Sunday, December 6, 2015

Album Review: Under the Arches

Hello all!
To usher in the beginning of a new church season, and because my ears are so very happy at the moment, I thought I'd do an interesting review of some music. Interesting because I am reviewing a cover album, so in a sense I am double-reviewing (reviewing the lyrics of the original as well as the covering artist). This will change the format a bit, of course, but hopefully it is still relatively familiar. Here I go!

Title: Under the Arches
Author: Summit Singers
Release Date: 2015
Genre: pop, country, classic, A Capella
My Rating: *****
Official Rating: N/A
Age Group: 6+

Summary: Summit Singers is an all male A Capella group based out of the University of St. Thomas. While they have been performing for a few years now, this is their first album. Below are the songs they covered and a review of the lyrics, as well as their renditions.
Their Website
Music Video of I Lived 
Updated to add: O Holy Night

My Thoughts
My one critique is that the balance between the main singer (the person with the lyrics) and the backup (the people with the music) needs some work. Far too often, the main singer is drowned out by the others. And along the lines of the main singer, they do not always pick their best singers to play that part. Which sometimes is actually a good choice given the song (lyrics, meaning, feel, etc), but sometimes can be a big frustrating.
Other than that, these guys are fantastic. Listening to their music, well, honestly I shouldn't be trying to use words to describe something like this, no matter how much we English majors value them. Words fail here. There is little to say except these young men are very very skilled and I hope you have the chance to enjoy these great songs not only in their original form, but in this A Capella rendition.
And one other thing: as fantastic as this CD is, it does not do this group justice. Someone else who has heard them live said the same thing. This is fantastic, and I love having it in my car so I don't have to wait for the biannual concerts, but as amazing as the CD sounds, they sound even better in concert.

As with all my music reviews, I've added a break here because the post is so long. I encourage you to click and read on!

For the sake of clarity: I will refer to the person singing lyrics as the main singer, and the others as the music or backup.

"Drift Away" by John Henry Kurtz

Lyrics: "Give it a beat boys, and free my soul. I wanna get lost in your rock and roll." That would be the premise of the song. The narrator is getting overwhelmed by reality and just wants an escape through music.

Sound: Nothing huge or mind blowing, just awesome and there and supportive. Skill, without a doubt, but the kind that isn't big and in your face. It's that skill that is so good you don't really notice it until it's not there. Kind of like John Williams' music for Star Wars. Without it, Star Wars wouldn't be what it is, but when you're watching, you're rarely aware that it's there because it's just so natural and belongs.

"Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon

Lyrics: Seize the moment! "Oh don't you dare look back, just keep your eyes on me" "shut up and dance with me!" the singer urges. Let's just go for this and see what happens! Unfortunately, the two are "victims of the night. The chemical, physical kryptonite." Later, a tattoo and backless dress are mentioned. The two seem to be bound by fate and are going to go for this sudden romance they have found.
And I just made this song sound really awful, which is not what I intended to do. Personally, I really like this song. Two people seize the moment and have fun. And the lyrics, the music, all of it is fun too. It's just that there are some issues with it.

Sound: The main singer probably isn't their strongest but does sound good. However, the music on this particular song is some of the most skilled I have ever heard. It's just amazing what they do with their voices here. I mean, I had no idea those instrumental sounds could be done with the human voice.

"Colder Weather" by the Zac Brown Band

Lyrics: This is the story of a man who has commitment issues. He falls in love with a woman who he ultimately leaves behind because he was "born for leaving." There really aren't any objectionable lyrics here. It's just a sad song about a man who won't stay with the woman he loves. What he is wandering to is unclear, though he does continue to remember the woman and does not seem to be drawn by others, so it might be the commitment factor, not the temptation of other women.

Sound: Simple and nice to listen to. Sometimes the main singer gets drowned out, but for the most part this is well done. Also, there are some truly impressive things done here with only the human voice (but then again, the entire album is like that).

"I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" by Aerosmith

Lyrics: This one is sweet, but a little weird as well. Basically, this guy doesn't want to go to sleep because and "could stay away, just to see you breathing." He has just gotten the girl back and, worried about losing her again, he is going to watch her all night. And, indeed, they're in bed together, but there is no suggestion that they are married (seeing as she left him and he's just very thankful they are together).
However, this is a very sweet song about a man who loves someone so much he "don't wanna miss a thing" not "one kiss...". On the surface, then, the song is utter adoration. But beneath that, there are some immoral things going on.
On the other hand, if I misunderstood this and they are married but they had some argument or problem, this song is much more innocent.

Sound: Gorgeous. The beginning sends chills down my spine. It's very simple, but very deep and resounding. Plus, that sound that reminds me of a steam engine going down the tracks? Wow.

"Hallelujah" (original too far back to trace, probably Canadian Leonard Cohen)

Lyrics: All sorts of Old Testament stories including that of Samson being weakened by Delilah cutting his hair and David and Bathsheba. There is questioning of God, and a sad confession that "all I've ever learned from love is how to shoot at someone who outdrew ya." The song is very hard to judge as it seems to be many different little stories strung together, demonstrating the word "hallelujah" is to be used in all sorts of emotional circumstances. Through all the trials, the narrator ultimately ends up singing praise, no matter how painful or hard that is in the moment.
Questionable lyrics: "you saw her bathing on the roof" and "shoot at someone who outdrew ya".

Sound: Wow. Chills. My favorite--ever. Absolutely beautiful. Heartbreaking and beautiful and yet still hopeful. The only thing I can say about this one is that you need to listen to it in order to understand.

"All of Me" by John Legend

Lyrics: "What would I do without your smart mouth" the singer begins, describing his relationship. The girl confuses him, and he feels as though he is on a "magical mystery ride" but he loves it. "My head's underwater but I'm breathin' fine" he tells us. Because "all of me loves all of you. Love your curves and all your edges, all your perfect imperfections." Basically, they have given themselves to each other completely, and while this is nice, it doesn't come without its struggles. Still, they're going to make it because they have each other.
A very sweet song. My biggest concern with the lyrics is "love your curves and all your edges" as this could be taken literally or figuratively (oh, the joys of words and poetry).

Sound: Good. It doesn't really stand out to me, but that very well might be the point. As with "Shut Up and Dance" the main singer is talented, but perhaps not the right person for this particular song. Still, this is very well done, and I was able to recognize it instantly.

"Be Still" by The Fray?

Lyrics: Let me first say that it's not clear if this is a religious song or one between lovers. The chorus says it all "be still and know that I'm with you. Be still. Be still. And know." Through all struggles, you are not alone. It reminds me of one of my favorite Bible passages found in Exodus which reads "The Lord will fight for you; you have only to be still." There are many other biblical references (Valley of the Shadow of Death, to name one), leading me to believe it a religious song, but the beauty of it is that it never defines itself, so it could be anything, and in this case, that's ok.

Sound: This one kind of makes me want to cry. After a long day of anything, when this one comes over the speakers, all I can think of is my God, my family, and my friends. The music is very reflective, simple, and rises and falls with the emotions of the listener and main singer. It's a piece of art, quite frankly, and shouldn't be described in words like I am doing here.

"I Won't Give Up" by Jason Mraz

Lyrics: The song is what the title says it is. It is the tale of someone who will not give up on the person he loves. "I won't give up on us," he says, "even if the skies get rough. Givin' you all my love." It's a song of hope in the face of suffering. The narrator is willing to wait out the struggles and not run away, saying that "even the stars, they burn, some even fall to the earth. We got a lot to learn, but God knows we're worth it." Self reflection, learning, but still insisting one will not give up.

Sound: Simple, beautifully supplements the meaning of the song by being steady, deep, and never going away or changing.

"Wide Awake" by Katy Perry

Lyrics: "Yeah I was in the dark, I was fallin' hard." Basically, someone finds out the world is not what had been originally thought and "I was dreamin' for so long." More knowledge would've helped the person make better choices but now the narrator has hit the ground hard and has to deal with that. This is the song of that shock and realization that things are not what they seemed.
There is a line that mentions falling on concrete and how painful that is and another where a person is "fallin' from cloud nine", but other than that the lyrics have nothing to be concerned about.

Sound: So cool. Does tend to drown the main singer out from time to time, but this is just very cool music overall, especially the "I'm wide awake" echoes.

"What a Wonderful World" by Louis Armstrong

Lyrics: What the title says. With everything that is going on in the world, there is still great beauty that cannot be ignored. There are rainbows, friends, smiles, etc.
And that's it. It's fine. It's nice. It's reflective and insightful and hopeful.

Sound: I honestly never liked this song--until now. I was fine with the lyrics, I just could not get over the sound of it. Adding A Capella to it, that changed everything for me. This is a beautiful blending of voices and yes, blending is the right word but still does not do it justice.

"I Lived" by  OneRepublic

Lyrics: Basically, go for it, and here's hoping everything works out for you. "Hope that you fall in love, and it hurts so bad" one singer begins. "The only way you know, is give it all you have. And I hope that you don't suffer, and take the pain." It's about being able to say "I did it all." And no, not doing everything there is to do. It's about owning your actions, going for it, and throwing your heart into something. The world won't be easy, but one should still live life deliberately.
Mention of broken bones, and one prominent line goes "I swear I lived."

Sound: Awesome. Something particularly interesting about this one is that the main singer clearly changes a few times, adding a very interesting element to it. The music is fantastic, of course. The whole thing just comes together rather nicely. And I recognized the song immediately.

1 comment:

grandma jane said...

Loved your review! Very uplifting. You certainly brought me along with you as you described each piece.

I found the song choices interesting, wondering how they decided. Could a reader enjoy this album without actually hearing it...I think i did ;-D)