In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing
Sing-Off Season 2 runner-ups Street Corner Symphony are certainly trying to break the a cappella mold: In a genre saturated with pop covers, the Nashville sextet’s sophomore album Southern Autumn Nostalgia contains only originals. The group’s songwriting ability may come as a surprise given the innocuous covers that made up its repertoire on the a cappella reality show (Train’s “Hey Soul Sister,” Coldplay’s “Fix You,” and a Beatles medley, among other bland fare), but even more unexpected is the closing number, “Dragon Rider.” After an album full of swaying ballads and Beach Boys harmonies—which, while lovely, are not a far leap from the group’s made-for-TV catalogue—these guys channel their inner Blind Guardian and unleash a power-metal song.
The song roars with a fiery fury, with frantic “keyboard” and “guitar” riffs skittering beneath lead vocalist Mark McLemore’s epic tale. SCS even one-ups the seminal vocal metal group Van Canto by eschewing a traditional drummer in favor of vocal percussion, provided by one-man vocal drumkit Dave Baumgartner. He’s not the only powerhouse guest vocalist here; “vocal lead guitar” is credited to Ed Boyer, who arranged both for the film Pitch Perfect and for The Warblers on Glee. Those extra voices and some studio effects certainly help to execute this gallant sound. (And a note on studio effects: While the rest of Southern Autumn Nostalgia sounds like natural voices, there are some obvious studio affectations on “Dragon Rider” to make voices sound like keyboards and guitars.) But even with that outside help, it’s still SCS’s vision here: McLemore wrote and arranged the song, unleashing the Saurian Lord and his mysterious rider, the protector of mankind. These guys may never again return to this fantastical world, but for one brief moment, they are convincing as power-metal rock stars, marching through the land of legend to conjure a hero from a time long forgotten.