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Straight No Chaser

Indiana University

Live at Alumni Hall (1999)

4.2

August 15, 2000

Tuning / Blend 4.2
Energy / Intensity 4.4
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.4
Sound / Production 3.4
Repeat Listenability 4.0
Tracks
1 Teen Sensation Medley 3.8
2 Straight No Chaser 3.8
3 Without Your Love 4.2
4 Worlds Apart 4.2
5 Are You That Somebody? 4.4
6 I'll Walk With You 4.0
7 Hi-De-Ho 4.0
8 If I Ever Fall In Love Again 3.8
9 Any Dream Will Do 3.6
10 Africa 3.6
11 It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday 4.0
12 Dry Campus 4.4
13 This Is How We Do It 4.0
14 Lion Sleeps Tonight 3.8
15 Twelve Days Of Christmas 4.4

Recorded 1998 – 1999
Total time: 58:00, 15 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Teen Sensation Medley 4
2 Straight No Chaser 3
3 Without Your Love 4
4 Worlds Apart 4
5 Are You That Somebody? 4
6 I'll Walk With You 4
7 Hi-De-Ho 4
8 If I Ever Fall In Love Again 4
9 Any Dream Will Do 3
10 Africa 3
11 It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday 4
12 Dry Campus 5
13 This Is How We Do It 4
14 Lion Sleeps Tonight 4
15 Twelve Days Of Christmas 4

These guys get it.

Say what you will about the pitch and blend peccadilloes of a live album. Offer disclaimers about a good album that doesn't make it to the crisp top shelf of greatness. But whatever you say, sit back and enjoy a show from a group with some soul. Straight No Chaser knows what it's about, and they put together a set of well-chosen and well-interpreted songs. And there's hardly any of that annoying disconnect that is an all too frequent interloper in the world of a cappella covers.

Straight No Chaser has very rapidly emerged as one of my favorite collegiate a cappella groups. Good soloists get a chance to showboat on top of solid arrangements that hang together, with a general R&B groove throughout. Such an overused word, groove, used to describe everything from gel to maturity to a danceable beat. This particular groove is a throwback, reminiscent of Wilson Pickett or Otis Redding. Music that gives you room to close your eyes, settle into your hips and move to the music.

Don't be misled — the Live set is thoroughly modern music, a descendent of the masters rather than any kind of challenger. But their spirit comes through wherever there are musicians that understand how to wear their rhythm comfortably, grounded in its inherent swing.

The boys from Indiana know how to have fun with their music. They don't shy away from the campy side of their genre (see: Teen Sensation Medley). They write some funny original tunes (see: Dry Campus, Straight No Chaser). And they present one of the least self-conscious collections of white boys singing hip-hop that I've ever had the pleasure to review.

Live also presents what is likely the last collegiate a cappella recording from Jerome Collins, modern R&B soloist extraordinaire. Collins' deft touch might well be behind much of the hip-hop success on this album, in addition to his own lovely solo work. But at least as much credit goes to the group for absorbing his expertise — plenty of groups have proved that they are too white for words, regardless of any mitigating factors that try to help out. To hear some of the other solos on this disk, this is not a pitfall that has gotten hold of Straight No Chaser.

This album might not be the one to woo over your instrument-loving, cynically mainstream friends. But for any lover of the genre, it's a fun listen that will remind you that college a cappella can, on occasion, have soul.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Teen Sensation Medley 4
2 Straight No Chaser 4
3 Without Your Love 4
4 Worlds Apart 4
5 Are You That Somebody? 5
6 I'll Walk With You 5
7 Hi-De-Ho 4
8 If I Ever Fall In Love Again 4
9 Any Dream Will Do 4
10 Africa 4
11 It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday 4
12 Dry Campus 4
13 This Is How We Do It 4
14 Lion Sleeps Tonight 4
15 Twelve Days Of Christmas 4

Straight No Chaser is a group who has made some fine recordings over the past two years, and is known for putting on a good show. This album combines the best of both worlds. It is a recording made on April 28th, 1999, a live performance at Indiana University Alumni Hall. It captures the great professionalism of this great collegiate group, along with some of the fun of a live show.

The group takes some liberties and of course shows some bias towards the audience with songs steered to local humor, as any year-end college show will do. But most everything SNC does on this album is good to great. It helps that they have always populated their ranks with great voices all-around, and good soloists up front. Then they have fun pumping as much style and zip into their songs and arrangements as possible. Considering this is a group of ten guys, they stay very focused. Like any group of college guys though, they occasionally rush in early songs, jonesing on the energy of performing in front of a big crowd. But at least they stayed together when they did.

The repertoire ranges from show tunes to soul-filled R&B to classics and original material. They do it all well. Their balance is good for a live recording, though not as good as studio work (as to be expected). Tuning is just as good as it usually is, because SNC is a very hard-working group, and they do not allow sloppiness. If only other collegiate groups could have the dedication that these guys do.

The fact of the matter is that you should get this album, especially if you know and like Straight No Chaser. You would not go wrong even if you did not know SNC, because it is a good album. Just get it.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Teen Sensation Medley 4
2 Straight No Chaser 4
3 Without Your Love 5
4 Worlds Apart 5
5 Are You That Somebody? 5
6 I'll Walk With You 3
7 Hi-De-Ho 4
8 If I Ever Fall In Love Again 4
9 Any Dream Will Do 3
10 Africa 4
11 It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday 4
12 Dry Campus 5
13 This Is How We Do It 5
14 Lion Sleeps Tonight 3
15 Twelve Days Of Christmas 5

Want energy more contagious than hemorrhagic fever? Want leads tastier than filet mignon? Want to hear what lots of talent and lots of hard work sounds like? Look no further. Straight No Chaser gives up the goods. Dang.

Again and again you'll say to yourself, "This is live?" Then you'll say, "This is college?!?" Then you read the part that says "final performance". Then you cry "Why, Lord Why!"

Ok. Maybe I'm overreacting. But it's rare that you hear this kind of talent, energy and comaraderie come together. Before the word "special" was completely emasculated by SNL's church lady, this is what it meant. This group, these members are clearly special.

Deep bass. Soulful leads. Funny comedy. Killer timing. Enough variety to entertain but enough consistency so that you always get the group you came for. But dominating all this is energy. Focused, directed, exuberant energy. Basically, if you don't have fun listening to this, I'd make sure to check your pulse.

If I were in a collegiate group I'd make sure to own this recording. And I'd study it the same way I'd study the pros. In fact, it has the advantage of being the product of peers. That makes it all the more attainable. And all the more impressive.

If I were a pro group, and needed members I'd find out what some of these guys were doing.

If I were a record company, I'd sign em.

If I were a fan of a cappella I'd buy this album. Now.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Teen Sensation Medley 4
2 Straight No Chaser 5
3 Without Your Love 5
4 Worlds Apart 5
5 Are You That Somebody? 4
6 I'll Walk With You 5
7 Hi-De-Ho 5
8 If I Ever Fall In Love Again 4
9 Any Dream Will Do 5
10 Africa 4
11 It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday 5
12 Dry Campus 5
13 This Is How We Do It 4
14 Lion Sleeps Tonight 5
15 Twelve Days Of Christmas 5

These are the times that try an a cappella reviewer's soul: How do you separate the mood of a live album from the actual recorded portion? There is no doubt that Indiana SNC is technically sound and stylistically original, despite their relative youth compared to other groups. Does a live album allow them to demonstrate that with the requisite production hindrances of such a show (i.e. audience reaction, static production, and playing to the audience instead of the recording)?

In actuality, it holds up pretty darn well. I will make no effort to hide the fact that I have become a fan of SNC with the recordings I have received. I will make the contention that as a recording, this ain't the best thing around, if only because I found the audience distracting. But in the last three years worth of recordings I have reviewed, this ranks pretty high even among some groups' studio recordings.

From the liner notes of the recording, this was the swan song for the ten founding members of SNC. It will be interesting to see how the new members continue with the legacy. When tracks such as Without Your Love sound like they were blended within a studio, I tremble at the thought of what their performance is like when actually seen live.

There is quite a lot of personality that comes through on the recording as well...humor is abundant, from the outright humor of Dry Campus to the subtle touches as in Teen Sensation Medley (with a slight dig at a particular boy "band") and all those in between (ever hear the Hanukkah portion of Twelve Days?).

I'll keep my fingers crossed that SNC can put out quality recordings and music that add to the a cappella continuum after the departure of the founding ten (including that of their outstanding arranger, Dan Ponce). In the absence of any newer recordings, this is definitely one worth having.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Teen Sensation Medley 3
2 Straight No Chaser 3
3 Without Your Love 3
4 Worlds Apart 3
5 Are You That Somebody? 4
6 I'll Walk With You 3
7 Hi-De-Ho 3
8 If I Ever Fall In Love Again 3
9 Any Dream Will Do 3
10 Africa 3
11 It's So Hard To Say Goodbye To Yesterday 3
12 Dry Campus 3
13 This Is How We Do It 3
14 Lion Sleeps Tonight 3
15 Twelve Days Of Christmas 4

Indiana's Straight No Chaser has always had a strong sense of occasion. If you haven't heard (or they haven't told you), they were the first a cappella group at the University of Indiana, and placed second nationally in only their second year of existence.

Their web site is replete with breathless factoids about being the first at this or that, and the Live album, a final recording "of the original ten founding members of Straight No Chaser" informs us further that some tracks were recorded at "the first performance by a non-School of Music group in the Musical Arts Center in 28 years"!

The hype is annoying, and as SNC matures past those exciting early years, it will need a little more to stay on top. This is particularly evident listening to Live at Alumni Hall, a typical college live album, complete with thin bass, virtually non-existent vocal percussion, and a large, appreciative audience engaging in spontaneous, unexplained laughter.

Nothing really stands out here. I missed the full sound that a group of men this size should be able to produce — they never really explode. And the lack of percussion is no fault at all, except they perform songs and arrangements that require at least a little "boom-chuck" to keep them afloat (i.e. the toms in Africa are as much a part of the song as the lead vocal).

One highlight is Twelve Days of Christmas, last heard (by me) on Stanford Fleet Street's Hits and Skits album, here redone admirably.

I have no doubt SNC sold hundreds of these albums, with every purchaser walking away happy. I can't say the same would be true of the fan who knows the group only by their name, or by their hype.


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Ordering Information

For current ordering information, visit Straight No Chaser's web site, or write to

Straight No Chaser
1000 E. 17th St.
Bloomington IN 47408

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