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The Bostonians

Boston College

Quarter Past Nine (2000)

3.4

December 30, 2000

Tuning / Blend 3.2
Energy / Intensity 4.2
Innovation / Creativity 3.4
Soloists 3.6
Sound / Production 3.8
Repeat Listenability 2.8
Tracks
1 Uninvited 4.2
2 Every Breath You Take 3.4
3 What a Feeling 3.8
4 The Downeaster "Alexa" 4.0
5 The Sign 3.6
6 That's Life 2.8
7 Angel 3.8
8 Parachute 4.0
9 Goodbye 3.8
10 Glory of Love 3.2
11 Together Again 3.4
12 I Will Not Take These Things For Granted 3.0
13 Hard to Handle 2.2
14 Winter 3.4
15 Wouldn't It Be Nice 2.6
16 As Yet Untitled 4.2
17 You Can Call Me Al 3.8
18 True Colors 3.6

Recorded 1999 – 2000
Total time: 73:30, 18 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Uninvited 4
2 Every Breath You Take 4
3 What a Feeling 4
4 The Downeaster "Alexa" 4
5 The Sign 4
6 That's Life 4
7 Angel 4
8 Parachute 4
9 Goodbye 4
10 Glory of Love 4
11 Together Again 3
12 I Will Not Take These Things For Granted 3
13 Hard to Handle 2
14 Winter 3
15 Wouldn't It Be Nice 4
16 As Yet Untitled 5
17 You Can Call Me Al 4
18 True Colors 4

Great production and some creative arranging puts the Bostonians on a new and higher level, but some intangibles keep their new album feeling distinctly collegiate.

Quarter Past Nine didn't entirely resonate with me, partly because of delivery and partly because of taste. They faithfully capture most every nuance of Alanis Morissette's Uninvited, a song which gives me the willies. Can't fault soloist Jenn Ellis or arranger Dave Petrelli, however. Another arranger, Lori Trespicio, turns in a lovely setting of The Sign, but the solo, while strong-voiced, doesn't have enough snap to pull it off.

A classically sung Angel (over an arrangement with way too many "bum"s) failed to pull me in, and I also couldn't quite connect with the Irene Cara number, although I thought it was better suited to soloist Kristen Martone. I also thought it was odd that the lame and unfunny Hard to Handle got its own track and credit, but the well-sung True Colors was an un-credited extra track.

Parachute was a favorite cut of mine, with a folk-rock duet at center stage. Dave Petrelli scores again with his half of that solo, and he also takes The Downeaster "Alexa" in a new direction. I didn't quite connect with his vision of Billy Joel as an '80s power ballad, but it certainly had guts. Cementing his place at the center of this album, Petrelli gets the credit for As Yet Untitled, a gripping power ballad. Trespicio wails on the primary solo, and the song dwarfs the rest of the album in its depth and focus.

Production was excellent on this album — in fact, I got the feeling that the studio made the group sound better than usual, to a point where it shifted the base of their flaws. The blend and tuning sound consistently off-center, which may come as much from an artificially clean sound as much as any flaw on their part. Tuning on Together Again seems likely to have been a particular victim, hurt by the song's combination of choral moments and busy dance rhythms. Note for future efforts: if you are lucky enough to have such good production, try to have enough time and money to pick apart your shiny new sound.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Uninvited 5
2 Every Breath You Take 3
3 What a Feeling 3
4 The Downeaster "Alexa" 5
5 The Sign 3
6 That's Life 3
7 Angel 4
8 Parachute 5
9 Goodbye 4
10 Glory of Love 3
11 Together Again 3
12 I Will Not Take These Things For Granted 3
13 Hard to Handle 2
14 Winter 4
15 Wouldn't It Be Nice 2
16 As Yet Untitled 4
17 You Can Call Me Al 3
18 True Colors 4

RARB reviewers don't know what the other RARB reviewers are writing until the reviews all get published, but I'm pretty sure the other reviewers are all going to give this album rave reviews. This album is packed with extremely professional elements. There are lots of energetic performances of complicated arrangements. There are also lots of great technical skills on display: killer bass lines, dextrous vocal percussion, and some tricky parts to sing all around. So in almost all respects, The Bostonian's latest CD is superb.

But I can't seem to enjoy it for two reasons. The first and most important reason may be a little tricky to explain. It has to do with blend. Generally, blend refers to the way voices fit together to form a chord. If the sound is nice and smooth, that's good blend; if you can hear individual voices, that's bad blend. This album has blend problems, but not in that sense. The harmonies are all fine and well. But if you look at the arrangements as a whole, sometimes the parts don't fit together. There are often a few voices doing some clever little bit of the arrangement, but it doesn't quite belong. It doesn't function as a counterpart to the core of the song. It's not outright cacophonous, but it is a bit out of place, a bit disjointed. Sometimes the mix of the album exaggerates this problem. The voice parts are often too clearly split with some voices coming out of the left speaker and some voices coming out of the right speaker. This causes songs that sound pretty good on a small boom box to suddenly sound extremely schizophrenic on a nice stereo with the speakers a proper distance apart: some parts of the arrangement are literally distant from the others.

The other problem I had with this album is that it's dreary. The Counterparts' Afterglow was similarly dark, but that worked to create an invitingly nocturnal mood. Here, however, the drab tones serve to distance you from the album. The group has a hard time with upbeat songs. If you can't make The Beach Boys sound fun and sunny, then you have a big problem.

Despite that, I do have to give them credit for You Can Call Me Al. Most groups fail at singing any Graceland-era Paul Simon because the main vocals are so simple and laid back that they need a sublime voice like Paul Simon to make them breathe. His vocals can border on monotonous, except that the melody lines are artfully implied. It sounds great when Paul sings it, but it's pointless to try to hum along. But the Bostonians' cover boast a lead who can really put the melody back into the song. Also, the spoken bass line ("I can call you Betty Betty Betty...") is refreshingly (and appropriately) silly. When the Bostonians' arrangements do come together to form a truly cohesive whole, and when they turn their weakness (their dreary sound) into an asset by singing dreary songs, then they're onto something great. The colossal arrangement of Uninvited, the passionate performance of The Downeaster "Alexa", and the gripping Parachute all show that the Bostonians have the potential to be one of the best.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Uninvited 4
2 Every Breath You Take 3
3 What a Feeling 4
4 The Downeaster "Alexa" 3
5 The Sign 3
6 That's Life 2
7 Angel 3
8 Parachute 4
9 Goodbye 3
10 Glory of Love 2
11 Together Again 3
12 I Will Not Take These Things For Granted 3
13 Hard to Handle 2
14 Winter 3
15 Wouldn't It Be Nice 2
16 As Yet Untitled 3
17 You Can Call Me Al 3
18 True Colors 2

The Bostonians from Boston College are a very respectable co-ed a cappella group. Their latest recording, Quarter Past Nine, showcases some great energetic moments, but as with most collegiate recordings, some sub-par question marks as well.

Seventeen tracks is just too long for an album. You don't need to record every song that you sang during the academic year to have a successful album. A better approach is to aim for your ten or twelve best tracks and spend all of your time in the studio perfecting those tracks. I can easily think of five to seven tracks to remove from this album that would make it a far superior album. You need to leave your listener wanting more, not begging for the last track to come.

As far as the album's soloists go, Lori Trespicio on the Bostonians original, As Yet Untitled, is fantastic! So much emotion and style. Dave Petrelli also deserves credit for writing the song. It is a very respectable musical work; the only issue that I had is that it seemed to be a stylistic change from the other songs on the album, thus feeling out of place. As Yet Untitled seemed to be more of a Broadway song. You can almost picture the two soloists on stage singing in all of their theatrical glory.

The highlight tracks for the album are Uninvited, Parachute, and What a Feeling. There really wasn't one track on this album that blew me away, but these three showed the most promise. Most of the tracks have the same sound and the same mix qualities, which leads to a very monotonous sound.

As a whole, I was very impressed with the arrangements on the album. Most were very well voiced and allowed the song to take shape. There were a few moments in tracks like The Sign where it almost seemed like the arrangement was getting out of control. When there is so much stuff going on, the listener has a hard time focusing on the song itself because the arrangement becomes distracting.

Pitch was on the solid side for most of the album, but I did hear a lot of intonation problems in the alto voices. Vocal percussion was very well executed. The best moment for VP was in Uninvited when the song just lets loose and rocks out.

As a whole, good effort, but still short of a killer album. Nothing really excited me on this album, and no one track really stands out as a reason to ever throw this one back in the stereo again. Some real nice work, but nothing that hasn't been done already, and done better by other groups. I'd pass on this one.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Uninvited 4
2 Every Breath You Take 4
3 What a Feeling 4
4 The Downeaster "Alexa" 4
5 The Sign 5
6 That's Life 2
7 Angel 4
8 Parachute 4
9 Goodbye 4
10 Glory of Love 4
11 Together Again 5
12 I Will Not Take These Things For Granted 4
13 Hard to Handle 3
14 Winter 4
15 Wouldn't It Be Nice 3
16 As Yet Untitled 4
17 You Can Call Me Al 5
18 True Colors 4
4

At what point does an a cappella group become a chorus? That's my problem with The Bostonians' Quarter Past Nine. I mean, geez, give me 22 singers, and if I can't hold your attention with covers ranging from Irene Cara to Ace of Base to Toad the Wet Sprocket, then take me to the a cappella river and drop me in the water.

O.K., O.K., I know that sounds a bit harsh — after all, this is a group of very talented singers who have put together an album which is far superior to much of the a cappella created on college campuses these days. They feature an eclectic repertoire (out of nowhere, Sinatra?), extremely sophisticated arrangements (Janet Jackson's Together Again cooks), superb vocal percussion (check out the kickin' v.p. in an otherwise lackluster Hard to Handle), full-throated soloists (Lori Trespicio, why only one solo?!), and tons of energy (best You Can Call Me Al I've heard). Normally, that would be enough to keep their disc in my CD changer for a while.

But it keeps coming back to 22. 22 members! 22!?!? That's not an a cappella group, that's a football game. Call me a purist, call me old-fashioned, call me narrow-minded, but it's just more difficult for me to get excited about 22 people doing what I've already heard 14 people do just as well, and sometimes better.

Truth is, the fact that they sound as good as they do is to their tremendous credit. Singing a cappella arrangements with that many people often leads to a preponderance of sloppy timing, misplaced articulation, and scattered intonation. And while these problems do find their way into certain songs — timing in Glory of Love, intonation in the rapid background of Parachute to name a few examples — for the most part, you get a full, rich ensemble sound which is most enjoyable.

Why then am I left unsatisfied? Well, contrary to popular belief, size does matter, and there is such a thing as too big. As impressive as the power background chords in Downeaster Alexa and in the bridge of Winter may be, they undermine the group's relationship to the genre of a "modern" a cappella in their size and scope. I know this point is more philosophical than musical, but much of the brilliance of the best, professional a cappella groups lies in their ability to do more with less, not more with more. With 22 people at their disposal, I couldn't help thinking that The Bostonians felt less like an a cappella group and more like a really hip, funky, co-ed Glee Club that decided to sing Save Ferris instead of Shenandoah.

If you think I'm full of crap, you'll absolutely go bonkers for this album. If any of this rings true, you're still likely to be very happy with your purchase, if somewhat less impressed.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Uninvited 4
2 Every Breath You Take 3
3 What a Feeling 4
4 The Downeaster "Alexa" 4
5 The Sign 3
6 That's Life 3
7 Angel 4
8 Parachute 3
9 Goodbye 4
10 Glory of Love 3
11 Together Again 3
12 I Will Not Take These Things For Granted 2
13 Hard to Handle 2
14 Winter 3
15 Wouldn't It Be Nice 2
16 As Yet Untitled 5
17 You Can Call Me Al 4
18 True Colors 4

A 73-minute, 18-song CD has plenty of room to accommodate good and bad, and Quarter Past Nine offers heaping helpings of both.

Albums like Quarter Past Nine are frustrating to review. Pick almost any a cappella skill — soloing, arranging, etc. — and you will find tracks on the album that illustrate the Bostonians' mastery of the concept. Yet that same skill vanishes on the very next track, only to resurface later on.

Solos are an extreme example. Lori Trespicio's mature rasp, Katrina Gamez's jazzy moan, and Kristen Martone's commanding wail are stellar. But of the Bostonian men, only Dave Petrelli is in a class with these women. Every Breath You Take and You Can Call Me Al are hobbled by tenor range issues (as is Wouldn't It Be Nice, although there the low notes are the issue). The less said about Hard to Handle, the better.

Renaissance man Dave Petrelli doesn't just stand out at the mic, he penned the album's best track, an excellent original, As Yet Untitled. Just call it way better than the college originals you're used to. But the rest of the set list meanders as much as the solos do, wandering from the creative to the overdone, from the daring to the puzzling. The Bostonians pile Off-the-Beat-style arrangements like What a Feeling on the same CD with far more traditionally-arranged numbers such as the hidden True Colors. Nothing unifies the songs.

Unfortunately, tuning is the Bostonians' most consistent skill: it's reliably mediocre. The chords won't make you shudder, but they'll rarely make you smile.

If you're building a collection of collegiate originals, Quarter Past Nine features one of the best. For most buyers, though, it won't stand out from the college crowd. I was a little disappointed that the Bostonians haven't achieved better consistency on this, their fifth album. Greater attention to detail in rehearsal and in the studio might clean up the messy chords. Time and turnover will certainly change the solo and arrangement personnel, but how? I can't guess what the next album will be like, but I will definitely be listening.


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Ordering Information

To order Quarter Past Nine, see The Bostonians' web site or write to

The Bostonians of Boston College
McElroy 141
Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

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