it's not Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town or the Backbeats, because those two teams are given the bad news first.  Jerry et al. go out in style with the most perfect exit song ever, Hit the Road Jack.  Now that they didn't win and all the producers' efforts to shove them down my throat is over, I really appreciate how talented they are.  They don't really do current a cappella, it's more old time doo wop, but they have great voices.  And after hearing Paul McCartney try to sing on SNL, I realize that being able to sound that good when you're not in your prime ain't easy. So kudos to the old guys!

I also want to offer a shout out to the Backbeats.  I ragged on them big time for their first two performances.  I felt their lead singer (who isn't Courntey, but have you seen Courtney, cuz there she is, and there she is again) was overwrought when she sang and her forced angst took away from her voice. As soon as she turned it down, she improved.  And when they spotllighted other singers in the groups -- look, there's Courtney, gulp -- you realized they weren't just blowing smoke when they described themselves as a supergroup.  The leader, the mastermind who put the group together, took his first real lead (joking around on Love Shack doesn't count) and showed what an amazing voice he has as well.  All really fine singers -- especially those from UCLA!!!

And now for the winner.  No, seriously, there's nothing left.  I was hoping for Street Corner Symphony.  Jeremy Lester's story of his hard times trying to make it the first go around with a record label made me root for the underdog, but when they announced the winners were Committed, I wasn't that upset.  Okay, I tweeted one Boo, but that's it.  And I rallied quick.  Committed has a lot of depth, has some of the purest voices I've ever heard and seem like really nice guys.  So congrats to them!

And congrats also to the runners up.  I really liked you, even if you sing that country-flavored music that is all the rage right now.  I liked how Ben Folds correctly identified you as the sort of rebels in the group.  You have a little rock in your soul -- stick with it.  Keep pushing.  You've made a lot of fans, don't let them down.  Hey, the plus is, you don't have to sign with Sony!  :) 

R.E.M. Releases Preview of "Collapse into Now"

The last few days have been busy days for REM fans. First there was the release of Discoverer, the first song off their upcoming album "Collapse into Now."  I'm not terribly excited about this first song. It's a little too "shouty" for me and it's a bit of a bastard child of Crush with Eyeliner meets Finest Worksong disproving that two positives make another positive.

I refuse to believe that Stipe's voice is so shot that he can no longer sing and must talk-shout from here on out.  He started doing that live, most notably (and regretably) in So Fast, So Numb, one of their most beautiful songs.  Now it's a song sung by a carnival barker -- or a bad comedian upping the volume on the punchline.  It's sad if that's all his voice can do, sadder still if he can still sing but chooses not to. 

Today they are releasing a preview of a few more songs off the album and, after listening to it, I'm feeling a little more upbeat about this album's prospects than I did after the initial listen to that first song.

I particularly like two of the songs that are featured, the one starting at 0:38 (Mine Smells like Honey, perhaps?) and the one at 1:15. Both have good, memorable hooks and more soul than some of REM's most recent written-for-a-huge-stadium songs.  And in each case, I hear actual singing.  

Also available is a low quality version of a new song that way made available to people who preorder the album this week from iTunes.  It's another bit of insight into the direction of the new album and, like the teaser samplings from earlier today, left me feeling more optimistic than Discoverer did.  It's called It Happened Today.  It has the old jangly guitar we fell in love with so many years ago and a sensitive, gentle lead vocal from Stipe.  It purports to include Eddie Vedder, but except for a few notes near the end, I'm not hearing it.  I am hearing a lot of Mike Mills and, you know, I love the guy.  He's immensely talented and is an equal partner in the group, but he doesn't have to put this nicely...strongest, most pleasing to the ears voice out there.  Less of him would have been more and more, much more Eddie, would have been divine. 

For the record, the "Hip Hip Hooray" is not an inspired lyrical choice.  I let it slide a few years ago when it found its way in the song, I Don't Sleep, I Dream.  But then it was a small bit of a larger, more lyrically interesting song, not the alleged payoff.  The album doesn't come out till March; perhaps they can change the lyrics before it comes out.  Let me offer some improvements:  Yippe yahoo yay?  Oh me, oh my, oy vay?  Anything would be an improvement.

"Collapse into Now" is scheduled for release March 8, 2011.  Here is the official press release concerning the album:

For Collapse Into Now, R.E.M., which is singer Michael Stipe, guitarist Peter Buck, and bassist Mike Mills, re-teamed with Grammy Award-winning producer Jacknife Lee, who produced the band’s acclaimed previous album Accelerate. Lee is also noted for his work on albums by U2, Snow Patrol, The Hives, and indie stalwarts Kasabian, Editors, Aqualung, and Bloc Party. R.E.M. and Lee recorded the album in New Orleans at the Music Shed and in Berlin at the famed Hansa Studios, where several legendary albums, including David Bowie’s Heroes, U2’s Achtung Baby, and Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life, were made. Additional recording and mixing was done at the venerable Blackbird Studio in Nashville.

The band has also revealed that Collapse Into Now features some very special guests: Patti Smith, guitarist Lenny Kaye, Peaches, Eddie Vedder, and The Hidden Cameras frontman Joel Gibb.

The track-listing for "Collapse Into Now" is as follows:
All The Best
Oh My Heart
It Happened Today
Every Day Is Yours To Win
Mine Smell Like Honey
Walk It Back
Alligator Aviator Autopilot Antimatter
That Someone Is You
Me, Marlon Brando, Marlon Brando and I

Survivor Finale -- Fabio's win saves the season

I stopped blogging about Survivor Nicaragua when Jimmy T was voted out.  I found the mean-spirited way in which he was treated, just before getting the boot, brought a new low to the show.  It's one things to allow the TV camera to expose the truth about someone (I'm thinking of you, NaOnka) it's another thing to let fellow cast members to go all amateur psychologist, strip down someone's psyche until there's nothing left, then stomp on what's left of their dignity and vote them off.  So I was done with this incarnation of Survivor and even checked into spoilers to see if any of the most odious people went on to win.

The spoiler I heard gave me hope.  Fun loving Fabio makes it to the end.  The person who never said a mean thing about anyone else on the show?  Who didn't knock over a lady with a prosthetic leg or steal someone's shoes or mock people behind their backs?  Maybe this season could be redeemed.  Wait, then it got better.  NaOnka quits, I heard.  So this season's villain, who tried to make Russell look like a pussycat by comparison, did not take her bad attitude and hidden immunity idol to the end.  Okay, I'd keep watching.

Last night's two-hour finale completed this season's redemption.  Fabio won three straight challenges, including a challenge involving, dare I say it, smarts???  He used his newly revealed intellect to think strategically and get rid of someone who was a threat to get votes from the jury -- Holly -- and keep the loathsome Sash, whose insipid smile was apparently as annoying to his fellow tribemates as to us in TV land. He also was crafty enough to turn on the ol' water works when he thought he needed them during jury questioning, in his effort to counter-balance Chase's John Boehner-like emotionality.

I should give a shout out to Chase whose persona before the final tribal council was of a simpering, wishy-washy and supremely paranoid country hick who couldn't put together a declarative sentence without Brenda's help.  The poised and confident man who sat in front of the jury bore no resemblance to his prior doltish indecisiveness and insecurity.  He deserved the many votes he got just for that amazing turnaround.  But, he also undid all the good during the reunion show when he showed himself to be just another wannabe country musician using reality TV to further their stalled career (a la Wes from the Bachelorette).  I did find it funny, though, that given his chance to play before a large audience, he was drowned out by the needless hand clapping. 

In the end it was fabulous Fabio, ne Jud Birza, who got the five votes needed to make him one million dollars richer (less taxes, lest he end up like Richard Hatch).  Chase came a close second with four votes to Fabio's five. Unlike Chase, who vowed in front of the jury to give ten percent of his winnings to charity, Fabio is going to spend the money to have fun.  And Fabio seems to be all about fun, dude.

What were the big reveals at the reunion show that followed?  Jane is not as in dire financial straits as we were led to believe.  She says she makes $50,000 a year  (she owns the Shadow Hill Kennel and trains dogs for dog shows which, since she doesn't live in LA or NYC, is not exactly at the poverty level.  True, she couldn't buy Dan many shoes on that, but in rural Moore County,.North Carolina, it should go pretty far.  We learned that we were lucky the youngster tribe got rid of Shannon as early as they did because he was a jerk of immeasurable proportions, that Kelly B has no noticeable personality and that Holly gets maximum benefits from makeup.  We also learned that CBS is more interested in Jimmy Johnson and his merry band of football experts than they are in Boston Rob's new baby.

The next season of Survivor will return to Nicaragua and will feature a new twist that Jeff Probst promises will be better than the let's-forget-it-ever-happened Medallion of Power.  The new twist is Redemption Island which is a metaphor for Season 22 as this second go around in Central American will need to redeem the franchise after this disappointing 21st season.  On Redemption island, the newly ejected tribemate waits in solitude until joined by the next person voted off.  They have a competition to see who stays and who is gone for good, with the last castoff standing allowed a chance to reenter the game.  For those whose favorite is voted off early, it provides hope for a triumphant return.  And for those of us whose favorite reality TV show had its weakest season yet, it provides hope for a return to past glory.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Street Corner Symphony for the Win -- The Sing Off, Season Two

Street Corner Symphony
From L to R: Jon McLemore, Adam Chance, Jeremy Lister, Mark McLemore, Richie Lister, John Martin

I swore that my voting days were over, but then I turned on NBC's The Sing Off and discovered Street Corner Symphony.  The sextet is comprised of two sets of brothers, lead singer Jeremy Lister and his brother, John Lennon lookalike Richie, Bald back up singer Jon McLemore and his much taller, more hirsute brother Mark, as well as two guys who were apparently added to the group at the last minute, Adam Chance and John Martin. 

According to newspaper reports, the brothers, who all went to high school together, auditioned for the Sing Off with two other men. After they were booked for the show, those two left and Mark scrambled to find replacements.  With Adam and John joining, the new group re-auditioned, made the cut again, and ended up on our TV screens on the debut episode singing Tears for Fears' Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

What they lack in choreography they more than make up for in their sweetly blended vocals.  They are the best kind of a cappella group -- they have a great sound, they sing with heart and they have fun while never forgetting it's the music that matters. 

Episode 2 they took on Train's Hey Soul Sister and again nailed the performance, making six voices sound like so much more.  They're the most radio-friendly of the groups participating and sound like a fully formed band.

On Episode 3 they blew us all away, topping their previous performances, with a stunning cover of Radiohead's Creep. Their lead singer, Jeremy, has a terrific voice can sing in a variety of genres.  I thought he was a country singer, but he nailed this alt rock classic. 

After that, they were charged with taking on a guilty pleasure.  Their choice was Come on Eileen by Dexy's Midnight Runners.  A silly little ditty, of course, but their rapid switches in tempo and style, and, once again, that perfect harmony sold the song. 

I have last night's performances in the previous blog post, so you can check out their take on the Beatles and CCR there

After reading up about the group, I discovered that five of the six are the sons of preachers and that they have, like Committed, a strong gospel background.  According to their blog, "Two of the members are grandsons of the legendary southern gospel tenor Bill Shaw of 'The Blackwood Brothers.'”   That meant nothing to me, but perhaps you are a gospel fan and this has given you an aha moment. 

To vote for Street Corney Symphony, dial 1-877-6-Sing-02 or Text "2" to 97979.  You can vote up to ten times per method and voting closes Sunday morning, so get your votes in now.

If you like what you heard, you can buy the MP3s right here:

NBC's The Sing Off -- Episode 4

On tonight's episode of NBC's The Sing Off we inch one step closer to crowning a winner of the second season of this surprisingly entertaining a cappella music competition.  Don't let the short season mislead you, this is a terrific show with a wide range of talented groups showing how much you can do with just your voice and a well-positioned microphone (not unlike that guy in all those Police Academy movies).

The five remaining teams are remarkably different in style and make-up going from the let's-put-on-a-show excitement of the campy and fun University of Oregon's On the Rocks to the where's-my-walker calm of the Early Bird special eating Jerry Lawson and Talk of the TownThe Backbeats are a mixed marriage of former Bruins and Trojans trying to show the Middle East how peace is achieved: through music and choreography, apparently.  The last two teams are my personal favorites, the Gospel-singing Committed whose sexy vocals have them more in touch with their sinner, rather than saintly, side, and the good ol' Southern boys Street Corner Symphony.

Tonight five teams will compete for the three spots in the final.  After each team sings a medley of songs from an iconic music act, one will be eliminated and the remaining four will then perform the judge's choice song with one more team cut before the public voting begins.  At least, that was what was supposed to happen.  But in the spirit of rules were made to be broken, also known as, how were we supposed to know that the Backbeats would rock their last song, all four teams made it to the finals.  More on that in a bit.  Time for the show.

The five groups joined for an opening so underwhelming that at first I couldn't remember what they sang.  It was one of my least favorite Beatles' songs, With a Little Help from My Friends, and not just because of the Socialist sentiment in the title.  They sounded fine, the granddaddy of the competition Jerry Lawson had a nice moment, but it wasn't their best group performance. 

What was entertaining, though, was the Elton John medley by the group from the University of Oregon, On the Rocks.  They were fun, highlighted three different singers, and handled the transitions from the Bitch is Back to Bennie and the Jets to Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me with aplomb.  The standout performance was by the third singer who has the strongest voice in the group and delivered a heartfelt performance.  I loved the choreography and if you got points for moving that many guys around a relatively small stage without bumping into one another, they would have sailed on to the next round.

The sweet-faced Gospel group Committed went naughty once again, taking on an Usher medley.  I was unfamiliar with the songs, so I couldn't say whether they were accurate reflections of the originals, but I can say that those guys killed it!  I don't know what kind of a church they go to, but sign me up, because there was fire and passion in those performances.  They have some of the purest voices I've ever heard, even when signing in a provocative, smoldering style.  Amen!

Next up were my personal favorites, Street Corner Symphony, taking on my favorite group, the Fab Four.  A can't miss combination?  Not so much.  As smooth and seamless as the transitions between Elton John's three songs were in the preceding performance, that's how clunky the transition from the moody, somber Eleanor Rigby to the bouncy Help! felt.  I was worried for their longevity in the competition at the beginning of Help!, but they pulled it together and the next segment, Hey Jude, reminded me of why I love this group in the first place.  Excellent lead vocals by Jeremy Lister, well supported by the remaining five who took on backing vocals and instruments that blended beautifully to one wall of sound.

The Backbeats, the quickly slapped together supergroup of USC and UCLA alums, surprised me in a good way with their take on Lady Gaga.  They featured three different girls on lead vocals and the blonde who took on Poker Face, was a surprise. This team, that I ripped on for the first few blog posts, has really come into its own.  Maybe they just needed more time together or maybe it was my insightful suggestion that their designated lead tone down her angst and start enunciating.  Whatever it was, they're now in this competition.

Finally, the ringers in the contest, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town.  You thought I was going to make another hackneyed old person's joke here about how they sing a cappella because when they were younger, instruments hadn't been invented yet or how they think hip hop is the answer to "what has been replaced and what can you no longer do?"  But no.  These guys, ready for their cameo in the upcoming Tyler Perry's Medea Goes to the Senior Center, are pretty inspiring.  They are talented singers and savvy stage performers and, after listening to their fellow WWII baby Paul McCartney weakly warble and croak his way through last week's SNL, I have to give it to them.  They took on one of the best singers ever, Otis Redding, and did a terrific job.  No joke.

With those five performances the judges had a difficult time, but ultimately bid a fond farewell to the large contingent from Oregon who lived up to their YouTube hype and gave many entertaining performances.  Next it was judge's choice.  And, unlike on American Idol, being the favorite did not bring with it your own spotlight, backing choir, or fairy dust that keeps people from hearing when you are off key.  But I digress.

For Committed the judges chose Let's Stay Together.  It was a great choice, having the Gospel group do a song by the now Reverend Al Green and the guys showed their amazing depth and breadth of talent by having five of the six take a turn on the lead, moving from vocalist to vocalist with impeccable perfection (redundant, but accurate!).  The middle guy in particular has such a pure, crystaline voice in the upper register, he just blows me away.

Street Corner Symphony took on the fathers of Swamp Rock, Creedence Clearwater Revival's Down on the Corner.  Not a favorite CCR song and, as much as I loved John Fogerty, he was not what I would call a talented vocalist.  The fact that a guy from Oakland managed to sound like he'd never spent a minute above the Mason-Dixon line was impressive, but he would not have been asked to join his high school's glee club.  Having said that, the percussion on the song was flawless, the vocals were better than the original, and they did the most with a so-so song.

Now, let's revisit some of my earlier comments about the lead singer of theBackbeats.  I think I suggested that she go to the doctor to have him pulverize the kidney stone that was causing her so much pain as she sang.  Then I think I mentioned she should stop preparing for her upcoming role as Demosthenes and remove the marbles from her mouth.  Well, all's forgotten!  She sang the hell out of Fleetwood Mac's Landslide.  It was a revelation.  Someone should snap her up immediately.  She blew Stevie Nicks out of the water.  And the rest of the group?  Spectacular.   As soon as you can download that, do it. 

Last up was Jerry Lawson and the sexagenarian quintet.  They sang House of the Rising Sun by the Animals and it was great, but I was still catching my breath after having all I believed in crushed in ninety seconds of musical heaven. 

My guess is that the judges were all prepared to say goodbye to the Backbeats and send the other three to next week's final, but they were so blown away by the Backbeats' stellar performances tonight they couldn't cut them.  So instead of three all four teams were passed along to the public's vote.  Yep, it's now your turn.  But, in a move that should be embraced by all shows that don't want their outcome determined by some twelve year old with nimble fingers and no homework, only ten votes per voting method. 

You can call or text (again, up to 10 votes for each method used) from now until Sunday, December 19 at 9 am Eastern. Here are the numbers:

Committed: 1-877-6-Sing-01 or Text "1" to 97979

Street Corner Symphony: 1-877-6-Sing-02 or Text "2" to 97979

The Backbeats: 1-877-6-Sing-03 or Text "3" to 97979

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town: 1-877-6-Sing-04 or Text "4" to 97979

The winner will be revealed live Monday at 8 pm.  If you're setting your DVR, program it to run an extra half hour.

So who to vote for?  This is a tough one and it comes down to Committed and Street Corner Symphony for me.  Both of these groups have the talent to make a great record.  But since Street Corner Symphony is most likely to record in a genre that I'd actually listen to, I think they're getting all my votes.  But if I were casting for GLEE, I'd grab that girl from the Backbeats fast before someone else gets her.   She's actually pretty good.

Download these:

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NBC's The Sing Off -- Episode 3

On tonight's episode six teams competed for five remaining slots.  In case you went to school in the U.S., ranked 25th out of 34 participating countries in Math scores, that meant one team would be kicked off the show. But not leaving us tonight is the best judging panel ever: Ben Folds, Nicole Sherzinger and Shawn Stockman. They should be forced to judge every other singing competition show out there. They are knowledgeable, articulate and (with the glaring obsession of their mad love for the "isn't it cute what they can do at their age?" Jerry Lawson group) fair.

The show opened with all the groups singing together and though they chose a powerful, rousing song -- Green Day's 21 Guns -- it came off more anemic than anthemic. Then former boy band hearthrob and ex Mr. Jessica Simpson, Nick Lachey, introduced the theme for tonight's competition.  Each group would get two songs, one "epic rock" and one a "guilty pleasure." 

The LA-based, self-described supergroup The Backbeats opened with Bon Jovi's You Give Love a Bad Name.  Now, I have been complaining repeatedly about the lead singer who acts as if every note is a life-or-death proposition, so I was glad to see someone else step up to take the helm.  That was until I realized that she was going to make the other singer look good by comparison.  The vocals were thin and weak and lacked the intensity of the original.  Then it occurred to me that she was also the lead in 21 Guns.  Rock is not your forte, dear.

My favorite Street Corner Symphony was up next.  There are only six guys, but when they split the $100,000 prize they'll be happy there weren't more guys in the group.  They chose Radiohead's Creep, a daring choice.  Thom Yorke is a little i idol and genius and this is such an iconic song, you can only be compared to the original.  So when Jeremy Lister ended up killing the song (in a very good way) it was even more amazing.  His vocals were insane, sick, ridiculous.  He took a huge chance and it paid off big time.  And he was backed up by an amazing band that you forgot for a while were just a bunch of guys using only their voices.

Other highlights from the rock round were the thorn in my side, Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town.  I don't like that they are competing as amateurs as if they don't already have a bunch of songs out there -- I just put a link to one of their MP3 downloads in the preceding sentence.  They are ringers and Jerry in particular has been doing exactly this kind of music longer than I've been alive -- and that's a really long time, I hate to admit.  Having said all that, I loved their performance of Satisfaction.  It was fun, entertaining, cute and silly.  They went for it and put a smile on all but the most cynical person's faces.

Another fun performance came, unsurprisingly, from the college boys of On the Rocks.  Their take on Pour Some Sugar on Me was far more amusing than it was musically successful, but it sure got the audience going.  Fun choreography. 

Painfully bad was Groove for Thought's butchering of one of my favorite David Bowie songs, Changes.  Do not try and put a jazzy spin on a great rock song.  In fact, here's a newsflash -- jazz is dead.  At least on the charts and on the radio.  But I'm sure in some smoky room filled with beret wearing people who can't seem to straighten out their necks, jazz is still popular.  But not for the rest of us with ears. So please, stop.  Here's the original, to cleanse my ears from the abomination they just witnessed:

My other favorite group, Committed, did not embrace the rock genre and had their weakest performance to date.  The committed a cardinal sin -- taking on the Police.  You don't cover Every Breath You Take and you certainly don't approach the song like it is anything but the insidious, spooky, creepy song it is.  The guy is a stalker, there's nothing bouncy or fun in those lyrics.  They turned it into a cha-cha.  I'd like to just forget that it ever happened and go back to my happy place were these sweet-faced gospel singers can do no wrong. 

The next round of songs lived up to the title guilty pleasures because, with rare exceptions, they were all better, dare I say more pleasurable, performances than the first round.  The Backbeats came out in sherbet colored outfits and nailed the silly fun of the B-52's signature Love Shack.  They were campy and over the top and yet still musically on point.  Complete with "tin roof...rusted" exuberance, it was their best performance by a mile. 

Street Corner Symphony did Come On Eileen originally made famous by Dexy's Midnight Runners -- and no I knew who sang the original without being told because KROQ played that song 450,000 times one summer.  I wish they had gone for the rolled-up overalls to complete the homage, but sartorial choices aside, it was a good performance.  I wasn't as blown away as the judges, but they did show their vocal flexibility and variety.

Groove for Thought sang and turned a song I didn't like -- You Make My Dreams Come True by Hall and Oates -- even more painful to listen to.  But that quickly faded to memory as the Oregon boys  On the Rocks put on their best vocal performance to date with what was supposed to be the silly, guilty pleasure song Kyrie.  Instead, they brought out a new lead singer who elevated this cheesy song and made you forget all about the redundantly named Mr. Mister and the original embarrassingly-bloated version.  This was a standout performance and did what the judges asked them to do -- move them from entertainers to artists.

Also rebounding was Committed.  They took on the Backstreet Boys' I Want it That Way and this time they brought the beautiful harmonies and the rich variety of voices that makes them the group with the most depth.  They were a bit sloppy in places and they need a little direction to keep them from straying too far from the melody, but the have the most pure voices in the competition.

The jazzy group was dismissed, as was only right and proper, and we are left with five strong groups.  I will note, however, that the guy who sang their swan song was the best singer in the bunch and had he been given a lead perhaps I wouldn't have been sticking pins in their voodoo dolls.  No, as long as they went jazzy, I was going to go stabby.

Handicapping the rest, I still put Street Corner Symphony in the lead -- they have the best combination of strong voices, great blending of sounds, and traditional a cappella tools of any of the remaining groups.  The Backbeats are the most vulnerable as they have only shined with a heavy dose of kitsch -- when they sing straight, they're just not strong enough.  And we know that the fix is in forJerry Lawson and the oldsters, although the why is beyond me.  Perhaps the powers that be think the way to combat illegal downloading of music is to only sign artists whose fans lack computers??  But with a fan base that is too old to remember the name of the group by the time they pass by the WalMart greeter on the way to the CD section, I don't think it's a wise business decision.

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