Many of you may remember Hanover, New Hampshire-centralized college a cappella group the Dartmouth Aires and lead vocalist Michael Odokara-Okigbo from the third season of the recently-resurrected “Sing-Off” on NBC. The group had made an early lasting impression on “Sing-Off” judges Ben Folds, Shawn Stockman, and Sara Bareilles and American audiences alike with their clever arrangements, fun performance style, boyish charm, and to top it all off, Michael’s undeniably fantastic vocals and showmanship. He was notable for bringing that extra “oomph” to the Aires’ performances throughout the season, rounding out such undeniable moments of theirs as their Queen medley and The Isley Brothers’ “Shout”. Needless to say, amongst fans of the popular televised competition, the release of Odokara-Okigbo’s studio debut EP in the form of “In the Beginning…” can be counted as something extremely exciting to look forward to, but will it meet their expectations?
Upon first listen, it is completely obvious that Odokara-Okigbo, under the catchy moniker Michael O., has written and co-produced a work of art that is decidedly extremely different from the music that he had performed with the Aires, which might make some fans of his performances on “The Sing-Off” a bit nervous. However, by the halfway mark of the EP’s first track, “Invincible”, it is clear that this change can be ushered in with open arms. At times, the extended play exudes a particular class and sophistication similar to the works of established modern R&B and pop icons as Mayer Hawthorne, James Blake, and even blanc., with influences drawn across other genres as hip-hop, throwback soul, and even a tad bit of a cappella as well. With all of these notable sounds and influences coming together, one might imagine it to be one big mess, yet somehow, Michael O. exudes the same type of professionalism and clever musicianship he was known for on “The Sing-Off” stage in his recordings, just in a different, yet just as enjoyable flavor that works immensely well in the studio. It is made obvious through “In the Beginning…” that Odokara-Okigbo’s recording career may have just begun, but it deserves to last for a very, very long time.
For a first time especially, “In the Beginning…” is extremely impressive for a variety of reasons. “Take You Home” starts in a Gotye-like place, and ends in a combination between what something he, Usher, Timbaland, and the aforementioned Hawthorne and Blake would produce if they were all placed inside of the same building. Vocally, he proves that there is more to his register than what “Sing-Off” fans are used to. While there are notable moments where he delivers a powerhouse note or two harking back to his days with the Aires, he proves himself here as a viable artist. Amongst those signature power notes lies a symphony of other impressive vocal techniques that make for an extremely impressive palette for the ears to behold. From a soulful and smoky high croon to a rich and full mid-range and to the aforementioned impressive power that “Sing-Off” fans are used to hearing from him, Michael O. demonstrates through his EP that he is an “everyman vocalist”, in that he can simply do it all. There is a genuine emotion and personality behind the delivery which that technically brilliant voice brings in every song, too, which sets him apart from other aspiring vocalists as a real artist.
The raw emotion which Michael O. is able to convey through his music is especially evident in the appropriately named heart-breaker, “Breakdown”. The two tracks which it follows, “Ooooooh Baby” and “Start With Tonight”, are some of the most impressive tracks on the EP, providing listeners with something that is undeniably smooth, fresh and “Michael O.”, also taking into account all of the before-mentioned potential influences, all while “taking them back” to the era of such legends of the industry as Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, and the Bee Gees. There’s even something undeniably jazzy in portions of the vocal delivery in “Start With Tonight” that is immensely impressive. Think Amy Winehouse, only Michael O. Finally, the EP wraps itself up fiercely with “Champion Love”.
“In the Beginning…” will release on iTunes for $2.99 with part of the purchase proceeds going to the Mugadi Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that provides education in the Global South. You can follow Michael O. following up to the big release and beyond through his official website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
All in all, “In the Beginning…” serves its purpose in providing a six-track masterpiece listening experience that will get current fans of the notable Aires vocalist out of their seats dancing and will gather a whole new slew of fans for the aspiring artist, as well. It is evident that there is much more to Michael O. as an artist than his current reputation as a college a cappella star gives him credit for. It will be interesting seeing his career flourish in the future, as he wholeheartedly deserves to go as high as he can go.