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CD Review: Slammin All-Body Band

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As much as I'm into the endless pleasures that the human voice has to offer, acapella music has never done a whole lot for me. Friends have made their attempts at swaying me with records by The Bobs, The Nylons, and The Manhattan Transfer. Nope. Not gonna happen.

It's tough to place exactly what the problem is. Maybe it's just that it all seems too earnest or something. For what it's worth, I get the same reaction when exposed to show tunes. Not good.

Disclaimer: there are a few acapella-ish records in my collection. Bobby McFerrin may have annoyed the bejeebers out of everybody with "Don't Worry Be Happy," but before that came Spontaneous Inventions, an amazing recording of a completely improvised show. McFerrin also put out a couple of great records with both Chick Corea (Play) and Yo-Yo Ma (Hush). On the more out end of vocal recordings are the Bulgarian folk ensemble Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares and Bjork's Medulla. Not acapella in the strictest sense but nonetheless, celebrations of voice.

So in all honesty, I was expecting to be placing Slammin All-Body Band on my "Uhm… No, Thank You" shelf. Instead, I was sort of blown away by the music and my reaction to it.

The opening track showcases why this collective is so different. The key might be the beatboxing of Steve Hogan. On "Overjoyed" (yes, the Stevie Wonder tune) Hogan vocalizes brushes that are so realistic I quickly forgot that no physical instruments were involved.

There are many similar moments on this record when the individual talents push the concept far beyond voice—the "synthesizers" on the gorgeously harmonized "Pressure Drop," "Body Music: Slammed" (a slow-building percussion/groove piece), an inspired version of "Freedom Jazz Dance," a slinky cover of Miles Davis' "All Blues," and a nice take on Sly & the Family Stone's "Thank You" that morphs into a brilliant "What Is Hip" (my personal favorite Tower of Power song).

The Slammin All-Body Band is comprised of body musician (if that term is confusing, give a listen to "Body Music: Slammed") Keith Terry, the bass voice of Bryan Dyer, human beatboxer Steve Hogan, and vocalists Kenny Washington, Zoe Ellis, and Destani Wolf. If ever there was a case of the sum annihilating the parts, this is one. So much talent here, both raw (check out the Destani Wolf vehicle "Where I Know My Name" and the gospel explosion of "Can't Get It Right," featuring Zoe Ellis) and imaginative (Keith Terry and Steve Hogan's "Gateway to Freedom").

For as much as I don't like to pit one song against another, I've got to select the cover of Outkast's "The Way You Move" as coming out on top. It's an example of the transformative power this band is capable of. Beginning with a Hogan percussion intro, group members slowly cast in until full-on Hip-Hop Zen is achieved. Destani Wolf's vocal "scratching" truly needs to be heard to be believed.

This album may not cause me to revisit all of those dreaded acapella records of yore, but at the very least my eyes and ears have been opened to yet more possibilities. I've got to admit that there's a whole lot more going on in this genre than I knew. Time for some investigations.

I may have experienced an acapella epiphany. Sort of.

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About Mark Saleski