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Ac-Rock

Acappellago (1999)

4.2

September 16, 1999

Tuning / Blend 4.6
Energy / Intensity 4.4
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.2
Sound / Production 4.8
Repeat Listenability 3.6
Tracks
1 Istanbul 3.8
2 Come Go With Me 3.8
3 Because 4.4
4 Vehicle 4.8
5 I Want You To Want Me 4.2
6 Bus Stop 4.0
7 It's For You 4.0
8 Kiss From a Rose 3.8
9 Need You Tonight 4.4
10 409 4.4
11 Coconut 4.0
12 Witch Doctor 3.4
13 Some Kind of Wonderful 4.2

Recorded 1998 – 1999
Total time: 34:07, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Istanbul 4
2 Come Go With Me 3
3 Because 5
4 Vehicle 5
5 I Want You To Want Me 5
6 Bus Stop 4
7 It's For You 4
8 Kiss From a Rose 5
9 Need You Tonight 4
10 409 4
11 Coconut 5
12 Witch Doctor 4
13 Some Kind of Wonderful 4

AC Rock reminds me a bit of Da Vinci's Notebook in the early days, but with better tuning and dumber jokes. Both are quartets of good but not stellar voices with a lot of charisma and a very likeable energy. DVN made a name for itself by being hilarious — AC Rock has to use musicality instead, since their attempts to be funny are more corny than cute.

Acappellago is a fun album, with surprising creativity lurking behind the collegiate-style covers (such as Some Kind of Wonderful and Coconut). Vehicle is the best integration of a cappella and electric guitar to ever come across my desk, unless you count Paul Stiller's electronic essay into Stevie Ray Vaugn. Where Stiller used pedals and genius, AC Rock relies on an actual electric guitar, but the end effect is equally striking.

This group is at their best when they head back to the '70s. They've got a great handle on that tight, slightly nasal and slightly processed blend that you hear from the likes of Boston to Neil Young. Because won me over completely, despite my general distaste for all things McCartney — if you like this music anyway, you're in for a real treat.

Outside their specialty decade, the results are more uneven. 409 is an acceptable Beach Boys cover, with a large does of those Boston-esque blend, but Come Go With Me sounds more obligatory than inspired. Both feature annoying "outtakes" that might not even be funny if you know the group.

On the modern side, they come up big with Kiss from a Rose another song that I dread in other contexts. Nice job. But they run aground when they try for INXS — on Need You Tonight, they ruin the only sexy solo on the disc with a background that relies on "deedle", "diddle" and "dank".

This is a great album for your Rockapella-loving friends who haven't been saturated in the a cappella genre. For the highly jaded among you, it may take a listen to get past the repetitive stuff, but you're likely to come around. If nothing else, the wonderfully gratuitous Chipmunks references will win you over when you least expect it.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Istanbul 3
2 Come Go With Me 4
3 Because 3
4 Vehicle 5
5 I Want You To Want Me 3
6 Bus Stop 3
7 It's For You 3
8 Kiss From a Rose 2
9 Need You Tonight 3
10 409 3
11 Coconut 3
12 Witch Doctor 2
13 Some Kind of Wonderful 3

We have a winner! AC-Rock has clearly put a lot of time and technical prowess into designing the WORST album cover ever to come by RARB. Just look at it. Forget the fact that looks like a particularly hard level from Turok 2: Seeds of Evil for a second — Who the hell dressed them before the photo shoot? I know, you're wondering if the cover is really worse than, say, the Buffalo Chips' Remember the Songs. It is. A sloppy design like the Buffalo Chips' cover sends the listeners the message that "We're unprofessional and we're not putting any effort into what we do.". That's a bad impression to give potential fans, but AC-Rock sends a far worse one. This cover says "We're huge dorks. And we're really gung-ho about being dorks, too. Let us sing at your grade school. We won't even notice that the little kiddies are laughing at us.". There was a thread on the rec.music.a-cappella newsgroup about what prevents a cappella from breaking into the mainstream. Maybe it has something to do with average citizens who think a cappella groups look like the cover of this CD.

Harsh, but true. I'm being nice. I could go into great detail, trust me. Now, onto the music.

AC-Rock has grown up since their last CD. This is a bigger album with more songs, many of which have more complicated arrangements. But the charm is gone. Too many of the songs (Coconut, 409, and Witch Doctor for example) feel like they're just taking up space and only water the album down.

Fortunately, all is not lost. There are some good songs, even though they don't add up to a satisfying album. Every last note of Vehicle is perfect. AC-Rock proves that four voices is all you need to turn out a great classic rocker. The vocal arrangement wonderfully melds with the guitar solo (yes, on an actual guitar) by Jim Peterik. You never wonder where the guitar came from — it's totally natural.

Acappellago can also boast to having great production values. The engineering is crisp and clear (which is also how the group sound on their better arrangements). The CD features lots of playful treatments of songs. Come Go With Me is recorded in a men's room, which is entirely fitting for the old school doo wop nature of the song. It's also recorded as if it were a rehearsal, with a couple of fake starts and some banter at the end (including a toilet flush). Now this is the sort of joke that I'd normally rip to shreds. It's the sort of thing that seems funny to the group, but in reality distracts from the integrity of the song, gets stale on repeat listening, and probably wasn't very funny to begin with. That's what I usually say, but not this time. For some reason it works. Here. It's unobtrusive and retains it's charm on repeat listenings.

Too bad the album as a whole doesn't also retain it's charm on repeat listenings. Every time they do a song that would be better left to Boyz Nite Out (the underdeveloped Kiss From A Rose or the half hearted Need You Tonight) it takes a bite out of the album's momentum. The stale oldies (tracks 10-12) take even more steam out of the disc. Bad arrangements (that duck call-esq vocal line in Witch Doctor, the goofy intro to an otherwise fun Istanbul) finally kill any repeat listenability.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Istanbul 5
2 Come Go With Me 4
3 Because 4
4 Vehicle 5
5 I Want You To Want Me 4
6 Bus Stop 4
7 It's For You 4
8 Kiss From a Rose 3
9 Need You Tonight 5
10 409 5
11 Coconut 4
12 Witch Doctor 4
13 Some Kind of Wonderful 5

Here we go again. AC-Rock has made another good, easily accessible a cappella album. All of the songs are well sung, and there is a bunch of songs that will appeal to a bunch of people. It is well produced and they have fun with a number of songs as well (I'll get to that in a moment).It is called Acappellago.

What makes their music so accessible? I think the first thing that does that is the fact that they sing everything well. It is amazing how willing a person will be to listening to your music if they hear it is performed well. That one is a no-brainer. It also helps that you don't try to do too much with your music. The melody does not get lost under a bunch of complex layers of stuff. Keep It Simple, Stupid. The last big thing that does it is what songs you sing. AC-Rock has chosen a good collection of tunes that reaches a broad audience, thus helping guarantee that there is something that your audience will like. They've got They Might Be Giants, they've got The Ides of March, they've got Cheap Trick, INXS, The Beatles. They've got stuff you'll like.

Now I was saying that they have fun with a few of the songs. For example, they sing the old four-part standard Come Go With Me in the bathroom of a restaurant, complete with toilet flushes. Because you know the best places to sing the standards is in a bathroom. Another example is the great song Vehicle by the Ides of March. It sounds great, but they really throw in a little gem by getting the man who wrote the song, Jim Peterik to play a great electric guitar solo in the middle of the song. When AC-Rock does I Want You To Want Me by Cheap Trick, they do it just like they did on their original recording. They do it with a screaming crowd that goes crazy just like they did in the original. It's funny. It's good.

It's fun, its easy to listen to. There is something you will like. It sounds good. If you are looking for cutting-edge vocal performance, something challenging and totally different, this is not the album for you. If you want something to enjoy right out of the case, then this will do it for you.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Istanbul 2
2 Come Go With Me 3
3 Because 5
4 Vehicle 4
5 I Want You To Want Me 4
6 Bus Stop 4
7 It's For You 5
8 Kiss From a Rose 4
9 Need You Tonight 5
10 409 5
11 Coconut 4
12 Witch Doctor 3
13 Some Kind of Wonderful 4

This is a very strong sophomore effort from this group...with the very interesting exception of the first two songs. I have to wonder if the two songs that begin the album were recorded significantly before the rest of it... but in terms of quality of performance, they are significantly below the rest of the album...enough so that I wonder why the album opened with these two songs?

The song choices for the group are MUCH better this time....the songs, for the most part, don't overreach the limitations of a four man group in the way that, say, Bohemian Rhapsody did on their last album . (The one song that does so, Vehicle, is balanced by an intriguing arrangement and a guitar solo by the original guitarist for Ides of March, Jim Peterik, which unless I'm wrong was also the guitarist behind Survivor. The things you learn in reviewing...) Some of the songs are by the numbers a cappella renditions (Kiss From a Rose being the most blatantly obvious...I didn't hear anything arrangment-wise that I haven't heard from umpteen college groups...but then again, you really can't innovate that song without completely changing it). Others, such as Because, are truly arrangements..and beautiful ones at that. Most tread the middle ground...my personal faves are a SMOKIN' rendition of Need You Tonight, the aforementioned Vehicle (Just because I didn't give it a 5 doesn't mean I don't jam to the song), and a very clever combination of Harry Nillson's Coconut (recognizable to any hard core Muppet Show fan) and David Seville's Witch Doctor (the predecessor to those lovable Chipmunks).

However, the first two songs don't even belong in the same class. Istanbul is a whiny, overproduced mess that has very little sense of musicality to it. Come Go With Me, although better musically, was very pedestrian, and the 30 seconds of outtakes at the front of it were unfunny and unnecessary. Also, they give credit to an outside man for vocal percussion...if you're going to have a fifth man come in and do the album, and you plan to tour to sell said album, then ya might as well bite the bullet and get a full-time vocal percussionist. I know that makes the money thinner, but if the group wants to go the VP route, you need to have one full time. Otherwise, stay with the four, and do four part arrangements. An occasional ringer on the album isn't a bad thing, but it seemed as close to a third of the tracks had additional vocalists and/or drums of some sort.

I truly recommend buying this album....and when you do, skip immediately to track three...and have fun! That's what this group is about.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Istanbul 5
2 Come Go With Me 5
3 Because 5
4 Vehicle 5
5 I Want You To Want Me 5
6 Bus Stop 5
7 It's For You 4
8 Kiss From a Rose 5
9 Need You Tonight 5
10 409 5
11 Coconut 4
12 Witch Doctor 4
13 Some Kind of Wonderful 5

There is a major difference between this recording and the previous AC Rock entry into RARBdom (UR What UR): it took me a lot less time to jump on the bandwagon. I got the feeling that AC Rock chose to have more fun on this album, venturing into the realm of major production techniques (including the highly technical "record in a Italian restaurant men's room" technique).

A cappella purists may cringe at the actual use of a gasp GUITAR gulp in track four (the a cappella gods will surely smite them for this). In actuality, it fits in quite nicely. Those of you who don't like your chocolate mixed with your peanut butter may just want to skip the track altogether.

The mix of covers range so widely in the realm of pop/rock that it could seem disjointed. However, there is SO much energy (some of it must be caffeine induced) that they seem to be connected merely by the guys' desire to put out their best. From the Beatles (twice) to Seal and INXS, it seems like there is a little something for everyone initially, and for those tracks you aren't familiar with, listen to these guys: you'll be a fan.

Only one other potential black mark that listeners may not like, though I think it helps them — the longest track is a whopping three and a half minutes long, with a couple of tracks under two minutes. Those who want to hear vocal gymnastics need to pay attention, because these guys are basically saying listen up and listen quick — you'll only get one chance, maybe two, to hear what we can do. The payoff is that they don't drag out their tracks by saying look what we can do again and again and again...

Ultimately, this whole recording is simply FUN! There was nothing in the thirteen tracks that hindered pure enjoyment of clean harmonies and tight production. It's not JUST thirteen tracks sung by four guys; it's four guys singing with passion and imagination. I'm pulling for these guys to do an album of original tracks next time out. (For those who wonder what I listen to first and foremost, buy this album...even if you don't like the tracks, listen to these guys do their homework).


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Ordering Information

Available through their web site, Primarily A Cappella, Mainely A Cappella, and most internet CD retailers.

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