Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Recapping The Voice Finale: Matt McAndrew takes us Over the Rainbow to find his Wasted Love

The boys' club that is The Voice Season 7's finale was a lopsided affair, with three members of Team Adam competing against the lone outsider, a country music veteran with deep ties in the Nashville community.  Will the outcome be based on on tonight's performances alone or will people vote for their season-long favorites?  Will those with strong connections to organized fan bases prevail over newer, less-connected artists?  Will Gwen stay awake after her energetic headlining performance at last night's KROQ Almost Acoustic Christmas?  And will Pharrell rethink his strategy and wonder where he went so wrong (hint, rhymes with Cougar)?

Damien was singing one of my favorite songs, "A Song for You," which they attributed to Donny Hathaway, but I always think of as Leon Russell's. *Turns out Leon actually wrote it, so my associating it with him is not that crazy!  There's never been a question about Damien's voice.  He has a great tone, is always on pitch, and has a good range.  But sometimes there's something missing, a sense that he's singing the notes rather than the song.  And that was the feeling I got with this performance.  It didn't help that he stumbled a bit in the middle, but it was simply not electric.

Next up was Craig Wayne Boyd with an original song penned by his coach Blake Shelton, "My Baby's Got a Smile on her Face."  It's not a stretch to think that if this were a great song, Blake would have recorded it himself (I'm not buying that he was saving it for someone with a better voice).  Having said that, Craig did a solid job with the middling song.  He's got a bit too much twang for my taste, but for his genre, Craig has one of the better voices.  And he does a good job connecting with the crowd and working the stage.

Chris Jamison's transformation into Adam's doppelganger is now complete.  Their duet on Robin Thicke's "Lost Without You" was perfect, like scarily good.  As if they're the same person and using a split screen,or  maybe Adam cloned himself years ago so he'd never age, or one of them sold his soul to the devil so they could each hit their respective notes unfailingly, something weird like that.  Their voices blend so ideally, bringing out the best in each, they should run not walk to the nearest recording studio.

Just when I thought things could not get any better, Matt McAndrew came on to debut his original single, "Wasted Love."  It was an inspired choice, and fit him like an oversized pair of Harry Potter style glasses.  Usually "original song" means something watered down and instantly forgettable, this reminded me of the hit that Phil Phillips had following his American Idol win.  It was melodic and heartfelt and Matt's voice was perfect for it.  He can be emotional without being cloying or histrionic, conveying genuine feeling so that we all ended up hoping he found what he was looking for.  He should have dropped his mic and walked off the stage like a boss after that.

There's more?  Okay.  I guess you have to fill up the two hours, but did you hear that last song?

Next up was Duet, Craig and Blake, on Randy Houser's "Boots On."  It's a nice, catchy, but ultimately insubstantial country song. They sounded good and I liked their version better than the original.  I did worry that Craig might hurt something trying to be heard over the cacophony behind him, but he did an admirable job getting himself heard over the noise.   Craig should have no trouble from here on, and it does make one wonder why he struggled so with such a good voice.  Really, what I got from this performance, was, man Blake is freakishly tall.

Adam was up for his second of third duets, this time joining Damien on Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."  It must have been a difficult choice finding a song that would work for both of them as their voices and styles are the most disparate of Adam's three artists.  The song actually helped Damien highlight how he really has a strong, emotional voice as he sold the "although I search myself" line about as well as I've ever heard it.  Probably one of his best vocals of the year, really nice job.

Chris' original song was "Velvet."  It's a Bruno Mars-ish tune, with hints of old school Michael Jackson.  I'm not sure it worked.  I'm not a huge fan of sexy Chris or sexy dancing Chris.  It was the same problem I had with him singing "Sexual Healing" - it doesn't seem to fit him.  I'm also starting to think that Adam is overusing his excellent falsetto.  Didn't Adam's mother ever teach him just because you can do something doesn't mean you should?  A little more judicious use of the falsetto, and less dancing, would work better for me.

Adam's last duet of the night was with Matt on Maroon 5's "Lost Stars."  Okay, I've downed all the Matt Kool Aid because I fell instantly in love with his voice on this song.  It was so rich and mellow, it almost brought tears to my eyes.  Music is a strange thing, how some collection of notes, how some tone, will just hit one person like an arrow and maybe have no affect on someone else.  Matt has one of those voices that hits the sweet spot in my ears.

Craig was up next, doing Alabama's "In Pictures."   For me, this is where Craig shines.  When he's being vulnerable, not hiding behind a loud band or honky tonk melodies, when he's singing from the heart.  I know it's not conceivable to have someone only record slow, tender ballads, but that's the best showcase for Craig's voice.  He was just a man, singing about love and family, dedicating it to his son.  That's as genuine as it gets.  Really great performance.

I don't envy Damien having to follow that.  His original was called "Soldier" and it was a really moving song. I'm not a huge fan of the vocal tics (adding the "uh" and "hah" at the end of each syllable), but you couldn't ignore the sincerity in his performance. I know I've said this about a hundred times (and he's only sing about ten) but Damien has the best pure voice in the competition.  It's a little too churchy for me, but there's no disputing the talent.

It was inevitable that Chris would do Justin Timberlake and his last song of the night was "Cry Me a River."  I was looking forward to this, as I thought it would be in his wheelhouse, but I felt that he faltered a bit.  He was no match for the song, nor the memory of the original.   It was uninspired and watered down, not in the same league as his earlier duet with Adam.

Closing out the night was Matt with "Over the Rainbow."  I"m of two minds about this performance.  On the one hand, I felt that Matt was too restrained, too tentative and too faithful to the original.  Yet he had me on the edge of the coach, mesmerized, throughout the song and by the end, I couldn't catch my breath.  He is the most watchable of the four vocalists, the one I'm most eager to hear every week.  Does he have the best raw voice, the widest range, the best tone?  Probably not, but he's the one who consistently makes me feel something when he sings.

The outcome of this one will be close.  Adam is, of course, spreading his allegiance across three artists and, despite the fact that it was pretty obvious he has a favorite, he can't galvanize his army behind one contestant like Blake can.  Also, the country music fans are great at getting out the vote.  So I can see Craig winning and Matt coming in second.  But none of this matters as much as where their music takes them from here.

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