a great debut that holds up under comparisons

Plugged In(Benson)
Straight Company

By Victoria Moon

When I mentioned at dinner that I would be reviewing the new project Plugged InBy the group Straight Company, one of my dinner guests piped up "Hey! That's that really cool a cappella group from around here, right?" Right -- sorta. Actually, "really cool" doesn't even begin to describe this five-member vocal group's brand of smooth harmonies and top-notch vocals on their debut release from Benson Records. Plugged In is a mix of R&B, soul, do-wop and straight-up gospel, and Straight Company does full justice to it all.

Admittedly, I was a bit prejudiced from the first cut, "One Step," because the lead vocals reminded me of the amazing vocals of the late, great Vince Ebo, one of my favorite vocalists. In fact, this CD had me drawing comparisons to other greats such as Anointed, Bebe and CeCe Winans and Take 6 -- pretty good company for anyone.

Ballads such as "Nice To Know" and "Feel His Love" were as emotional and solid as anything by BeBe and CeCe, and "Come Together" smacked of silky, Anointed-like harmonies. Their cover of "Respect Yourself" had me singing along loudly enough to embarrass my cats -- and myself.

Plugged In surprised me with its production as well, utilizing the talents of Bill Beaumgart and former Straight Company member Jesse Murrah for producing and songwriting. Rick Elias turned up on this album, too -- as rhythm/keyboard arranger and songwriter. (Seems like Rick is turning up everywhere these days, and I'm a happier woman for it.)

Perhaps this group's strongest point, though, is their a capella sound, and they give their listeners a generous helping on this album. "Imagine," "Didn't It Rain," "Found A Friend" and "Greater Love" all showcase the vocals-only sound that has made this group so well known. I especially liked the '50s do-wop sound of "Restore," a great cut that brought to mind the early "street sounds" of rock from Philadelphia and Motown and had me wishing I could see these guys (and Vette, responsible for those CeCe-like vocals) performing the song live.

The bottom line is this: If Plugged In is any promise of Straight Company's abilities, we are in for a long, sweet, "really cool" gospel ride.