The best thing about solo vocals is that the scope for ‘wanking’ is relatively less. It’s the human voice, after all. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to make a vocal only album. But I suppose that had to be done once, just to set the ball rolling, don’t you think? We’ve had all the classics on solo piano, violin and cello (I’ll probably be doing Yo-Yo Ma soon), we’ve had a lot of solo guitar albums (the guitar players won’t let anyone forget) and lately a bunch of solo bass albums (which- apart from the top drawer stuff by Victor Wooten- everyone would rather forget). Vocal albums are the logical final step. What else could there be? Solo Drums?
Anyway, this album is done from a bunch of recordings made from live shows done by McFerrin in Germany. The challenge, as with any solo instrument recording, is to not make one sound seem dull and repetitive. Mcferrin does a bloody grand job with his voice, simultaneously doing basslines, vocal melodies, harmonica sounds (‘The Jump’), various animal noises and percussive noises by thumping on his chest. That is just badass.
“I Feel Good” is freaking amazing. McFerrin takes the James Brown original and somehow manages to maintain the funkiness despite only using his voice. The octave switching is, as expected, godsmacking. And between 1.25 and 1.40, he makes his voice sound like its something coming out of an electronic filter. AMAZING. The insanity is reserved for the three track medley titled “Medley: Donna Lee | Big Top | We’re in the Money”. Listen to it and feel poo coming out in sheer amazement. The incredibleness continues with the playfully flirtatious “I’m alone”, and let’s not forget, “Blackbird”, which is probably the best track here.
It’s not a perfect record, though. “El Brujo” is very sparse, even by the standards of a solo voice album. The harmonica-meets-Usher voice gets annoying on that one occasion. The crowd doing that vague chorus thing is helpful, but it stands head and shoulders below the other tracks on this album. There are other vacuous cuts, like “I Am My Own Walkman” which sounds like McFerrin doing his best Jay-Z impression. And- I know I’ll get crucified for this- I sometimes think he could do still more with his voice. Not in terms of the crazy notes and the rhythms and the soulfulness, but in terms of occasionally taking a less trained and harsher approach to his vocals. His voice is beautiful, but then I’d like a bit more raw power to complement the Pavarotti, you know? I think thrashing about and breaking stuff is as legitimate an artistic expression as coming up with The Adoration of the Magi. To cut a long story short, I miss the Hendrix that might lurk under the fastidious pitch control of McFerrin as he is.
This is just badass.
Even so, this does not detract from the fact that this is a singularly incredible achievement, not in the least because its so perfect in terms of pitch control and timing. Then there is the fact that McFerrin- despite his astounding virtuosity-remains incredibly soulful. Other big range singers are just…..conceited.
All criticisms aside, the fact is, this sounds right.
More McFerrin stuff HERE.
More JAZZ/JAZZ FUSION stuff HERE.
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