Naturally 7 - Hidden In Plain Sight: Vox Maximus, Vol. 1 (2015)

Naturally 7
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The pure, unaccompanied voice is one of life’s most dynamic musical instruments. It can produce simple or complex harmonies, textured beats, wordless wonders, or emulate brass or guitars. Though a cappella was initially rooted in the early church, this art form continues to gain more ground in popularity and creative evolution. The art form is still producing several notable university and college ensembles since the late 19th century and professional talent who embrace various genres and enjoys national media attention through a cappella talent competitions like NBC’s The Sing-off. Whether it is the gospel/jazz phenomenon Take 6, the one-man a cappella army of Bobby McFerrin, or pop sensations like Straight No Chaser, the vocal boundaries of this art are being stretched in every which direction. Now joining this esteemed creative tradition is one of its latest torchbearers, Naturally 7.

The pure, unaccompanied voice is one of life’s most dynamic musical instruments. It can produce simple or complex harmonies, textured beats, wordless wonders, or emulate brass or guitars. Though a cappella was initially rooted in the early church, this art form continues to gain more ground in popularity and creative evolution. The art form is still producing several notable university and college ensembles since the late 19th century and professional talent who embrace various genres and enjoys national media attention through a cappella talent competitions like NBC’s The Sing-off. Whether it is the gospel/jazz phenomenon Take 6, the one-man a cappella army of Bobby McFerrin, or pop sensations like Straight No Chaser, the vocal boundaries of this art are being stretched in every which direction. Now joining this esteemed creative tradition is one of its latest torchbearers, Naturally 7.

Naturally 7 entered my listening radar while watching Quincy Jones’ 75th Birthday from Montreux, Switzerland on DVD. The New York-based group’s performance of “Wall of Sound” was a breathtaking a cappella experience. Their jaw-dropping tapestry captured Jones’ massive wall of sound from Michael Jackson’s ‘80s-era greatest hits, notably “Billie Jean,” all sans non-human instruments.

Besides Naturally 7’s connections to Jones for the DVD, several live festivals, and performing the title track with Ludacris on Jones’s Soul Bossa Nostra in 2010, Naturally 7 had also joined forces with one very popular jazz/pop crooner: Michael Bublé. But, theirs is not the story of an overnight sensation through the right connects. Naturally 7 initially carved out their niche by winning local talent shows. Formed by brothers Roger and Warren Thomas, the group honed a mind-boggling signature sound they called “vocal play,” a strict reliance on their seven voices to mimic several families of instruments to near perfection.  An example of their approach is best exemplified by Naturally 7’s soul-frosted version of Phil Collins’ “(Feel It) In the Air Tonight.” In 2006, the song charted in several European countries, three years after their first overseas hit, “Music is the Key (feat. Sarah O’Connor),” and proved that necessary door opener to Michael Bublé. Naturally 7’s in-demand vocal wares became a fixture on Bublé’s last three worldwide tours. These early hits and international exposure also helped lead to the fine work with Jones, several television appearances (Ellen, Arsenio), and three consecutive appearances at the esteemed Playboy Jazz Festival.  After releasing a number of import projects since 2000, the New York-based vocal band finally bows their first non-holiday U.S. debut for Hidden Beach (they released a Christmas album for the label, Christmas: A Love Story, in 2011) with Hidden in Plain Sight: Vox Maximus, Vol. 1, that is reportedly their biggest invested studio recording to-date. 

Hidden in Plain Sight: Vox Maximus, Vol. 1 covers all of Naturally 7’s vocal play bases by paying respect to several music heroes, covering one of the U.K.’s majestic pop bands’ greatest hits and offering their often entertaining brand of urban flavors stirred with other genres. The kickoff, “Keep the Customer Satisfied,” resonates with an R&B/Crunk attitude and Gregorian chants, complete with a sensual play on customer service: “Do you like what you see on the menu.” The same applies for “Rhapsody of The Queen,” a tragic scenario of a once respected queen trying to rediscover herself. “Put You Onto This” collides Naturally 7’s rich classical backgrounds with Boyz II Men’s suave feel. Switching gears in a big way, The Golden Gate Quartet, elder legends in the jubilee gospel tradition, receive their special due on “Take It (Golden Gates),” anchored by the foot-stomping gospel and blues swagger. Another winner is Naturally 7’s perspective of Coldplay’s 2005 platinum single, “Fix You,” (also covered by Straight No Chaser) a crisp, first-rate arrangement demonstrating the septet’s sweet melodic skills.

Despite the emphasis on their “vocal play” attributes, several samples are evident throughout Hidden in Plain Sight: Vol. 1, in some which complement Naturally 7’s maximus attack.  Their incorporation of The Art of Noise’s artsy techno soundtrack, “Moments (I’ve Been Loved),” clearly accentuates this heart-wrenching ballad.  In contrast, “Life Goes On,” trips over itself through the riffs of Wham’s “Everything She Wants,” while the hooks on “Bohemian Rhapsody,” overshadow Naturally 7’s very well meaning, hip-hop fueled props to Queen’s trademark bombastic rock. However, there is redemption to be found on one of several Hidden… highlights, including “Mahalia.” Their tribute delivers a riveting celebration of gospel pioneer Mahalia Jackson’s “Trouble of the World,” enhanced by N7’s fresh, funky orchestrations. 

It has been a long time coming for Naturally 7 to wax their pure a cappella fundamentals and articulate their “vocal play” for the U.S. market. With Volume 1 complete, the possibilities are endless for several more welcome volumes of Hidden in Plain Sight. Recommended.      

By Peggy Oliver

Click Here to Listen of "Hidden In Plain Sight: Vol. 1"

 
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