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The Binghamton Crosbys

Binghamton University, SUNY

Songs in the Key of Nishole (2000)

3.0

December 30, 2000

Tuning / Blend 2.8
Energy / Intensity 4.0
Innovation / Creativity 3.0
Soloists 3.6
Sound / Production 2.8
Repeat Listenability 2.8
Tracks
1 Welcome (spoken intro) 2.6
2 Pinball Wizard 3.4
3 Ma Cherie Amour 2.2
4 Die Without You 3.6
5 Fat Bottomed Girls 3.4
6 Yesterday 2.6
7 Kashmir 3.2
8 Blackbird 3.0
9 Your Racist Friend 3.0
10 Evaporated 3.6
11 Takin' It To the Streets 3.2
12 The Longest Time 3.0
13 Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry 3.0
14 Rock This Town 3.4
15 Unforgettable 3.8
16 Krosbifunk 4.2
17 Chicago 4.0
18 Fireman's Friend (unlisted) 3.0

Recorded 1998 – 2000
Total time: 59:38, 18 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Welcome (spoken intro) 2
2 Pinball Wizard 3
3 Ma Cherie Amour 2
4 Die Without You 3
5 Fat Bottomed Girls 3
6 Yesterday 2
7 Kashmir 3
8 Blackbird 3
9 Your Racist Friend 2
10 Evaporated 4
11 Takin' It To the Streets 4
12 The Longest Time 4
13 Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry 4
14 Rock This Town 4
15 Unforgettable 5
16 Krosbifunk 4
17 Chicago 4
18 Fireman's Friend (unlisted) 1

The burp joke that opens their new album is a sure sign that The Crosbys don't take themselves seriously. They're setting out to be silly. On the other hand, the full harmonies they put into the two bawdy comedy songs that end the album (they're sung a lot better than they need to be) seem to indicate that The Crosbys take being silly very seriously. While I respect the musical talent they put into their gags, I wish they had a better sense of comic timing. For example, the hidden song that ends the album, Fireman's Friend, depends on a moment of silence to let the joke sink in. (If you don't know the song, the joke has to do with something you expect them to say, but never do.) The Crosbys kill the joke by immediately cutting to the sound of an audience cheering (even though the song itself is recorded in a studio).

The album's name, as well as the cover design, is very much an in joke. Funny to them, perhaps, but not to you. It's very telling that on the back cover they cross out the "Webster's" in the phrase "Webster's Dictionary" and replace it with the word "Crosbys'". The album often seems to be not just BY The Crosbys, but also ABOUT The Crosbys. As they were on their last disc, they're fond of using their own name in the backing vocals. Fortunately, they've really toned down their use of strange and juvenile phrases in the backing vocals. Sure, there's still a stray "Do me" lurking about, but they're getting better at hiding the things that ought to stay hidden. And some of the jokes that stick out actually work: On Rock This Town, a long bridge features the lines "empty part" and "filling in space" while the big finish has a "yeah, we're almost done". These lines are used tastefully, aren't done at the expense of the song, and even give the number an extra dose of fun.

Moving onto the serious side of Songs In The Key of Nishole (and it's hard to with a name like that), the track list has all the makings of a classic Beelzebubs album. The Crosbys get off to a great start on Pinball Wizard. The arrangement loses its way halfway through by trying to be more complicated than it needs to be, but it starts off so well that you're inclined to forgive it. The clear and direct arrangement captures the energy of the song perfectly. If it weren't for the fact that they drop the ball part way through, it would probably have been the best a cappella treatment of a classic rock song. (A lot of the credit goes to soloist Suresh Santhanam.) So, although it ultimately disappoints, it does generate a lot of good will for the group. It makes you willing to overlook the wobbly performance of Ma Cherie Amour where even the whistling sounds a bit shaky. It makes you forgive the strained Fat Bottom Girls (although that particular number is so recklessly and fearlessly performed that you have to kind of respect the blaze-of-glory effort they put into it). It makes you forgive the monotonous arrangement of Yesterday where lyrics are repeated until they become devoid of meaning. (But it's hard to forgive them for bizarrely letting a soloist do a Boys-II-Men-styled riff at the end of a song that otherwise doesn't have a soloist.) It even makes you forgive them for covering a second Beatles song (Blackbird) in a simple group arrangement that somehow betrays the purity of the original song.

The goodwill The Crosbys earneded with Pinball Wizard is starting to wear thin by the time they hit Your Racist Friend. The dual soloists lack any personality and the arrangement/performance lacks any of the requisite anger/disgust. Worse, it isn't any fun! (I know, a song about racism shouldn't be fun, but trust me: it is. Buy They Might Be Giants' Flood. You'll see.) Where's the drive? Where's the energy? Where's the big, brassy sound? It's all been reduced to a bad fake horn imitation.

Fortunately, the album starts picking up. The solo by Danny Amy on Evaporated is beautiful and evocative (even though they should have made him a bit louder in the mix). Takin' it to the Street needs a bit more energy from the backing vocalist in the chorus, but overall, it's very listenable. The Longest Time is dependable and Hard for Me To Say I'm Sorry boasts some thrilling harmonies. I've often said that a cappella groups can't do swing because swing needs ass-kicking drums. The Crosbys get around that by doing a very swinging version of the rockabilly classic Rock This Town without any vocal percussion. It sounds great with just a clean and energetic vocals sung over snaps and claps. Although they should have trimmed the "instrumental" bridge sections (which really are just "filling in space") they do have a very credible wordless intro to the song. Bravo to Al Orbinati for serving up a smoking solo. Unforgettable is the perfect song for a soloist to shine on, and that's exactly what Jesse Afriyie does. Krosbifunk is surprisingly tight for a group that normally stays away from vocal percussion. After a rocky start, Songs in the Key of Nishole reminds you that The Crosbys have produced singers that graduated to go on to The Exboyfriends. They've still got a lot of talent; they just need to learn to edit themselves.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Welcome (spoken intro) 3
2 Pinball Wizard 4
3 Ma Cherie Amour 2
4 Die Without You 4
5 Fat Bottomed Girls 3
6 Yesterday 3
7 Kashmir 3
8 Blackbird 3
9 Your Racist Friend 3
10 Evaporated 3
11 Takin' It To the Streets 3
12 The Longest Time 3
13 Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry 3
14 Rock This Town 3
15 Unforgettable 4
16 Krosbifunk 4
17 Chicago 3
18 Fireman's Friend (unlisted) 4

The Crosbys' sound has changed since last we heard our heroes. While the title, Songs in the Key of Nishole, may make it sound like the kings of collegiate back-up lyrics are up to their old tricks, this CD doesn't have the raw attitude this reviewer has come to expect from them. On the other hand, they have improved their intonation and blend considerably (though not consistently). So in a technical sense, Nishole is an improvement. But because the Crosbys attempt far more serious musical material, and don't always measure up to the challenge, the overall enjoyment factor is about the same as the last album.

When The Crosbys do comedy, they really are funny. Of course, it helps if you find bodily noises amusing. The intro track is classic and though probably "recreated" for the listening audience, nothing could better capture the joys of fraternity-style a cappella brotherhood. The problem here is that the Crosbys are going a bit more for groove these days. And they do hit it on tracks like Die Without You, Kashmir and Unforgettable. But they miss by a mile on Takin' It to the Streets, the done-so-many-times-I'm-going-to-kill-myself The Longest Time and the way — way — way-too-extended-version of Rock This Town. Other songs simply lose pitch and tempo, are poorly arranged, or are surprisingly square.

On a personal note, I am quite sad to hear so many arrangements without the Crosbys' trademark smart-ass back-up lyrics. Sure, I still got a number of "Do me"s and I did appreciate the "ABC Your mom's a hmm ... Could my daddy make some wah". But these are rare moments indeed. I can only hope that the group will either solidify their new groove sound or return to the days of back-up brilliance. Nishole is a great CD for fans, but it's a passer for the rest of us.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Welcome (spoken intro) 3
2 Pinball Wizard 3
3 Ma Cherie Amour 2
4 Die Without You 2
5 Fat Bottomed Girls 4
6 Yesterday 2
7 Kashmir 2
8 Blackbird 3
9 Your Racist Friend 3
10 Evaporated 4
11 Takin' It To the Streets 2
12 The Longest Time 3
13 Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry 2
14 Rock This Town 3
15 Unforgettable 3
16 Krosbifunk 4
17 Chicago 5
18 Fireman's Friend (unlisted) 3

Tuning problems and weak production fail to completely doom a lively, if inconsistent, album from the Binghamton Crosbys.

While the soloists are passable, Yesterday and My Cherie Amour indict the whole group for poor tuning, and Die Without You almost dies itself for lack of vocal support from group and soloist alike.

Gold medal to the rapper on Krosbifunk, the best rap I've heard, by far, on a college a cappella album, and kudos to the vocal percussionist on the same song. I would have liked to hear more of that quality percussion — songs often sounded as if the drums were added later, with the hapless VP-er struggling to find a groove within the group's regular tempo lurches.

The last song, the album's only live track, is a ridiculous little ditty that ends up oddly affecting. The clear soloist, backed by the raucous, energetic, frat-boy refrain, takes only a few verses to get a smile from the listener. It's also the best-produced track on an album that suffers from poor mixing and mastering (be ready to ride the volume button between tracks), and sends a clear message back to this group: keep it simple, keep the energy up, and let the five-star album emerge.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Welcome (spoken intro) 3
2 Pinball Wizard 3
3 Ma Cherie Amour 3
4 Die Without You 4
5 Fat Bottomed Girls 3
6 Yesterday 3
7 Kashmir 4
8 Blackbird 3
9 Your Racist Friend 3
10 Evaporated 4
11 Takin' It To the Streets 3
12 The Longest Time 3
13 Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry 3
14 Rock This Town 3
15 Unforgettable 4
16 Krosbifunk 4
17 Chicago 4
18 Fireman's Friend (unlisted) 3

The Binghamton Crosbys prompt me to ask one question. What is a Nishole? Well, whatever it is, Songs in the Key of Nishole is the Crosbys' latest album. With a grand total of 17 songs plus a hidden track, The Crosbys welcome us to their CD with a calm smooth voice interrupted by a large burp and frat boy giggles and noises. Sort of funny, but it is the kind of thing best left to junior high kids.

With the exception of the irreverent Chicago (which I found hilarious), the Crosbys' songs are mostly standard a cappella covers. While I can understand singing crowd favorites like The Longest Time and Pinball Wizard at shows, groups need to realize that some songs are really overdone in the a cappella world. If groups want the CD to have more than a local following, leave off the tracks that a cappella fans have heard 4.2 million times.

Their musical director's nickname (rhymes with witch) makes me wonder if he has parents and if they own a copy of this disk. The nickname could be in reference to what he is to the group, since he did do all the percussion and also arranged six of the songs and was musical director. I mean this in a good way, of course. As usual, I wish the liner notes had more info so that I could put faces with the names on the page. Also, if you look closely at a small picture on the back page, I think I see some butts. Naked ones. And I don't even want to know what the kneeling guy is doing. Thought you would get it past the consumer, eh Nisholes? (Am I using it properly?)

There was usually nice blend within individual sections, but the group sound was sometimes a bit disjointed, especially in the arrangements where each section was doing its own thing rhythmically and lyrically. At times the bass section needed to be higher in the mix, and some songs needed more percussion. The opening of Kashmir was very strong and quite beautiful. I felt that I was catching a glimpse of the potential The Crosbys have in making music. The Crosbys also have some nice soloists. I especially liked Chris on Die Without You and Jesse on Unforgettable. This is a pretty standard album, and I wouldn't suggest that you buy it unless you met the guys — who seem like a fun bunch who have a good time. Of course, if they send a real definition of "Nishole" it might be worth it.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Welcome (spoken intro) 2
2 Pinball Wizard 4
3 Ma Cherie Amour 2
4 Die Without You 5
5 Fat Bottomed Girls 4
6 Yesterday 3
7 Kashmir 4
8 Blackbird 3
9 Your Racist Friend 4
10 Evaporated 3
11 Takin' It To the Streets 4
12 The Longest Time 2
13 Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry 3
14 Rock This Town 4
15 Unforgettable 3
16 Krosbifunk 5
17 Chicago 4
18 Fireman's Friend (unlisted) 4

Like many a cappella albums, The Crosbys' Songs in the Key of Nishole includes liner notes reminding the listener that "All sounds were created by the human voice.".

Were they? I sure hope so. I prefer to believe that the two distinct gastrointestinal phenomena recorded on this album are vocal imitations created in the studio, not actual digestive events. Unfortunately, something tells me they're real.

Any group that sets the tone for its album with an ear-splitting belch cannot be accused of trying to hide its true nature. The Crosbys are frat-boy a cappella and proud of it. Expect obvious double entendres, the use of "do me!" as a default syllable, and enough surging testosterone to jump-start a truck.

As you might expect, this much adolescent exuberance can't always be restrained within the confines of a chord. The guys are capable of keeping themselves in order (Kashmir), but when they get creative with their tuning (Yesterday, the end of Unforgettable), the results are pretty sour.

The song selection varies as much as the tuning. Fat-Bottomed Girls is just right for this group, and Krosbifunk is a fantastic medley of dance and rap. On the other hand, no matter how many obscure They Might Be Giants songs you cover, you do not earn enough song equity to include a by-the-book rendition of The Longest Time. To The Crosbys' credit, some of the more familiar songs are rescued by zippy arrangements. Al Orbinati has a lot of fun with covers such as Pinball Wizard and Rock This Town, and David Kern's Takin' It To the Streets likewise moves the song in directions I haven't heard before.

A copy of Songs in the Key of Nishole is Greek Week in a jewel case, and probably not worth the money for the typical a cappella collector. That said, if I were in a college group right now, I would be on the phone inviting The Crosbys to my next jam. Something tells me they know how to party.


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Ordering Information

Order Songs in the Key of Nishole online through The Crosbys' web site.

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