Arts Desk

The Sing-Off: Afro-Blue Stumbles, But Makes It Through


Afro-Blue heard a familiar criticism on last night's installment of The Sing-Off.

"Really ambitious arrangements," Shawn Stockman noted of their performance, a medley of three Janet Jackson hits for Superstar Week. "Sometimes you guys might overthink some parts of the arrangements, where it may not really need any of that stuff you're most known for."

Sara Bareilles agreed. "This was maybe too ambitious," she said. "It wasn't that you guys weren't delivering what you chose to deliver; [but] I got lost in there in the middle."

It didn't start out that way. They put an appealingly streamlined (and largely faithful) spin on "What Have You Done for Me Lately," giving a basic backing to a duet between Mariah Maxwell and Devin Robinson. It was at the bridge, when Christie Dashiell took over the lead, that the heavy elaboration began.

The bridge was actually a transition into "When I Think of You," which Dashiell brought in with an expert bit of scat before Danielle Withers led it into a denser, multipart harmony. Again, the arrangement was pretty faithful to the 1986 Jackson record—but the original had very thin accompaniment, designed to provide a bare-bones backdrop to Jackson's voice. This one was much thicker and showier, with a two-part bass section (Reggie Bowens and Trenton Cokley).

"Miss You Much" upped the ante: Though Eliza Berkon was an excellent lead and Bowens shined with a bass part resembling a funky upright, it was too heavy. This is a song whose spare R&B backing makes "When I Think of You" look downright orchestral. More to the point, it's a song with (except for its short bridge) a very slight harmonic contour. Minimalism, in other words, which Afro-Blue completely cast aside for complicated, interlocked harmony. "That was a radical arrangement," acknowledged Ben Folds, who nonetheless was the most generous of the judges.

It was unusually pressing criticism for a week that was unusually strong in performances—in particular, the otherwise humdrum Dartmouth Aires absolutely crushed a tribute to Queen. In the final analysis, Berkon looked genuinely stunned when Afro-Blue were saved from the bottom two. Instead, the University of Rochester's YellowJackets joined longtime favorites Urban Method at the bottom. (In their Rihanna medley, Urban Method went too far in countering last week's criticisms that they underused the female members—putting the women out front and sacrificing the vocal counterpoint that's been their real strength.) The YellowJackets were sent packing, meaning my final bracket is safe—for now.

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  • humusician191

    Hiya. Just want to let you know, Mariah's last name is Maxwell, not Wilkins.