Rhythm & Blue "With the Windows Down"

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Rhythm & Blue "With the Windows Down"

Postby RnBMrE » Thu Nov 02, 2006 5:34 am

One of our group members asked me a few weeks ago what I thought we'd get for our album review from the RARB. "3.3", I said. "Just a 3.3?" he said. "Well... maybe a 3.7," I said.

I want to thank Elie, Tom, and Kimmie each for reviewing our CD. All three reviews were detailed, never sarcastic or tired (an honest scare of mine in submitting), and provided invaluable information on so many different levels. If the RARB's purpose in these reviews is to congratulate excellence with praises and come down hard on mediocrity with critiques, then the review of "With the Windows Down" is a great example of that. (Because I will be the first to tell you that there is both excellence and mediocrity on the album!)

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In response to the review, I wanted to clarify a few things for the greater community.

Elie Landau wrote:"Mixed bag" would be the best way for me to describe the sixth recording from Duke University's Rhythm & Blue, entitled With the Windows Down.


Tom Czerwinski wrote:Rhythm & Blue, a mixed group from Duke University, offers a mixed bag with their latest release With the Windows Down... the fact that the album was recorded over a two year period may have something to say about the mixed results. I hope in the future the group can capture 40 minutes of their A material; that result would be a real pleasure to listen to.


That two reviewers used the phrase "mixed bag" to describe our record is quite telling. In fact, I'm surprised that not all three reviewers said the same thing.

Indeed, the two year recording period DOES have something to say about the mixed results. A lot, actually. Ultimately, in viewing where Rhythm & Blue has been in the past and where we're going in the future (with regards to recording, in particular), I would (and I would think it best for all to) view "With the Windows Down" as 1) a snapshot during a transition and 2) a HUGE step in the right direction.

First, the latter. If you take a look back at the review for our last CD "Adios, Kansas", the improvement in this review is significant. There's something to be said for going from mostly low 2's to mostly high 3's. For that, I'm very pleased and so proud of the group. Of course, lots of 4's would be nicer :-), but some of the problems that hampered "Adios" also brought down "With the Windows Down", recording methods being the foremost.

For the first comment, it is *very* important to note the methods we used for tracking this CD. All tracks were recorded in ~2 hours (3 for "OTR"), and we did not single-track them but recorded as a group for all takes. One track, "The Remedy", was not even stacked but had a single take from each BG part and two takes on the solo. (Don't ask me why!)

Secondly, the first 8 tracks were recorded with little to no pitch reference. ("Up the Ladder" had chords scattered throughout. The rest had one chord at the beginning.) I say this definitely NOT to brag for those tracks that have good tuning but with great frustration. These tracks were recorded in 2004-05 and while the group's musical directors did an excellent job overall, they did not fully investigate the right/best recording methods to use or carefully plan our financial investments. As such, while the soloists are all great IMO, the songs could have been much better overall with some simple changes...

I am currently co-directing the group ('06-'07) and also directed last year ('05-'06), when we finished the last three tracks for the CD. These tracks ("Such Great Heights", "Mr. Brightside", and "Over the Rainbow") are certainly three of the more standout tracks on the disc, and I think that all three reviewers noted this. For these tracks, we still recorded in ~2 hours as a whole group, but we used pitch reference to aid. While there may be a couple mistakes here and there, the quality of the mixes for those songs increased dramatically.

It's interesting to note that while Tom's review is the harshest overall, his individual song scores seem to reflect this year-transition dichotomy the most accurately!

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Elie Landau wrote:I couldn't help being surprised that so many of these flaws survived post-production so noticeably with Dave at the helm.


That said, though Dave's work (diovoce) was critiqued in Elie's review, I quickly want to exonerate him from the blame for the various tuning and balance issues. The phrase "too many flaws for Dave to save" was quite accurate because with the raw tracks as they were, only so many tuning errors could realistically be fixed, and the balance necessarily shifted to solo/bass/percussion on a few tracks as a result.

Dave spent approximately 5 hours/song total for mixing AND editing together, give or take a bit for each track. There was only so much that *could* be done with the tracks he was given, and he did a helluva job making the songs shine!

Tom Czerwinski wrote:I hope in the future the group can capture 40 minutes of their A material; that result would be a real pleasure to listen to.


Indeed. Let it be known that I'm pleased to say that the production of our seventh CD is already remedying the aforementioned problems. And you can bet your bottom dollar that we're recording with Dave and diovoce again!

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Elie Landau wrote:Soloists always have a nice energy


Tom Czerwinski wrote:Overall I was most impressed by the high quality of the soloists.


Kimmie Raschka wrote:with a few exceptions, the soloists in Rhythm & Blue can really hit it out of the park


Just want to highlight what I think is also a huge plus of our CD. Even on tracks were tuning is a bit sloppy and balance is off, each of our soloists did an awesome job of capturing the emotion and feel of the songs. In listening back to the album, I am struck by how all of our soloists really took the songs as their own, adding personal stylistic flourishes to accurate performances that make each track unique.

Thanks again to the RARB and Elie, Tom, and Kimmie each for their reviews. Look out for our next CD in the 2007-08 year!

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Lastly, that's me on the "Such Great Heights" guitar solo, as well as the spoken 'it was only a kiss' line in "Mr. Brightside". I do parties, weddings, and corporate events. :-P

Matt Emery CASA Director of Communications Three-time Recipient of RARB "Post of the Year" Title

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Postby RnBMrE » Thu Nov 02, 2006 7:54 am

Dave Sperandio asked me to submit this post, as well...

"I just wanted to congratulate Rhythm & Blue on what I felt was a very positive step forward with their latest CD.

They came to me after already having tracked about 85% of the CD on their own (which Matt mentioned), and though they had made some technical boo-boos early on, I was thrilled at the raw emotion and just plain FUN that came through loud and clear in their tracks, and felt lucky to work with them on completing their project.

When we worked on "Such Great Heights", I was having some tough times in my personal life, and mixing that song was better than any therapy money can buy! I quite literally forgot what I was doing for the 4ish hours I spent editing and mixing it...and I can't tell you the last time that's happened. I was totally lost in their sincerity and their obvious synergy as a group. There's just something about the mixed group dynamic that you don't find in same-sex groups, and it translates well in their music, often times. Bottom line, I had a lot of FUN mixing that track. And even some of the other tracks I didn't initially work on, that I was asked to do a "90 minute power-remix" on, (Scientist, Up The Ladder, etc) were beautiful in their own right.

I'd like to encourage people to take a listen to some of the gems on this CD - "Over the Rainbow" is simply lovely, and the original "How Many Times" could easily be on the radio (heck I have considered covering it myself) - more groups need to write originals like this! Drop Matt a line and I'm sure he'd be happy to share a track or two with you.

Anyway, just my .02 - I think the reviewers were spot on, and the group will (and already has) learned from, and will grow from, "With The Windows Down".

Dave

http://www.diovoce.net
http://www.sojam.net
http://www.allforacappella.org
http://www.transit-music.com
http://www.recordosaur.us "

Matt Emery CASA Director of Communications Three-time Recipient of RARB "Post of the Year" Title

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Postby jthelegend » Thu Nov 02, 2006 11:13 am

i haven't gotten a chance to listen to the album yet (i checked out some clippage online tho), but i'd like to say that upon reading yours and dave's comments it makes me want to purchase this album more and more. i'm not going to quote your post entirely matt as that doesn't do any good at all [since ppl can quite easily scroll up and read it], however i will say that the sincerity and understand expressed in your post shows everything that collegiate a cappella is all about. it's about growth and learning and love. as long as you love what you do and learn how to do what you do better, then you are living the dream of every collegiate a cappella singer. i look forward to hearing this release (and the stuff you're working on right now) and i wish you and your group nothing but the best in your future endeavors...be they either boca, sing, iccas, live concerts, or road shows.
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Postby RnBMrE » Fri Nov 03, 2006 1:31 pm

James, thanks for your kind comments! Yeah, I'm excited about things to come for sure. And if you're interested in purchasing a copy of the CD, you can order through our website or just email me. Let me know.

I wanted to address one point of contention that I had with the reviews.

Elie Landau wrote:Certainly my expectations were high, what with an experienced group (co-founded by RARB's own Rebecca Christie no less), from the a cappella power nexus that is North Carolina, a track list that looked most appealing, and studio work by Dave Sperandio. Given that pedigree, then, "mixed bag" is really something of a disappointment.


I am quoting Elie's because the above quote seems to stab at the heart of the disappointment I'm about to express. Sure, those things he mentioned would lead to high expectations. But in reading the three reviews, I got the sense that the reviewers, regardless of what they said, did not mention (or possibly even look at) the review of our last CD... or listen to tracks/samples (available on our website) from it. Reviewers, I'm curious... am I correct in my speculation?

The reason that this frustrates me is that it does not provide a reference point to us as a group. Did we do better? If so, what is more appealing? What do we still need to fix? Sure, we can infer a lot of these things, but it would have been good to have our reviewers specifically address this CD in the context of our last one. After all, there are 8 RnB members who appear on both CDs!

Some areas where I feel we improved were: overall recording quality, overall production/mixing quality, MUCH better CD design and liner notes, more expanded repertoire, more dynamic and energetic group sound. (To me, each of these were VAST improvements, too.)

Some problems that were still present: tuning and blend issues, perhaps others?

I was surprised because in most of the reviews I read, this "How did they compare to their last CD?" context is provided and plays strongly into the review. So, getting back to Elie's quote, I guess I expected something to the effect of "Coming off the heels of their last album, Adios, Kansas, with a more appealing tracklist and studio work from Dave Sperandio, I was hoping to hear some improvements in this new recording from Rhythm & Blue." Something like that.

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All things considered, I think the reviews are fair and accurate overall. I am just disappointed that the improvements from our last CD were not noted! Am I wrong to ask that?

Matt Emery CASA Director of Communications Three-time Recipient of RARB "Post of the Year" Title

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Postby ELandau » Fri Nov 03, 2006 2:14 pm

I appreciate what you were hoping for in the review but sadly, although I believe RARB tries to assign at least one reviewer who has reviewed a group's prior CD, that wasn't possibly in this case as none of the reviewers of "Adios, Kansas" are still reviewing for RARB. So yes, that sort of context that you are seeking does end up in a lot of reviews, but by chance, in this particular instance, it was not available.

Speaking solely for myself, I included all of the context you quoted to make it clear how and why my expectations for the CD were formed. Had I been familiar with the group's prior work, I would of course have brought that to bear, but I disagree that it was incumbent on us to listen to the samples on the website or to form our opinions on the group's development based on the prior reviews. As it happens, I tend to do a bit of background research on the groups whose work I review, but ultimately, it's a review of the CD itself, written for a potential listener who may very likely have no more prior experience with the group than I did. While I agree that artistic context/development is helpful to the reader -- which is why RARB tries to provide it via at least one reviewer, and why I try to provide it in my reviews if I have it -- I think it would be potentially irresponsible of us to use the 4 website samples that are posted from the last album and the opinions of other people (commenting on material we haven't heard) as the basis for our thoughts on the current work. And indeed, had I done so in this instance, the result might actually have been a more negative review rather than a more positive one -- reinforcing the negatives rather than accentuating the positives.

Just my $0.02. Glad you appreciated the review.

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Postby Tom C » Fri Nov 03, 2006 10:45 pm

Basically I agree with Elie. If I have heard a group's work in the past, I'll probably use it as a reference point as to how the sound has gotten better or worse. However, never having listened to any of the group's previous stuff other than in passing, I didn't feel qualified to give any judgment in this case. I often read past reviews but if I never actually heard the CD in question, it is not very helpful as each person approaches the review with his/her own set of ears. I hope this makes sense.

I would also be happy to personally give you some more specifics if that's the kind of feedback you want. You can send me a copy of any of your past CDs and I would be happy to gander a listen.
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Postby RnBMrE » Sat Nov 04, 2006 8:55 am

Tom and Elie, thanks for your quick resposnes!

Elie Landau wrote:I think it would be potentially irresponsible of us to use the 4 website samples that are posted from the last album and the opinions of other people (commenting on material we haven't heard) as the basis for our thoughts on the current work.


Yes, this is completely reasonable, looking at it from your side. Helps me to see more of where you guys were coming from, too.

Elie and Tom (and Kimmie), I will say that with the contention I mentioned above, the main point was not to express a beef that I have with you guys. I believe that the post may have come across that way, and I apologize if it did. After all, your scores DO reflect our improvement.

What I really wanted to emphasize was the fact that we value the RARB's reviews and have taken to heart what was said in the previous reviews (myself, in particular... and to a great extent). We feel as though many of the "Adios" problems mentioned specifically in our RARB review were addressed and rectified by our latest CD.

Elie Landau wrote:ultimately, it's a review of the CD itself, written for a potential listener who may very likely have no more prior experience with the group than I did


So while this quote is all true, it's important for the community to know (whether by reading the review or perusing these forums or checking out our website) that we are listening to you guys and improving as a group, too!

Tom Czerwinski wrote:I would also be happy to personally give you some more specifics if that's the kind of feedback you want. You can send me a copy of any of your past CDs and I would be happy to gander a listen.


And that's why you guys rock. :-) I will probably take you up on that offer! Would you email me your address?

Matt Emery CASA Director of Communications Three-time Recipient of RARB "Post of the Year" Title

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Postby uscpossum » Sat Nov 04, 2006 10:23 am

Hi Matt! Just wanted to let you know that I've been following along with this post. I'd be happy to listen to previous material, too. I can also give you more specific feedback/advice based on what I'm hearing on With the Windows Down. Shoot me an email if you're interested - kimmie at rarb dot org.
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