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RARB REVIEW

School: Smith College
Group: Smithereens
Album: Shake Gently Before Enjoying

Total time: 35:25, 12 songs
Recorded 1994


Track Listing

  1. Tuxedo Junction (4.0)
  2. Why (4.2)
  3. I Want to Live Easy (6.0)
  4. PMS (5.0)
  5. The Tide is High (4.8)
  6. Why Should I Cry (5.4)
  7. BlackBird (4.6)
  8. Wonder Woman (6.0)
  9. That Voice Again (6.2)
  10. Softly (4.6)
  11. You Can Have Him (7.0)
  12. Bonus Track (7.2)

Reviews

This album was reviewed by five members of RARB. In this compilation, their comments are always listed in a consistent order. Thus, for each song (and in the "overall" section), all comments numbered "1" are from the same reviewer, as are those numbered "2", etc.

Overall

  1. There are a lot of problems with this album. It sounds like the group has some maturing to do musically. Almost every track has blend and/or pitch problems. There are sloppy entrances, sloppy cut offs, and passages sung without conviction. I have a feeling that the album wasn't engineered particularly well, but that certainly doesn't account for all the problems.

    The song selection leaves something to be desired as well. It really feels overly slow and generally lacks energy. Aside from some spirited tracks that are genuinely well sung ("You Can Have Him" and "That Voice Again"), everything else is either too low key or too plagued with problems to generate any excitement.

    There is a consistent inclusion of "studio chat" throughout the album that, while offering insight into the groups personality, adds to the sloppy feel of the album. If the actual tracks were solid, such a peek into the chemistry of the group would be welcome, but as it is, it feels a bit pretentious and unwarranted.

    Although this album is not garnering high praise from me, I believe that this is not a group without talent. Listening to the soloists, there are some amazing voices in there. What they need is some better arrangements, some discipline in their ensemble work, and a better idea of how to produce an album.
    Rating: 4 (4.9)

  2. I don't want to bash anyone, and I got into this reviewing thing to promote a cappella, but I honestly can't recommend this album. Their tuning is suspect, and while they have some interesting and talented soloists, their backgrounds simply don't cut it. On top of that, this album is mixed very badly. In places it sounds almost raw, and then they hit you with an "effect" that would have worked if it had been integrated with the rest of the mix. There are some questionable level choices that bury some of their best work. There has to be a better studio in the 5 college area. And let's not even mention the breaks between songs, where we are treated to "hocking" and coughing and inside jokes. It sounds like the Smithereens have a good time doing what they do, and maybe that is enough, but not for me.
    Rating: 3 (3.7)

  3. One word sticks in my mind: energy. This whole album could use more of it. Musically, the group isn't bad; their intonation could be tighter, but mostly they just need to infuse a little energy and strength into their music. They often sound unsure of themselves, usually in their entrances, which are tentative at best. A little more confidence could help them to really nail the entrances. They may be a little rough around the edges, but there is real potential in this group. The talent could be better showcased with some more complex arrangements. And just a couple of comments about the recording: it sounds as if the soprano line consistently sticks out — could be a mixing problem. Also, the constant chatter, coughing, and giggling between songs is extremely distracting.
    Rating: 5 (5.7)

  4. The Smithereens lean toward very simple arrangements (which isn't necessarily a bad thing) that don't take advantage of their 14 members. On this recording they rarely give suitably spirited performances. There isn't any real reason to listen to this album twice except for the hidden track and the PMS rap (which still makes me laugh every time.) The Smithereens have the best sense of humor I've heard from any college group and periodically, usually when they're "sampling" a song in one of their arrangements, they do give spirited performances. I suspect they're a better group than this album would lead one to believe.
    Rating: 4 (5.8)

  5. These women really like to hear themselves laugh. This is actually a good album for its genre, but unfortunately I come away with it going "do they have to have to record themselves laughing before _every_ song?" instead of thinking about the many neat things that happen in this album, or even any of the pitch problems. There aren't too many, and this album is unique among women's a cappella in that they only have that over-vibratoed blend for the first song of the album, and for the rest just sing out and have a good time. They've got a lot of energy and it shows even in the studio, although it is egregiously applied to all the in-studio crap they insisted on keeping. There are some good arrangements in this album — "The Tide is High" and "That Voice Again" come to mind, and "Why Should I Cry" is truly memorable. The "made-up" songs are funny, even on tape for someone who never saw them live, knows none of the participants and has never gone to Smith. I like the way they credit their two a cappella covers arrangements to the original a cappella artist, instead of bothering to call the transcription their own. The blend is pretty good; the second altos often sound a little heavy — I don't know how else to describe the tone. Voices are for the most part good, and for once there isn't anybody with one of those clear-vibratoey-sore-thumb sopranos. Yet the album starts off with their laughter, and not even trying I counted seven instances of pointless studiobabble. To quote Annie Lennox, "Why?"
    Rating: 7 (6.8)


Individual Tracks

  1. Tuxedo Junction (4.0)
    1. The ensemble work sounds a bit thin. The scat solos are fragile, unsure. It feels like it might fall apart at any minute. The sopranos are up in the stratosphere and it just doesn't feel comfortable. Starts to feel good during the shout chorus...but ends quite abruptly.
      Rating: 4

    2. Their interpretation of this jazz standard is a very appropriate choice to lead off the album because it is a perfect indicator of things to come. To put it mildly, they lack the tonal consistency of Manhattan Transfer, and while there is some interesting scatting going on at times during this song, the obvious tuning problems make the track difficult to enjoy.
      Rating: 2

    3. This first track is off to a shaky start, but the soloist is solid and confident. The arrangement gets monotonous, and the high soprano line gets a little piercing toward the end of the song.
      Rating: 5

    4. The brief solos and scat solos are serviceable, but everything else is on the weak side. The backing vocals are sung mostly on the unauthoritative syllables "boo baa." When the lead vocals are sung in unison, which is most of the time, they're too thin and high. This is particularly true at the end when the arrangement picks up speed and the vocals become shrill.
      Rating: 3

    5. The first scat seems really out of tune. The almost-but-not-quite country solo is out of place with the classical-jazz vibrato tone of the song. She has a great high chest voice, the effect of which is ruined by a break into a very wimpy head voice. some of the scat lines, such as the second of the song, are really cool. Really high sopranos, that are, for the most part in tune — I'm not sure how good an idea that was but it's executed pretty well.
      Rating: 6

  2. Why (4.2)
    1. Starts out quite pretty. Occasional tuning problems in the group. The trio sounds right on. Starts feeling very stagnant after a minute or so and then develops into something of a dirge. This track just goes on too long. The soloist is OK, but there's just not that much interest in this song.
      Rating: 3

    2. A solid performance of a terrifically boring arrangement. The trio on the chorus does a particularly nice job. This has a pretty nice sound, but it just doesn't go anywhere. Phyllis Conti does a nice job on the solo, but being an alto II, she has to sing the power chorus at the end of the song in a light head voice, and this contributes to the monotony.
      Rating: 4

    3. Again, this song has a weak start and a lousy entrance. The Smithereens need to have confidence in themselves and just nail their entrances to start strong and stay that way. This song improves as it progresses, as the soloist gains strength, and the background blend is good.
      Rating: 6

    4. Well, this is a crying shame. Why? Because the arrangement of this Annie Lennox tune is right on the mark. They kept it as simple as possible (no percussion here) and it works. Why is the track a dud in spite of this? Because the lead vocals, which start off on a good foot, fail to deliver in the end. There is no reason to do this song if you can't nail the "This is the book I never read/These are the words I never said section." It's what the whole song builds too. This performance lacks any of the requisite PASSION.
      Rating: 1

    5. Very quiet beginning as contrasted to the previous song (one is too loud, one is barely audible) The opening chords sound as if they have a pitch flop in them, although I can't pinpoint it; the opening duet is good but could use a more alto-heavy mix. Kudos to the solo for not trying to sound like Annie Lennox — she has a pretty voice that suits the non-melodic solo well, although she's not too good with ornaments and flats at the very top of her chest voice. Her head voice is adequate for the stuff at the end. She sounds like a better version of Lisa Loeb, or a little like Nancy Griffith. Nice moving soprano line.
      Rating: 7

  3. I Want to Live Easy (6.0)
    1. Much better ensemble work. The group blends well and tunes everything just fine. The soloist has a few percussive 'P's but that's the engineers fault. The arrangement really makes the second altos sound isolated, it cries for something else to fill out the empty spaces.
      Rating: 6

    2. A pretty decent cover of the Mint Juleps' tune, this is plagued by occasional tuning lapses as well. Andrea Ferretti delivers a strong solo, but at times the solo-background call and response don't seem to jibe. For example, Ferretti uses the R & B pronunciation "EE-zay" and the response comes back "EE-zEE". Still, this is a pretty good track.
      Rating: 5

    3. A standard Mint Juleps cover, with a strictly imitative, and boring, arrangement. Nice, clear voice on the solo, with good control, and an even, steady alto II line.
      Rating: 6

    4. This is just a cover of the Mint Juleps' arrangement. Nothing is intentionally different, but the backing vocals lack the dynamic range of the original. This is sort of balance out by having a slightly fuller sound. (If you're familiar with The Mint Juleps' version of this song, then you've got a good sample of the type of sparse arrangements that suit the Smithereens best.)
      Rating: 7

    5. I wanna live E, e-zee. It doesn't get much whiter than this. Overcoming a shaky start, the solo is by far the best thing about this song, but the background is really inspirationless, except for the few occasions on which they get to build a chord. The second altos sound as though they're reaching for it. I know it's not at the bottom of their range, at least not the whole thing. But they have a heavy splat sound — I'm not sure how to fix this except get more comfortable second altos.
      Rating: 6

  4. PMS (5.0)
    1. I'm betting this one works a lot better in concert, with the benefit of an introduction and visual cues. On record it's a bit confusing. The energy is a welcome change, but the rap just doesn't hold on it's own merit. It's a hodge podge of the standard a cappella beat box routine with occasional lines of "popular" songs stuck in complete with sardonic commentary. I know they're angry about something, but I'm not sure what. But maybe that's the point.
      Rating: 3

    2. This is somewhat clever, but suffers from two fundamental problems: 1) Live comedy does not translate to CDs generally; and 2) they can't rap. The single most important element in rap is the bassy swing drum beat that lays the foundation for the song- in this there is sort of a high "doom" sound going on with no swing. I could see this being very effective in a performance, but it doesn't work on the album.
      Rating: 2

    3. This rap medley is probably entertaining in concert, but just doesn't quite work recorded. It doesn't flow well. Points for originality and a gutsy attempt.
      Rating: 2

    4. This novelty item is a rap about, what else, PMS. The human beat box accompaniment doesn't work, but other than that, there's some good stuff going on here. The actual lyrics are predictably funny, but the real comedy gold is in the samples of other songs that are used liberally throughout the arrangement. This is the first comedy a cappella comedy song I've heard that was funny not just because of the lyrics, but because of the comic timing of the performance.
      Rating: 9

    5. I really like the Sir Mix-a-lot beginning, and the technotronic part is neat too. The rest was probably really funny live. The first rapper needs to either go all-the-way ditzy or more serious. Oh yeah, the drug part is cool too. Heh-heh.
      Rating: 9

  5. The Tide is High (4.8)
    1. There's a lot going on in this arrangement, but it still feels somewhat sparse. It could be because of the wide range covered by the voices. The sop 1s are very high (and not incredibly accurate) and the alto 2s are quite low. The result is an uncomfortable blend and an empty middle. This gets filled out when the trio comes in during the choruses, and the arrangement starts working. Arrangement problems aside, the soloist does a very nice job.
      Rating: 4

    2. This song never quite makes it in tune, and so despite a cool smoky low solo from Courtney Allison (who sounds a little like Richard Greene of The Bobs at times), it is hard to enjoy. This is a solid arrangement, and it has a good soloist and harmonies, but the backing "instrumental" parts are simply sung off key.
      Rating: 4

    3. An interesting version of Blondie's song, this one has the most interesting arrangement so far. The high background is too chirpy, but the solo is appropriately sultry and pleasant to listen to. The vocal percussion is good, too, as it keeps the energy going.
      Rating: 7

    4. I feel like I'm wading in molasses. I don't know what that means exactly, but it was the fist thing that ran through my head as I listened to this lifeless, slowed down Blondie cover. Given, the original song wasn't hard rock — far from it. The beat made it sound like a carnival ditty. But this version doesn't have enough energy to accompany a run down merry-go-round. For a sample of how this should have sounded, check out the version by Vassar's Measure for Measure.
      Rating: 2

    5. I don't get the drum intro. At all. The solo has the right idea but could be cleaned up with a little more definition most places.The top of the duet tends to slide into tune, and often she doesn't quite get there. Except for her this is a good song — nice arr.
      Rating: 7

  6. Why Should I Cry (5.4)
    1. Much better...a very pretty arrangement that works very well with the group. The soloist does a very nice job. Still some microphone problems with the soloist. Simple and haunting...
      Rating: 6

    2. A pretty solo and their best performance in the background in terms of tuning, this track suffers from one of the worst mixes I've ever heard. The backing parts (and even the solo) is buried by a truly annoying "Ding" sound and some uninspiring hi hat percussion. Both parts would probably be fine a little further back in the mix, but where they are it makes what could have been the best track on their album almost intolerable instead.
      Rating: 3

    3. Since I am not familiar with Sting's version of this song, I can't compare, but on its own, this isn't bad. The arrangement is pretty good, and though the soloist has a nice voice, overall the performance is ho-hum. Very nice ending, though.
      Rating: 5

    4. The low and lulling lead vocals are good, but it's hard to listen to them with the almost perpetual "ch-ch-chh" of the percussion. They were trying to be subtle, but instead it is clipped, mechanical, and distracting. Percussion aside, the arrangement doesn't go anywhere or build up to anything. It just sits on the same level.
      Rating: 5

    5. Great beginning, and overall fantastic arrangement. The solo is pretty good; if she were a little less broadway — it's not too bad, except for the weird vibrato — she'd be better, but she does a good job. This is a really terrific arr of a hard song, and it deserves appropriate praise and overlooking the inevitable pitch problems.
      Rating: 8

  7. BlackBird (4.6)
    1. Some OK ensemble work. Occasional pitch problems in the Sop 1s and the Alto 2s. Pretty faithful to the original. I might be more excited if I hadn't heard this song thousands of times already.
      Rating: 5

    2. The King's Singers' arrangement is performed competently. Well, it kind of breaks down at points, but all in all it's not so bad. Great second altos! But the rest of the background floats in and out of tune regularly.
      Rating: 3

    3. This is a good song, and there is nothing really wrong with it, but it lacks something — energy, intensity, _something_. The group needs to get into it a little more, and enjoy what they are singing, and the soloist just needs a shot in the arm.
      Rating: 6

    4. Does this sound a little flat, or is it just me? Doesn't the original Beatles song have a great little coda a second or two after the song ends? Why did they cut it? Why do they base their performance on the King's Singers' version instead of on the original White Album version?
      Rating: 5

    5. Solo is consistently flat. It's tough to ruin a King's Singer's arr, but although she has a nice tone, the solo's pitch makes this song unpleasant.
      Rating: 4

  8. Wonder Woman (6.0)
    1. Does humor belong in a cappella? Well..yeah..if we all get the joke. There's some pretty college specific humor in this one. At least, I'd assume it's funny if you know the school. Maybe not. In any case, the A2s occasionally disagree on what the bass line really is, and the key change is very jarring. Other than that, the upper parts blend pretty well and have some good power.
      Rating: 4

    2. Interesting that this harmonically complex background is pretty much in tune, while some "easier" stuff early in the album was not. I gather that this was a skit, and I think some of the humor is lost in the this format. Still it made me smile.
      Rating: 3

    3. Finally a song with some energy, some punch! It's fun. Though the soprano part, which is up in the clouds, sounds understandably strained, the second altos do a good job of keeping the bassline humming.
      Rating: 6

    4. I have to give this one a ten based on the fact that it is probably the best Wonder Woman cover out there. The actual Wonder Woman theme song simply isn't a good tune. It's more of a vamp than a melody. And yet everyone seems to be performing it recently despite the fact that after the nostalgia wears off, which is about five seconds into it, the fun is over. This version, coming as it does from Smith College, actually has a reason to exist. They've added a spoken section and they genuinely seem to have an ax to grind.
      Rating: 10

    5. This is reasonably funny, and gives the basses a chance to comfortably shine. The voiceover woman's speaking voice has that a-little-flat sound I'd attribute to a smoking sorority girl if she didn't go to Smith — maybe she smokes anyway. The music part is pretty good, too.
      Rating: 7

  9. That Voice Again (6.2)
    1. Nice...good sound...good arrangment. The soloist is strong and the group does a nice job selling this one. I'm not convinced that some of the crunchier chords are tuning quite right, but they pass very quickly and are hard to pick out. Some sloppy cut offs here and there.
      Rating: 7

    2. It used to amaze me that people would pay the Ultimate A Cappella Arranging Service to arrange a cover song for them. But when I hear something like the chorus of this song, I begin to understand. It's so far above anything else on this album! Deke Sharon's trademark polyrhythmic sound comes through in a way I would not have thought the Smithereens capable of. But this arrangement seems incomplete. The verses start to be not only boring but unpleasantly dissonant. The chorus is great, but the verses don't seem to match.
      Rating: 4

    3. Here is one with a full arrangement that the whole group seems to really get into. The vocal percussion is especially zealous. Transitions and blend could be smoother, but not a bad track.
      Rating: 6

    4. This arrangement, by the ubiquitous Deke Sharon (House Jacks, Tufts Beelzebubs), is the most complex one on the album. Perhaps too complex. The bass tries to hard and sounds a little silly as a result. Also, the original Peter Gabriel song, is always evolving and going through tempo changes. A Gabriel song depends a lot on complex production and this recording can't live up to the challenge technically. It isn't especially well suited for a cappella and the Smithereens have a hard time keeping up. There is one nice long note and fall off (14 seconds) from the lead vocalist.
      Rating: 6

    5. Bass percussion is a little much — more resonance, less intrusion needed. The choruses could use a more punch, as could the solo, although actually she's pretty good. Interesting arr of bridge, with the "nos" — solo misses one toward the end, but since she's so good I'll let it slide. The top of her chest voice leaves a little to be desired — if they'd mixed the long note higher it would have helped. As it is it sounds like she can't "project" the high stuff. I miss the lower harmony on the chorus, although their high harmony works too.
      Rating: 8

  10. Softly (4.6)
    1. A more traditional homophonic a cappella close harmony arrangement. The arrangement is well written, but the group is not well suited to it. The blend isn't all there, a few voices always seem to stick out, and there's ragged tuning throughout. It just doesn't lock in.
      Rating: 4

    2. The Smithereens have pleasant voices, but they have difficulty singing together (either rhythmically or in the sense of tuning). This pleasant little snippet would be all the better if they would, say, cut off at the same time.
      Rating: 3

    3. This is a very pretty choral ballad, though for some reason it is the only song whose origin and arrangement are not credited in the liner notes. There are some minor intonation problems, but I like this one.
      Rating: 6

    4. Pretty harmonies, and yet, there's nothing that would ever make me want to listen to this song again. It isn't the Smithereens' fault, it just isn't a grabbing or moving song.
      Rating: 4

    5. I guess you have to have a token slow song. This one isn't particularly well done — not their style.
      Rating: 6

  11. You Can Have Him (7.0)
    1. WOW! Is this the same group? A complete power soloist backed up by a rock solid group. The arrangement places all of the voices in a comfortable range which does wonders for the group's sound. I'm sure the energy and confidence of the soloist helps the group a lot. The first set of snaps is not together, and the clapping could be a bit more accurate as well. I take issue with the final chord, it feels wrong and out of place.
      Rating: 8

    2. A power solo by Brookes McKenzie is backed by a simple unison background. McKenzie is over the top on the lead, which is great, but she is so forceful from the beginning of the song that she doesn't have anywhere to go with it. Also the last chord is just flat-out missed.
      Rating: 4

    3. Finally a strong soloist, with personality! The whole group sounds like they are having fun. The energy is high in this upbeat song, and stays up. The last chord is a little weird, but otherwise this is a good song.
      Rating: 8

    4. Dang! The lead vocalist comes galloping into this number, lasso swinging and big bluesy voice a-wailin'. She does some particularly nice work adding some raspyness for an extra soulful effect. The backing vocals provide a strong bass for her to work with. The last note of the song is slightly off key. (If you listen carefully, you can hear them apologize afterwards).
      Rating: 8

    5. This very solo-centric song feels like a song with a lot of punch live. It recorded decently, but the pitch problems in the solo stand out a lot more in the recording. She did a good job keeping her energy in the studio, and I have to say I like her guts. Ending chord is weird.
      Rating: 7

  12. Bonus Track (7.2)
    1. A cleverly written little piece that comments upon an all to familiar situation in the collegiate a cappella world. Sigh. To be young again...
      Rating: none

    2. Sung with a laugh, this "hidden track" is the best thing on the album. A parody of the one-night stand relationships between male and female a cappella groups, it's fun to try to guess who they're singing about...
      Rating: 7

    3. Original and clever, tells a story that may be familiar to many a cappella group members.
      Rating: 5

    4. This song, written by group members, is an absolute winner. It basically concerns one night stands that happen at after the concert parties with visiting groups from other schools. I wasn't in any college groups, but I still loved this song. If you are in a group, this song is a must hear. It's sung by three voices. The first voice sings the main vocals solo while the other two cut in with samples of the songs that the visiting men sung the night before. (There's a particularly strong quote from "Soul to Soul" that kind of makes you wish they had done the whole song.)
      Rating: 10

    5. This is for everyone who's ever lusted after that cute (and often otherwise not so cute) soloist with the killer voice and great smile. The laughter at the end ruins it, though I like the funny noises after that.
      Rating: 7

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