Naturally 7 - Both Sides Now (2018)

Naturally 7
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Naturally 7 - Both Sides Now

Naturally 7 is technically an a cappella group. However, listening to some of their most memorable performances – both live and in the studio – is to be struck with the realization that you are hearing drums, bass, guitars and keyboards. How can this be true? Well, the voice is an instrument and Naturally 7’s members each are able to use their voices to replicate the sound of horns, guitars, drums, keyboards and the bass. They call this technique ‘vocal play’ and it distinguishes the group from better known a cappella groups such as Take 6, Straight No Chaser and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Naturally 7 - Both Sides Now

Naturally 7 is technically an a cappella group. However, listening to some of their most memorable performances – both live and in the studio – is to be struck with the realization that you are hearing drums, bass, guitars and keyboards. How can this be true? Well, the voice is an instrument and Naturally 7’s members each are able to use their voices to replicate the sound of horns, guitars, drums, keyboards and the bass. They call this technique ‘vocal play’ and it distinguishes the group from better known a cappella groups such as Take 6, Straight No Chaser and Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Naturally 7’s most memorable performances have come in the form of their takes on popular rock and R&B tunes, such as their rendition of Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight.” Their appeal comes both from their ability to balance their tight harmonies with and powerful individual vocals, their spot-on replication of instruments and the energy that comes through each performance – especially on up-tempo tracks.

Both Sides Now, Naturally 7s upcoming album, is both reminiscent of the group’s six previous studio albums and it is also distinct. First, let’s examine the way that Both Sides Now sets itself apart: Most of tracks on Both Sides Now are slower paced and feature hymns such as “Jerusalem” and interpretations of classical number such as such as Anton Dvorak’s “Going Home.” This shifts the focus onto the precision of the group’s harmonies and the range of their solo vocalists, such as on their take on “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

The vocal play is presence on each track, but it is often more nuanced and balanced with the group’s razor sharp and powerful harmonies that give Naturally 7 the feel and sound of a much larger vocal group. That is the case on the title track, which is a cover of the Joni Mitchell’s classic.

The presence of an actual instrument – in this case the cello of Pentatonix’s Kevin Olusola on the Naturally 7 original “Caught in the Moment” – stands as another point of departure from past records. The track begins with Naturally 7 operating mainly as an acapella group – no vocal play – as a contrast to the Olusola’s cello playing before the cellist is joined by drums, bass and ‘voice.’

“Caught in the Moment” is actually one of the stronger tracks on “Both Sides Now” in part due to the energy the group gets from Olusola’s presence. Another high point is “Prince Igor (Here Comes A) Pretty One.” The track is Naturally 7 at its best, from the angelic vocalize harmonies that open the track to the fusion of operatic singing and hip-hop infused vocal play.

Listeners cannot help but be impressed by the technical skill that these seven men display as they switch from vocalists to instrumentalists. However, there does seem to be a missing element on Both Sides Now, and that is the energy and sheer joy that comes when Naturally 7 goes full funk or rock band on us. This project could have benefited from some of that, but it nonetheless stands as a testament to an amazing vocal group that has all the goods.

By Howard Dukes

 

 

 
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