Forte Femme is a new professional a cappella group out of Nashville, featuring eight women and one man. They threw their hat in the aca holiday ring with their debut EP, A Very Forte Femme Holiday. The album was mixed and engineered by Mark McLemore and mastered by Dave Sperandio of Vocal Mastering.
For me, this album was the tale of two sides of the same coin. Forte Femme boasts a wealth of pure vocal talent and spotlights more than its share of star soloists. Moreover, it’s a bit of a departure from contemporary a cappella trends, focused more on vocal harmony than using the human voice to recreate or reimagine instrumentation, which really gives the individual singers ample opportunities to shine. On top of all of that, the recording is masterfully polished—clean, smooth, and nicely balanced. On the flip side of that coin, all of those soaring vocals can miss the mark when it comes to warmth or sincerity, erring on the overly flashy side of song.
Unfortunately, those flashy bits threaten to define the album in the early going, with a rendition of “Silver Bells” that feels showy in all the wrong places, shortly followed by a take on “The Christmas Song” that feels oddly sensual and whitewashed before it finds its footing with some slick vocal percussion, and builds to a much more interesting, borderline epic finish.
It’s that sort of textured, inventive finish that characterizes the best work of the album—not just, “The Christmas Song,” but a modernized interpretation of “O Come O Come Emmanuel” that samples “Carol of the Bells” in the background, and a stripped down take on “Deck the Halls,” in which claps keep the beat and the song builds organically to a full finish, including lines from “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
“Jingle Bells” is another bright spot, slowed down and recapturing some of the forgotten original spirit of the song, as a mischievous, borderline risqué song about a young couple escaping for a sleigh ride. Moreover, the group opted to incorporate the little-used second verse of the song about one of the horses slipping into a snowbank and capsizing the sled.
The most unexpected pleasure of the album, though, comes with the EP’s final track—when the group looks past the twenty-fifth of the month, ahead to New Year’s with a mashup of “Auld Lang Syne” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.” This track is musically slick and takes full advantage of both the group’s flair for the dramatic and sensual aesthetic—a perfect mix of innocence and conscious seduction, all framed around New Year’s Eve. It’s an excellent capper in which the group features two under-exposed songs and weaves them together in creative ways.
I didn’t love every track of A Very Forte Femme Holiday, but the talent of the singers involved is undeniable. They do a nice job putting together unlikely song pairings, and the New Year’s finisher is worth going out of your way to hear.