album reviews

Cartoon Johnny
Power Up
Independent (2008)

Local vocal band Cartoon Johnny is certainly overdue for its first studio album. The group has been performing since 2002 and was the mid-Atlantic regional champion at the Harmony Sweepstakes in 2005 (a competition sort of like "American Idol" for a cappella groups but with results determined by judges). The long wait has paid off: "Power Up" is the work of a group at the top of its game, with the vocal power and precision that come from years of harmonizing together.

Like most a cappella groups, Cartoon Johnny performs its fair share of covers, but the sextet's choices steer far from the "Under the Boardwalk" scene. Instead, the songs play to their strengths: Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered" is such a full arrangement that you almost forget that there are no instruments playing, and Katrina and the Waves' "Walking on Sunshine" spotlights Darcy Romano's friskily energetic voice. Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body" might be an unlikely choice, but it lends itself surprisingly well to Cartoon Johnny's bouncy, percussive style.

Five original tracks, all composed by baritone Mike Henrickson, mesh seamlessly with the covers, including an uber-catchy pop tune ("More Like You") and a tender ballad ("When Will You Come Home?").

Although the songs themselves are certainly appealing (the standout is "What I Want," a swoon-inducing love song with a snappy tempo), the group's real talents are its arrangements and its flawless, lively vocal interplay.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 23 May 2008, Page WE12