The SoLow Project of
The SoLow Project, Barry's first solo release,
Seven Spirituals for Two Basses
for The Muse's Muse November 28, 2005
Q. What does a 6’4” grizzly Bear record on his first solo CD?
A. ANYTHING HE DAMN WELL PLEASES!
And that is exactly what Barry Carl has done on his new release, The SoLow Project. With this effort, the former bassman for Rockapella with a higher testosterone level than should legally be allowed in humans and a voice deeper than the darkest pits of hell has definitively proven that he can do much more than, as he often put it, “stand in the back and go ‘moo’”.
Not that he had anything to prove. Carl is a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard School of Music —not as a voice major, but as a French horn major. From there he sang professional opera for a few years before joining Rockapella.
Rockapella diehards, be warned: You will find no “Sixty Minute Man” here. No “16 Tons”. No “Bored and Stroked”. And nothing that was composed in your lifetime. The Bear has returned to his neck of the woods, singing a much more classical repertoire than we’re accustomed to hearing.
The album is neatly divided into four sections. The first is a selection of Negro spirituals. The second is a collection of sea chanties arranged by Celius Dougherty. The third is a collection of songs by French composer Jacques Ibert written for the 1933 G.W. Pabst film “Don Quixote”. The fourth is a catchy collection of Modest Mussgorsky ditties entitled “Songs and Dances of Death”. Perfect for your next friendly gathering—not! (Unless of course your next gathering happens to be a funeral.)
The Bear album is also a bare album from an instrumental standpoint. On some of the tunes Carl is accompanied by only a piano, and on others he accompanies himself on bass guitar. Personally, I would have liked to have heard him sing the bass guitar part as a backup to his lead vocals on some of the tracks. (Yo Barry! It’s good to expand your creative horizons, but please don’t turn your back completely on your a cappella background! )
So…while it may not have a good beat and it may not be easy to dance to, I’m still going to give Barry Carl’s The SoLow Project a good rating. It is an impressive effort, and frankly I’m just relieved that he didn’t pull a Johnny Carson and disappear for all eternity after walking away from Rockapella. Nice work, Bear.
for Stereophile Magazine, March 2005
Wes Phillips, equipment reviewer for Stereophile Magazine, used The Solow Project to evaluate the $13,000 Conrad Johnson ACT2 preamp.
My old friend Barry Carl sent me his The SoLow Project (CD, Bare Ink Music) just as the ACT2 was starting to cook. Barry, a Juilliard-trained classical bass singer and french-horn player, is the former bass of Rockapella. He also plays electric bass guitar, with which he accompanies himself on Seven Spirituals for Two Basses on The SoLow Project. (Do the titles start to make sense now?)
On "Steal Away," the power of Carl's voice is cloaked in velvet. Once again, the ACT2 delivered the sense of power and restraint while also emphasizing the sheer size of Carl's instrument—his voice, I mean. (Barry's a big guy who plays a regular-sized bass.) That deep voice and the velvet burble of Carl's bass accompaniment contrast with the somewhat small acoustic of the BassMint StewJo, which I've never seen, but which sounds similar in size to my listening room (12' by 25' by 8.5'). There's not a lot of resonant support there, but it doesn't sound overly dry either. In fact, it sounds like a nice room to listen to music in—or to perform it in, for that matter. My point is that the ACT2 put me there, in a room quite distinct from my own, listening to basses electric and human. When the music is as compelling as Barry Carl's is, that's not a bad place to be.
The SoLow ProjectReviewed by Marshall Stack
for the Rock Land Journal, Nov. 2004
I drew this plum because I had the previous misfortune to interview Barry Carl after he quit working with that candyass singing group. My editor thinks that makes me some kind of freakin' authority on the guy. I told him straight out that he should get somebody else to review Carl's album, but he said 'You know the guy. It's your job.' Thanks, boss.
I want to say up front that I'm the wrong person to be reviewing this record. I'm a rock critic, and there's nothing rock about it. It is mostly classical music, which is something I know squat about. In fact, this record doesn't fall into any category I know of, unless commercial bombs is a category, in which case it's a five-star effort.
The thought that came to mind most frequently when listening to the aptly titled "SoLow Project" was 'what was this guy thinking?' True, Carl does have a freakishly low voice, and he makes some unique sounds, but you'd have to have a thing for that sort of sound to get off on this disk.
He kicks off his egocentric effort with a set of seven spirituals. Yeah, as in 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot' spirituals. In my phone conversation with him, Carl claimed that his earliest vocal influence was Paul Robeson, and ever since he could remember, he wanted to sing those particular songs. At least Carl had the sense to give them a non-traditional skew by arranging them in a semi-creative if somewhat austere manner, using only a fretless bass guitar for accompaniment. He does get around the instrument fairly well, if that really is him playing, and you'd better have a sturdy playback system for these songs, or your woofers will end up as smoking piles of garbage in your lap. If you play this thing loud, your walls will shake. That may be the one rock-like aspect of this CD - the low end is awesome. And I have to tip my hat to the guy because, unlike many records, the louder you play this one, the better it sounds.
Austere might be a good word for the Solow Project, since the whole thing follows the template of one voice and one instrument. All the other songs on the record are for voice and piano. Read that as no production. At all. The kind term for it, if I were feeling kind, would be retro. Acoustic recording went the way of reel-to-reel tape recorders and polyester leisure suits a long, long time ago, but this guy is living in the last century, or maybe the one before that.
According to Carl, he hung a pair of very expensive mikes in a room with a piano and made it sound like a recital recording, doing complete takes of songs instead of assembling perfect takes from different passes. He claims that his objective was to make a 'performance' recording, in which communication trumped perfection. After listening to this album, I believe it. I will give the guy this; he can sing. I also think he must love the sound of his own voice, since there's nothing on this hour-long recording to cover it up.
He told me that he thought there was something 'evocative' (his word) about using a piano that is over a hundred years old but recently rebuilt. "It doesn't have the harsh sound of a modern Steinway. In fact, it only has 85 keys" he said. "They didn't add the three top keys until after 1900." So what. Nobody but Jordan Rudess uses them anyway. I will say that it does sound less bangy than a new piano, if you care about pianos, which I don't.
The songs Carl chose for the rest of the compilation range from corny to obscure to morbid. Four sea chanties - geez, I haven't heard sea chanties since the last time I watched Sponge Bob. Ahoy there, mateys. Talk about retro, Carl even insists on using the arcane spelling for 'chanties'. I always thought it was 'shanties', and it is unless you're a dusty relic.
Four songs are in French, which I don't understand. These songs were originally written for a film score to a movie nobody's ever heard of. Carl, of course, bothered to view the movie, and says it is obscure for good reason. The last four songs are in Russian, which I also don't understand, and have the cheery title of 'Songs and Dances of Death'. Carl claims these are his favorite songs. No comment. He also says he'll have his own translations of the foreign language songs on his web site, in case anyone is curious what he's singing about and has the time to sit and read them. I think he's too stingy to put them in the liner notes. I wouldn't bother reading them anyway.
What I really don't understand is why he bothered to record this stuff in the first place. His old albums, the ones with the group, at least had some pop sensibility, sugary and overworked as it was. This stuff is for musicologists and geeks.
On the phone, he gave me some crap about how he felt compelled to make this record, and about how he initially thought he would make a pop record but this is what came out instead, like it was some sort of big oops or something. I mean, a self-produced record is what it is. What he put on it was up to him, so if it came out the way it did it's because he meant for it to. He made it sound like he woke up one day and listened to what he had done and thought 'gosh, that's not what I meant to do.' I don't think so. It all sounds pretty deliberate to me. It's confusing because he sounds sincere about it, but that is probably because he has one of those deep announcer voices that makes everything sound sincere even if it's a load of hooey.
I forced myself to listen to this disk all the way through, just to be fair and balanced. To be honest, I listened to it two or three times. The second time through, after I'd gotten over my initial 'what the -', I used my fave listening space, my car, which has the mac daddy sound system. That was a visceral experience, literally. I felt like somebody had rearranged my guts after three or four tunes. On my home system, which is also pretty hot, the listening experience was less gut-tossing, but Carl's voice has a sort of hypnotic quality to it, and I found myself listening in spite of myself.
The toughest thing about reviewing an album
like this one is that there's nothing to
compare it with. It's not like anything else
I can think of. It's a stand-alone piece
of work, quirky and self-indulgent, but if
you're a low voice freak, there's probably
something in it for you. I find myself spinning
a track now and then just to impress chicks
with my stereo, and make them think I'm sensitive
or some crap. It usually works.
Comments may be sent to
Last update: November 19, 2004
Created and maintained by Bob Parnes
Please send your comments to
All material on this site is not to be used
without prior written permission.
Copyright © 2001-4 Barry Carl. All rights reserved