The Vanderbilt Melodores are an all-male a Cappella group from Vanderbilt University. Their newest album, M, has just been released on iTunes and several other platforms. The album is a follow-up to their recent success in NBC’s The Sing Off–where they were crowned champions in the same singing competition that launched Pentatonix into worldwide fame. The album is an eclectic mix of different genres, artists and vocal styles that are nothing short of superb.
The album opens with a mash-up of the Backstreet Boys’ “Larger Than Life / Everybody” and initially presents itself as a standard, anthemic song that could be used as a concert-opener. The song slows the rhythm down for a while in the second half, replacing the hard melodies with a lighter, more soulful twist on the song. With the help of swift beat-boxing, it seamlessly phases back to the grittier style of the original and ends on a powerful note.
The next song is a cover of “Stay With Me” by Sam Smith. It’s a tender cover that stays true to the original, with no attempt by the vocalist to mirror Sam Smith’s voice, and rightly so. The background vocals are what carry the song through, forming the emotional grip that is distinctive of the song. The next song is another ballad, but on the other end of the genre spectrum. Their cover of “Colder Weather” by the Zac Brown Band is stripped down at first, with soloist Austin Lyons effortlessly delivering the song in its country style. His soaring range is then displayed at the bridge, where he sings, “And I love you but I leave you / I don’t want you but I need you / You know it’s you who calls me back here, baby.”
With all the recent covers of Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk” hitting the web lately, it’s easy to feel skeptical about this cover at first. However, in true Melodores style, the group has successfully managed to put their own unique stamp on a song that has been one of the most popular this year. Just when it appears to sound exactly like the original, the tempo slows down as they sing lines, “I’m too hot (hot damn) / Call the police and the fireman” with a bluesy take – complete with fine saxophone sounds in the background and loose runs.
The next song is another Sam Smith cover, with William Woodard as the soloist for “Latch.” The vocals are pristine and gentle, shining throughout the entire song. There were parts where the background emulated the electro-version of the song, complete with dubstep beat-boxing and bass lines, and other parts where they opted to use the acoustic arrangement of the song as a template. The arrangement integrated flawlessly, and is certainly one of their best.
Their cover of Maroon 5’s “Sunday Morning” is one of the more laid-back and easy-going tracks on the album, with consistently sound harmonies. It’s a fun and enjoyable take on a classic, with nothing particularly inventive, but still a solid cover nonetheless. The next track on the album is a mash-up of Michael Jackson and Chris Brown’s “PYT / Fine China” in a slick and stylish R&B cover. The background vocals echo the sounds of the instrumentals flawlessly, while soloist James McHugh delivers a solid performance with his smooth and controlled vocals.
Opting for another ballad, the next song is a cover of “I Will Follow You Into the Dark” by Death Cab For Cutie. Although it lacks the emotional intensity of their previous ballads, it’s a satisfactory a Cappella cover that unfortunately gains traction too close towards the end. Their cover of “Thinking Out Loud” by Ed Sheeran is everything that a love song needs to be – believable. The arrangement is sweet and simple, making use of more tenor voices to accompany the lead, who effortlessly moves from the lower ranges to the higher ones in the chorus.
Their cover of Hozier’s “Take Me To Church” was one of the songs they performed in NBC’s The Sing Off, but there are a few stark differences between the two versions. The studio version offers more time for the soloist, Dan McNiell, to indulge in quieter verses. Hence, the buildup towards the climax of each chorus becomes more powerful. Some of the rhythmic choices made, especially in the lines, “I’ll tell you my sin / You can sharpen your knife” work so well, perhaps making it even better than the original.
The album then closes with one last pop song, and it’s a cover of Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj and Jessie J’s “Bang Bang.” In another “Uptown Funk” situation, the group manages to spin a doo-wop vibe onto a mainstream radio hit, with soloists James McHugh and Jamal Marcelin showcasing their versatile vocal abilities in the midst of the dynamic sound displayed by the rest of the group.