This isn’t the Olympics…
If the name Bela Karoli sounds familiar, it isn’t. This all-female Colorado trio has commandeered the name of Bela Karolyi, the Olympic gymnastics coach, to create instant name recognition. However, to the listener’s dismay, it only takes a few notes to realize that this is not the Bela Karoli they vaguely remember. Double bass by Julie Davis, accordion by Brigid McAuliffe and violin by Carrie Beeder, Furnished Rooms, Bela Karoli’s first album, manages to create a unique, eclectic, jazzy sound with hints of electronica. Instruments as diverse as cello, electronic drum tracks and glockenspiel fill in on various tracks as needed.
The band’s downfall rests in the shared vocal duties of Davis and McAuliffe. Although their voices have similarities in tone, pitch and texture to Fiona Apple or Beth Gibbons, Bela Karoli sounds more like groggy, half-asleep versions. In tune? Sure. Intelligible? Sometimes. Lively? Never.
With their obvious classical training, it’s surprising that the ladies of Bela Karoli have allowed the vocal work to be so lacking in color and dynamics. The result is sleepy, mumbled renditions of such standards as “Summertime” and “Old Man River.” The song “Some Things That Fly There Be” has lyrics from an Emily Dickinson poem and “Preludesâ€šÃ„Ã¹ from a T.S. Eliot poem. Yet because of poor diction skills in the vocal, the beauty of the words becomes irrelevant. One song sounds like the next with very little distinction in style, emotion or volume.
Wake up, Bela Karoli! Open your mouths! Put some emotion into your voices, because without it this is one long, boring, meaningless listen.