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Together Review

by Jon O'Brien

Just like the success of Russell Watson spawned a never-ending supply of working-class twenty-something tenors, and Katherine Jenkins a multitude of glamorous young sopranos, Simon Cowell's excursion into the classical crossover world, Il Divo, have been responsible for a wave of attractive, exquisitely suited all-male vocal groups that look more like fresh-faced boy bands than acts capable of nailing the kind of arias and standards usually associated with opera singers old enough to be their grandfathers. Joining X Factor runners-up G4, musical theater group Teatro, and brother duo RyanDan on the increasing pile of acts aiming to make classical music accessible to a younger audience are London-based Blake, four classically trained musicians who formed over Facebook back in 2007. Striking while the proverbial iron's hot, Together is their third studio album in as many years, but their first featuring new member Humphrey Berney, aka Barney, following the departure of Dominic Tighe, who left to focus on his acting career. However, the change in personnel hasn't really resulted in a change in musical direction, as its 13 tracks offer the same mixture of operatic pieces ("Ave Maria"), film and show tunes (the Deer Hunter theme "She Was Beautiful [Cavatina]"), and pop classics (Johnny Mathis' "When a Child Is Born") as its two predecessors. While there are occasional surprising touches, such as the neo-classical synths on their stirring rendition of Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" and a rare venture into rock territory on a Celtic orchestral reworking of U2's iconic "With or Without You," the majority of Together has all been done before. Blake are undeniably gifted singers, with their powerful and emotive four-part harmonies a real testament to their music-school background, but even the most distinctive of voices would have trouble trying to bring anything new to ubiquitous pieces like "Nessun Dorma," "Abide with Me" and Les Misérables centerpiece "Bring Him Home." Only the Josh Groban-esque "Unsung Hero," a duet with Caroline Redman Lusher and the album's sole original composition, sets it apart from their self-titled debut, whose producer, Nick Patrick, perhaps unwisely returns here to oversee the rather gloopy and syrupy arrangements by the City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Three albums into their career, Blake should at least be making an effort to put their own stamp on the genre, and as competent as Together is, its failure to take any risks means it's highly likely it will get lost in the increasingly busy classical pop crowd.

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