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Mixed Company

Stanford University

The Other Side of Blue (2000)

4.6

December 3, 2000

Tuning / Blend 4.4
Energy / Intensity 4.4
Innovation / Creativity 4.2
Soloists 4.8
Sound / Production 4.6
Repeat Listenability 4.4
Tracks
1 Come On, Eileen 4.4
2 Crush 4.4
3 With or Without You 4.6
4 Unpretty 4.4
5 St.Teresa 4.4
6 Someday 4.2
7 Listen to Your Heart 4.2
8 Ghost 4.2
9 Fastlove 4.2
10 We Belong 4.4
11 Mummer's Dance 4.2
12 Flood 4.0
13 Crazy for You 4.6
14 Let Me Go 4.6
15 Mary 4.6

Recorded 1999 – 2000
Total time: 65:38, 15 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Come On, Eileen 4
2 Crush 4
3 With or Without You 4
4 Unpretty 4
5 St.Teresa 4
6 Someday 3
7 Listen to Your Heart 3
8 Ghost 3
9 Fastlove 3
10 We Belong 4
11 Mummer's Dance 4
12 Flood 3
13 Crazy for You 4
14 Let Me Go 4
15 Mary 4

The new Mixed Company album is all about Jenny Baxter and Christine Chang and their powerhouse solo work. Jenny Baxter opens the disc by transforming an otherwise unremarkable version of Come On Eileen into a vocal showcase. Her voice conquers her peers and most of commercial radio (with apologies to Tufts' Amy Birnbaum, the previous queen of the Dexy's Midnight Runners cover).

Not to be outdone, Christine Chang delivers a rich and melodic rendition of Pat Benatar's We Belong, compensating for a boring arrangement and underwhelming percussion section. The two cuts headline a collection of better than average solo work that also includes nice turns from Billie Karel and Adam Fong. It's a rare pleasure to hear a collegiate album with such well thought-out lead work on more than half the tracks.

Alas, the backgrounds are not nearly as exemplary. Tuning is alright, if not stellar, but tone and blend are a little jarring. Mixed Company's backing sound tends to conflict with the style of the arrangement — busy, textured accompaniments get a glee-clubby treatment that seems to over-doo things, if you'll pardon the expression. Over-ah is more like it. Although I applaud their efforts to keep out icky syllables, I think Mixed Company's arrangers missed the boat by often eschewing consonants altogether. With so many moving lines, it's easy to fall into a runny stream of block chords without sufficient definition.

Arranger Doy Charnsupharindr seems to be the only one who noticed and turns in some polysyllabic variety on The Mummer's Dance and Someday. But the group doesn't seem quite comfortable with the switch. With or Without You is the best merger of the two styles. This U2 cover seems to bring out the best in any college group that picks it up, and its long notes and understated textures suit the Mixed Company sound to a tee.

This disc is generally predictably poppy, but it is not without its easter eggs. Hip hop oddities surface in Unpretty, a TLC song that is covered just like all the other soft rock until John MacEnflowt busts out with a rap break that is as incongruous as it is politically incorrect. But endearing — sometimes over-the-top can be charming as well as pushy. At the other end of the spectrum, Crystal Yang delivers Roxette's Listen to Your Heart in a delivery that is far more reminiscent of Debbie Gibson, firmly removing any hint of rock and roll that might have lingered about the original.

Most mysterious of all, the liner notes offered a few rootless pieces of information that annoyed rather than intrigued. It was kind of the group to add an asterisked note that some tracks had been recorded with an earlier lineup. But they neglected to star any of the tracks, leaving us to guess at what they might have implied. A dagger also refers to a guest appearance by agent 003 of Confidential Records - and is equally unindexed to any of the songs. Maybe next time they'll let us in on the big secrets.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Come On, Eileen 5
2 Crush 4
3 With or Without You 5
4 Unpretty 4
5 St.Teresa 4
6 Someday 5
7 Listen to Your Heart 4
8 Ghost 5
9 Fastlove 5
10 We Belong 5
11 Mummer's Dance 3
12 Flood 5
13 Crazy for You 4
14 Let Me Go 5
15 Mary 5

I really don't like the previous two albums by Mixed Company, Mean Say Love and TheBus. There were flashes of competence on those discs, but the discs were soured by a bad attitude. The music wasn't much fun because it was so preoccupied with showing you how much it could rock, how cool it was. In particular TheBus, the later of the two albums, tried to bully you into liking it. It wasn't a very promising direction for a group to be heading in.

With that in mind, imagine my surprise when I first heard Mixed Company's wonderful new CD The Other Side of Blue. Not only is it packed with great performances and clever arrangements, but the album also has a sense of fun about it that I hadn't heard in a long while.

I know that you're suspicious of me. It probably sounds like I liked this CD simply because of low expectations (the same reason people thought Bush won the debates). Well, let me be perfectly clear about that point. This CD was been getting extremely heavy rotation in my CD player and it's holding up extremely well. If anything, I'm enjoying more and more each time. The hallmark of this album is a warm sound that makes listening to it like spending time with an old friend. Repeat listenability? You better believe it.

There are only two troubled tracks on this disc, and one of them I still like anyway. The Mummer's Dance suffers from the same problem that other versions of the song do: a thin, out-of-breath lead vocal. I'm almost positive that the lead here is capable of much better, but that she and made the bad decision of trying to imitate the original singer. This is the only track that makes me want to skip ahead to the next song. Unpretty foolishly includes a rap section written by the group. It's delivered by an evil frat-boy character. His little misogynistic rant is actually pretty funny ("If I say you're too flat, what you whining about? This is Silicon Valley — you figure it out!"), but it's insulting. Not to women — it's obviously a joke at the expense of a certain type of man — but rather to you, the listener. It insults your intelligence by thinking you needed to have it all spelled out for you. The group even comments on him after he leaves the song ("What an asshole!") like you might not figure it out yourself. It takes a complicated issue and pins all of the blame on this straw man. There are a lot more people to blame than MC Freddie Frat, a fact that the original song acknowledges, but the rap section doesn't. That's the real problem — the song itself is smart, honest, and subtle. The rap section is very unreal. Yes, I've met guys like that, but MC Freddie Frat is obviously a phony (clearly written by an enlightened and clever young gentleman) and that's at odds with the honesty of the song. It's a huge distraction. If they had given him his own track and put it before Unpretty, they would have had a cute introduction to the song. It might have even made a funny hidden bonus track. Speaking of which, they do let Freddie Frat come back on the hidden track, but it's not as funny the second time around. He obviously used all his best material for the song. So why do I keep listening to Unpretty? Because the rest of the arrangement is so well done, that why.

Now, onto the good stuff (every other track on the album). The Other Side of Blue made me think a lot about BOCA CDs. If they ever do a BOCA album of just U2 covers, With or Without You is a shoo-in. Although a collection of U2 covers would feel weird since they all seem to use the same trick of pulling two or three other U2 songs into the end of the arrangement. Mixed Company, for example, puts sections of I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For and Pride (in the Name of Love) to good use. Well, if they ever do an all George Michael BOCA, I'd recommend saving Mixed Company's infectious arrangement of Fastlove for the last track. If there ever was a series of single artist BOCA discs, the first one would have to focus on Sarah McLachlan covers. There are so many of them out there that it's getting hard to make a cover that stands out of the pack, but Mixed Company pulls it off anyway. Their version of Mary is, by and large, an extremely solid and likeable cover. But it suddenly makes itself worth of being the closing track on The Other Side of Blue when it suddenly crescendos into an energetic finale. There's never going to be a BOCA CD of just Cake covers (isn't that an awful segue?) but I'd be negligent in my duties if I didn't draw your attention to Let Me Go. This shockingly exuberant song is one of those tracks that captures the joy of a cappella singing that got me hooked on this stuff in the first place.

The album's best track (and it's hard to pick one) is their version of Sugar Ray's Someday. This song whispers in your ear (literally, in the case of some of the backing vocals), luring you into its sunny mix of Sugar Ray's greatest hits. The song's laid back, yet painstakingly crafted, sound is the perfect example of this album's charm. The Other Side of Blue is light on its feet, brimming with clever details but never overdone. Do yourself a favor and get your hands on a copy.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Come On, Eileen 5
2 Crush 5
3 With or Without You 5
4 Unpretty 5
5 St.Teresa 5
6 Someday 5
7 Listen to Your Heart 5
8 Ghost 5
9 Fastlove 5
10 We Belong 4
11 Mummer's Dance 5
12 Flood 3
13 Crazy for You 5
14 Let Me Go 5
15 Mary 5

Stanford Mixed Company's new CD The Other Side of Blue starts off with a clever reminder that their previous attempts at this crazy thing called a cappella resulted in some quite memorable recordings. Then, coming out of the fog induced haze of the old Victrola, it goes into a super-charged arrangement of the Save Ferris version of Come On Eileen. Aside from the use of the term "orig", presumably to mean "originally by", when it was actually originally by Dexy's Midnight Runners, I enjoyed this kickstart back into the company of Mixed Company.

Save for one track, each track is skillfully arranged and produced, with solos that convey the heart of the song. The treasure trove of tracks that is known as Cake (the band) produces yet another song that Stanford sets up and knocks down for a strike (I have got to get Cake's CD). Even their treatment of George Michael's Fastlove remains faithful to the original with the inclusion of the bridge, oftentimes edited out of arrangements. Lastly, with TLC's Unpretty, Stanford serves a dish of humor and thought with a rap that will make you think about the message of the song that much more. It's a clever tangent that adds to the track.

I could go on for every other track like that, except for Flood, which just didn't translate well to the realm of a cappella. Not much they could do, except to edit it out of an already strong CD. Long story short...BUY THIS CD!


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Come On, Eileen 4
2 Crush 4
3 With or Without You 4
4 Unpretty 4
5 St.Teresa 4
6 Someday 4
7 Listen to Your Heart 4
8 Ghost 4
9 Fastlove 4
10 We Belong 4
11 Mummer's Dance 4
12 Flood 4
13 Crazy for You 5
14 Let Me Go 4
15 Mary 4

Listening to Mixed Company's latest, The Other Side of Blue, leaves me in quite the quandary. Under most circumstances, nice, tight a cappella singing, complex arrangements with polysyllabic and multi-layered backgrounds, talented solos, excellent pitch and smooth blend are enough to make for an experience not unlike eating ice cream on a cold day — very refreshing, enjoyable, and lots o' fun.

If I carry this (bad) metaphor further, listening to this album ended up for me like ordering a sundae and getting only a few scoops of vanilla, no toppings, no hot fudge, no cherry.

Fact is, there are any number of lessons other collegiate groups could stand to take from Mixed Company. Equally strong on the extreme highs and lows as well as full and rich in the middle registers, their sound is among the fullest I've heard at this level. Cynics might say "well dang, it better be, with 18 people!". But many groups (which shall remain nameless) continue to prove that size doesn't matter. Huge groups can sound awful and smaller groups can sound terrific. Mixed Company has chosen wisely in its auditions and shows off its talented ensemble to maximum effect. Extra special kudos to the vocal percussionist(s) who is as good as many of his professional counterparts.

But ultimately, my mixed emotions about Mixed Company may have as much to do with their choice of repertoire as anything else. Take a look at the song list below and you'll see that it's all over the map. Not many albums sport covers of tunes by Sugar Ray, Sarah MacLachlan, TLC, Dave Matthews Band, Madonna, Joan Osborne and Pat Benatar, to name a few. It's to their credit that they are all rendered quite well. But be it the limitations of their arrangers or their soloists, these songs never achieve the requisite soul, funk, groove, atmosphere — take your pick, depending on which song we're talking about. The soloists are very capable, but for this material, maybe a little less class and a little more grit was needed. I applaud ambition and creativity but not without some measure of focus and definition; unfortunately, this wildly diverse selection of music is filtered through too narrow an interpretive prism and emerges as milquetoast.

All of that said, this is quality work. Rather than singing anything and everything under the sun, I'd love to see the group pick a genre of pop music, or at least a consistent style of music, and stick with it — because no doubt the result would indeed be my much-awaited hot fudge sundae.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Come On, Eileen 4
2 Crush 5
3 With or Without You 5
4 Unpretty 5
5 St.Teresa 5
6 Someday 4
7 Listen to Your Heart 5
8 Ghost 4
9 Fastlove 4
10 We Belong 5
11 Mummer's Dance 5
12 Flood 5
13 Crazy for You 5
14 Let Me Go 5
15 Mary 5

I love this album. Buy this album.

Now that I've gotten that off my chest, I want to let you know that when I first got this CD, I played it for eight hours straight. Stanford Mixed Company's The Other Side of Blue will definitely be around for BOCA 2001 and the CARA nominations. I'm glad I'm not in a mixed group! I can't name my favorite song on the album because there are eleven of them. (Note: the ones with scores of five.) This album is solid on all counts. The arrangements are consistent and beautifully complex. For those who cry foul over some of the predictable song choices, I propose that Mixed Company has done them so well that it doesn't matter. I give major props to Bill, Doy and Adam on their mixing job and use of effects. The unnamed percussionist(s) is/are incredibly versatile. Mixed Company captures the intricacy of Dave Matthews in Crush. With or Without You is heart wrenching. Unpretty has a really funny rap on the ugliness of Stanford women. I'm surprised the Mixed Company ladies gave their consent. St. Teresa, Listen to Your Heart, and We Belong are powerful songs with strong female leads. Crazy For You is absolutely beautiful. Let Me Go is so cute I can't help but bop my head and bounce whenever I hear it. I love this album. Buy this album.


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