Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
As an independent music critic, I get a sea of lackluster music across my desk on a daily basis that’s either pretentious, overproduced, or both. It’s not often I come across an act that exudes pure authenticity, prowess, and passion, an act where the love of the craft is clearly the foremost inspiration for the music. That is the case, however, with ‘Nu Wop Doo Wop, Vol. 1,’ a collection of nine songs featuring a bevy of remarkably talented performers.
This LP was released under the name The O Sound All Stars, a group that consists of Baba Adetobi, Mike Harris, Regi Beverly, Humble G, Blacknile, and Romeo Maxwell. All of them are multifaceted talents, offering not only their voices to the project, but their talent as songwriters, musicians, music directors, and more. Their sound couldn’t have come together, though, without Doug Dostal, the owner of O Sound Studios in Cleveland.
Dostal, who recently passed away, was a staple of the independent music community in Cleveland. He fostered talent and acted as a mentor for many of the rising musicians in the area. His “All Stars” are in fine form on this first volume of contemporary doo wop songs, as each song is an original composition jam-packed with a variety of genre influences. The sound is certainly doo wop influenced, but there’s so much more at play, too.
‘I Love Music,’ the introduction to the album, showcases The O Sound All Stars elegantly with pitch perfect harmonies chock-full of soul and R&B influence. Humble G is spotlighted on the opening track as a hip hop artist, too, which adds further flavor to this wonderful sonic concoction. You can tell ‘I Love Music’ was recorded for the love of the art.
When you listen to tunes like ‘Crazy Baby,’ you can’t help but think about the musical lineage of this doo wop. Though many people may not know this, Cleveland was a fairly large hub for doo wop and soul music. Acts like the Mills Brothers and The Valentinos rose out of that scene in the 1950s and 60s, and later on the city was a mecca for funk music, too. ‘Crazy Baby,’ a funky tune centered around a vocal harmony, is right in line with that musical history.
Classic doo wop influence is most immediately noticeable on ‘Academy,’ a quirky coming of age ballad about one’s school days. Uniquely, the tune is performed to a blues riff, too, which makes it even more fascinating. ‘Academy’ sounds midwestern through and through, as if it could have also arisen out of the Chicago scene. The suave ‘I Love You’ is a superb follow-up as well, a tune that takes full advantage of the vocal range of the All Stars.
One of the strongest facets of ‘Nu Wop Doo Wop, Vol. 1’ is its versatility as an album. It genre hops frequently, but remains cohesive and compelling through each of those leaps. ‘Second Chance,’ for example, is an R&B track completely unlike ‘Academy’ or ‘I Love You.’ It’s done with such conviction, though, that it aligns thematically with the rest of the songs perfectly. The same can be said for ‘I’ll Make You Happy,’ another R&B-infused tune that’s exquisitely accented by a fantastic percussion beat and sporadic nylon guitar.
‘Where Are You’ is one of the finest tracks of the nine due to its inherent chemistry. The performers are perfectly in step with one another and the vocal performances are breathtakingly good. I’d go as far to argue that ‘Where Are You’ houses some of the best vocals I’ve heard in the independent scene thus far this year. The songwriting is sharp, too, and infectiously memorable.
If there is a weak link on ‘Nu Wop Doo Wop, Vol. 1,’ it’s likely ‘She Don’t Even Know.’ It’s not necessarily a bad song, but it lacks some of the personality and intensity of its counterparts. It’s another R&B number, one that’s a bit too R. Kelly for its own good. It’s so slick that it actually lacks some of the emotional depth of songs like ‘Where Are You.’ This is very quickly rebounded by the phenomenal, retro-tinged ‘I’m Just Lovin’ Me,’ a fantastic doo wop tune that even incorporates a fantastic brass section.
By and large, this is one of the best records the independent music community has released in the last six months. It’s completely uninhibited by pretense. It’s for the love of the music, and there’s no a moment in this collection of songs that isn’t very obvious. As an entry in each of these performer’s catalogs, it should be a proud flag planted in the ground. As a swansong for Doug Dostal, it’s a work to be proud of, and a memory worth preserving.