Total time: 63:25, 16 songs
An overall above average CD by a talented and disciplined
group. The men in this group are a hundred times better than
most of the men in coed groups, which obviously helps them out
a lot. For one thing, they have at least one true bass. For
another, they have several passable male soloists. Their one
major flaw is that they are too top-40 in the sense that they
do everything with the same plastic lack of emotion. The few
songs where it seems like _someone_ is trying to
express something ("Galileo" and
"Possession") are marred by
lapses in execution, and the most technically perfect songs
("Break It Down Again" and
"Mermaid") are lacking the sense
that they're thinking about the words of the song and the
dominant emotions. But overall, an excellent group, which I
nitpick because they obviously have the talent and drive to be
superlative. If they had a _slightly_ better grade of
soloists, and a little bit more judgement over such things as
syllables, and more emotion, they would be phenomenal. They
could also stand to branch out a little bit more — rather than
the one token jazz song, they should try something entirely
different, for their own amusement if for no other reason.
Rating: 6 (6.6)
There's a whole bunch of tracks that failed to thrill me on this disc, but a lot of that has to do with the fact that they don't live up to the high standard set by the other songs on this album. After hearing "If I Could" (the best and most thought out Seal cover I've heard), the energetic "Express Yourself", the richly textured "Jimi Thing", or even the flawed gem (due to some problems of staying on tempo) that is "Mermaid", the other tracks seem lame in comparison. On a different album, they might be standouts, but here, they are disappointments. And when you compare any of the sub-par to the perfectly rendered "Man in the Mirror". . . well, there is no comparison.
When the Amalgamates do break through to a higher level, they
achieve a full, professional sound. Much of that sound is due
to "mega bass"
Hammond. Many groups try to show off how, cool, deep and
laid back sexy their bass is. (If I have to hear 60 Minute Man
again, I'll scream!) Many basses are really singing a falsetto
bass (faking the extreme low end). Hammond isn't faking a
thing. His voice is subsonic. The Amalgamates never drag him
out for a solo line. Instead they use him subtly to provide
the bedrock of their better arrangements. You might not even
notice him at first, but he's the behind the scenes star of
this CD. The in-the-spotlight star of the disc, deservedly so,
Birnbaum. She gives what has to be the best solo of the
year on the superlative "Man in the
Mirror", she out sings The Story on the cover of
"Mermaid", and she makes
"Express Yourself" a real blast.
Hats off to the both of them.
Rating: 7 (6.9)
Right off the bat, let me just say one thing: mouth percussion. Don't get me wrong, the group has a great sound, soloists are consistently strong, arrangements are decent. But that mouth percussion! — it's in your face. It's on almost every song. And it kicks butt. I've never been that big of a fan of it, but on this album, it adds so much — the songs all lock into a groove and stay there. It's almost too much — at times, you almost forget that there's other stuff going on in the backgrounds.
The other thing that stands out about the album is the production. This album is not for the a cappella "purist". I'm talking about lots of processing — EQ's, filters, compression, distortion, and plenty of echoes and reverb. But I liked it. It was all appropriate to the music, and it gave the album an extremely professional sound (especially that mouth percussion).
I suppose I should talk about the singing. This group obviously had the talent required to get all the basics in place and move on to the more refined details of performing. Dynamics are used really well, and there are lots of subtle things in the backgrounds, often mixed way in the back. And the bass parts are insane — some of the lowest singing I've ever heard.
I especially liked the choice of material on the album — the
group has found a style that they do well (reasonably current
pop/rock/alternative), and they stick with it (well, except for
track 13. ouch). My one complaint about the
album is the lack of originality in the arrangements. The
songs are virtually all just imitations of the originals — they
don't really have much new to offer. But they're so well done,
I didn't really mind all that much. Cool album. (Did I
mention the mouth percussion?)
Rating: 8 (6.9)
Every once in a while a critical mass of talent converges in one group at one college and some amazing music results. This generation of the Tufts Amalgamates represents one of those occasions. While this album has a couple of clunkers, when this group is on track they own the road and no one else I've heard this year comes close. Astonishing soloists, expert arrangements, power and energy — what other college group can claim all this? I've had the good fortune to see them on tour; they are a feast for the ears and eyes and sound even better live than they do on this album.
People graduate; rosters change. Who knows what this group
will be like a year or two from now? Don't wait to find out -
buy this album NOW.
Rating: 8 (6.9)
Wa-wa, wa wa-wa waaa. This whole album could be Charlie Brown's teacher — you know something is going on and for all you know it could be reasonably interesting, but it all blends together. All of the songs on this album are pretty good. And they all have a few flaws, but very little stands out either one way or the other. I spent a couple of hours going over this thing, but I could have set up a basic song comment and given them all a seven and not been far off the mark. My boilerplate would have gone something like this:
Decent energy and tuning, not much dynamic range, with a very nasal sound from the women. There's a high soprano with a good clear tone who does some interesting acrobatics, but unfortunately any pitch and intonation problems glare at that height. The tenors have an open, smooth sound and the basses are reliable and constant, sometimes engineered to have a fuller sound. There are a lot of engineering tricks on the voices, with varying degrees of success, although they leave the percussion alone. Drums are constant and generally effective, and occasionally stand out. Arrangements are good but long and repetitive, which ties into the type of song, and overuse of syllables like "wa" and "ya" can ruin a decent thing. And please, please do something about those altos — that nasal, one-dimensional sound cuts right through the mix and is tough on the ears.
And that's it, that's the album. There are two positive things
that really stand out: a cool instrumental solo by a great
tenor in "Galileo", and the key
change and end choruses and stuff in "Man
in the Mirror", which is the Amalgamates at their
very, very best. Other than that, it's a nice album for
waiting rooms and long-distance driving.
Rating: 7 (7.0)
Excellent arrangement — full without sounding busy,
tempo is more or less spot-on, unnecessary reverb &
use of fade-out on solo, who is okay but sometimes
oversings a little. This song actually rocks. Nice
descant but I wish the bit harmony was as loud. Some of
the cool things going on in the arrangement are buried
in the background. Basses are really good on this song
but they could make even better use of them — the bass
line isn't particularly interesting. This is a good
song to do a cappella but hard to pull off really
well, and this version succeeds in almost every respect.
Good idea for an opening track: a catchy yet
Tears for Fears
song. This track get off on the right foot, with a well
done march beat. But the lead vocal never really takes
this anywhere, except right before each chorus when his
voice explodes into high gear (very similar to the
original.) The complex arrangement gets undermined by
some lazily sung "Ba thum thum"s.
The soloist sounds great, nailing all the high notes
with ease. The texture on this one is especially rich,
with lots of different layers of sound ranging from the
soloist up front to some voices that are so distant,
they are almost subliminal. This one really requires
multiple listenings to hear everything.
Clark must have gone to a lot of work on this one to
get every nuance of the original Tears for Fears song
into this arrangement. The work pays off. With a
satisfyingly Orzabal-sounding soloist in James Perry,
fine percussion and energy to spare, the Amalgamates
rock the house. It's not perfect (tuning and timing
aren't always right on), but it is very good.
The opening reminds me of an out-of-tune easy
listening version of the
theme song — I think it's the percussion. Once the
song proper begins, a mix of cool and invasive
engineering tricks back up a surprisingly nifty solo.
There's a quiet and slightly processed ostinato of
fourths lurking behind the verses, the effect of which
is at once heightened and ruined every time the chords
come in. The effect is like a live performance where
the group stands in a cluster and the cool parts are 10
feet from the mics with the boring stuff hogging the
front row next to the soloist. There are a lot of
really cool things in this song, but the altos (and all
but the highest women) have a tinny, forced sound that
jumps out in the mix, particularly on the repetitive
parts they're given. Too bad — they keep a good track
from being a great one.
Just so you know — every coed group in the country
does this song. Every time I hear another version of it
I'm shocked by how easy it is to imitate
Sarah McLachlan — much easier than I would have thought.
This particular version is okay, but marred by being too
slow, and having a mildly annoying arrangement ("wa-ow"
for guitars). The smooth parts are nice, though.
Wicked high descant. The solo for once doesn't have to
switch to head voice on the high part, but she's very
alto-ish sounding — she makes the solo sound much lower
than it really is. Cool percussion.
This is slower than
Beat's version. (Does anyone out there NOT own
2?) But I like this one on it's own merits. It's
slower, but it also has a nice gentle quality. A very
steady percussion line, done on a very click-y sound,
keeps the whole thing moving forward.
I loved the doubling of the melody up an octave -
it's screaming high and would be painful at full volume,
but way back in the mix, it sounds great. The Wah-wah's
in the backgrounds are a little odd, but they worked for
me. I especially liked the way they have the bass and
(vocal) percussion EQ'd to give them a crunchy, lo-fi
Beautiful and haunting, like the Sarah McLachlan
is stunningly on target through the whole song in terms
of pitch and emotion. The accompaniment is precise and
rolls along at a perfect tempo. It's also a fascinating
arrangement, especially in syllable choices. "Waow"
(the closest I can come phonetically) works very well as
a background syllable.
I like the wordless shifting chords in the opening
— I'm not in favor of intruding syllables on this song.
(Hint to whoever arranged the second verse. "Wa" and
"Wao" definitely count as intruding, particularly so
much of them. And you'd been doing so well!) The solo
is not unpleasant to listen to, but in my mind she (and
most everyone else I've ever heard try to sing this song
besides Sarah) misses the coolest thing about the part.
Sarah makes such great and dramatic use of her break,
and most imitators stick with either chest voice or head
voice, thus losing a lot of effect at the high points of
the song. This one picks head voice — pretty, but more
wistful than breathtaking.
The Chic reference in the beginning is cute, and not
overdone. Solo sounds very country and high (did they
raise this song?), but she gets Madonna's funny
intonation right for the most part, and her voice grows
on you rather than grating the way Madonna's starts to.
Interesting things going on in the arrangement,
especially the verses. The song sounds very
_smooth_, but it needs to rock a little more.
Percussion is good but a tad mechanical. The trio on
the chorus works well, and is mixed appropriately.
With an explosion of energy, the album comes alive
on this track. Sure this is an arrangement from the
"How-complicated-can-we-be" school of arranging, but
they remembered to bring some fun to this Madonna song.
Listen carefully for the reference to "Freak Out", which
perfectly accents the vaguely 70s funk feel of the song.
It's Madonna, and it's tolerable — if that's not a
feat, I don't know what is. The high falsetto riffs are
great and the harmonies on the duet & trio parts are
really nice. My one complaint is the really lame fake
echo on the very ending.
I'm sure that not everything in this song is 100%
perfect. If I listened really hard, I bet I could find
something to complain about...but I won't bother. This
track just feels right. Soloist Amy Birnbaum pulls out
the stops and nails this song to the wall. With
stellar, energetic accompaniment by the group and fine
trio work backing the soloist, this one is hard to fault
in any way. It's one hell of an arrangement, too -
nicely dense, full of sound and activity that is
appropriate to this song. Highlight of the album.
The choruses to this are like an uptempo
Glass-like, Toby Twining piece with a loud and basic
drum machine. Except it sounds like there are 20 of
them instead of just four. The solo is actually ok — I
keep wanting more bite, but I guess it's hard to do that
recorded and keep tone from going way over the top. I
think the really high soprano in the chorus is getting
tired — she's been in every song so far and is getting
a little tired; unfortunately even the slightest
deviation in pitch is obvious that high, particularly
when your part is doubled an octave lower. In
"Possession" she bordered
on overuse, here I think it's over the line and starts
to get shrill even though she does have a nice clear
Weirdly sparse arrangement which almost works due to
good engineering. Almost all the high parts are way
back in the sound, which makes it sound a little
unbalanced. The solo is okay but a little strained.
This arrangement is reminiscent of something the
Chorallaries would do, but the Amalgamates have a
fuller sound in general. Percussion is very
interesting, not the main line (which is overly
heartbeat/techno) but a more erratic bongo-drum sound.
A song that grows on you.
The liner notes say this is originally by the
Jones Band. I checked the liner notes about three
measures into this cut because I'd never heard the song
before. The sound was so fresh, that even before the
main vocal came in, I knew I hadn't heard anything like
it. The lead could be stronger, but this gets by on
charm and some good percussion.
A little bland for my tastes, but otherwise well
done. I think this one also suffers from the fact that
it's about the same tempo as track 3 -
it feels like it's just more of the same stuff.
This has a catchy chorus, but the song as a whole
doesn't do a whole lot for me; it's more of a laid-back
happy song than a power track or pain-ballad like the
album started with. It's a good arrangement with only a
few noticeable tuning slips in the background.
Percussion on this is very well done. Soloist
Kwon has a nice smooth voice, but he always sounds
happy even when the lyrics don't seem to call for it.
The solo on this reminds me a lot of
DeBurgh: pretty voice, nice melody, and not quite in
tune all the time. The song is nicely mellow yet upbeat
and moves right along. And you know, it sounds just
like everything else so far. The backgrounds are busy
and somewhat repetitive, that high soprano is there and
the altos have that piercing tinny sound. The vocal
percussion is a cut above the dance tracks, however,
making good use of some pitched sounds and multiple
Bizarrely robotic-sounding opening, which segues
into a lack of blend. _Good_ percussion
though, which is the first time I've heard it done right
for this song. Solo tries hard but doesn't quite have
it (she wavers around the notes), and the descants can't
blend with her at _all_. "Ya ya ya"s and
abrupt swells do NOT work. The end has a nice
full sound, though, and overall this is the best version
I've heard of this song, although it is less pleasant in
its own right than in evoking the original.
This is one of those song I look forward to every
time I hear another group is taking a crack at it. The
original Indigo Girls track has some great overlapping
vocals (courtesy of Jackson Browne and David Crosby, I
think) that lend themselves perfectly to the standard a
cappella arrangement. Generally I've been disappointed
by the actual covers. This is probably the best version
I've heard, although it's a bit slow to get out of the
This one has more of an "acoustic" sound (less
processing) for the first time on the album, and it's a
nice change of pace. The "wood block" sounds in the
vocal percussion are tasty. Some of the background
syllables get ugly — what's with all the Yah yah yah's?
Great use of dynamics for a big impact.
They've got the feel of this one right, but the
execution leaves a little bit to be desired. From an
introduction with dubious tuning to the occasional
overpowering of the soloist by the background (a mixing
problem) to the strange instrumental break (what
instrument was that supposed to be?), it just has some
niggling faults that get to me. That's not to say it's
bad; it still beats most other Galileo's I've heard.
(Most entertaining aspect: whoever's doing the "wood
block" noise is perfect.)
Oooh, I really like the tenor interpretation of the
instrumental solo; I think it's a pennywhistle in the
beginning. Almost McFerrinesque,
and refreshingly original; more than makes up for the
weird and wrong-sounding women on the intro. The
backgrounds on this song are pretty much the same, and
the choruses could use a lot more energy on everybody's
part. The ending chord is badly in need of a uniform
cutoff. I do like the solo; she reminds me of
The duet overdoes the effect, though, and is annoyingly
breathy. The last verse makes a valiant effort at using
contrasting dynamics — not quite there, but a first for
this album. And there are some neat light ornaments by
a soprano type in the chorus, which balance out the
annoying ya-ya-yas. Not that I'm thrilled with
diga-din, mind you, but when combined with that nasal
altotone the "ya" syllable is tough to take, even on an
otherwise fine set of parts. All the pluses and minuses
on this song seem to cancel out, but they get a high
score for that nifty tenor.
Soloist doesn't have anywhere near a compelling
enough voice for this song. _Really_ cool
noise for percussion though, good percussion throughout
actually. Also good basses. _Nice_ trumpet.
Arrangement, when it isn't serving as a showcase for the
solo, is really interesting but not perfectly executed.
The ending is awesome (for once an appropriate use of
reverb), although they should have faded out more.
What's this? A GOOD cover of a Seal tune?
Amazing, but true. Where most groups fall flat on their
ass trying to do Crazy (which really SHOULD work a
cappella), The Amalgamates, looked a little deeper into
the Seal discography and pulled this very appropriate
track. The lead vocalist is generally strong and very
well suited to the song, although his voice falters a
bit on some of the higher sections. But that's more
than made up for by the odd but effective use of a
vocal-brass line. Towards the end, the lead is joined
by a female voice. In the original track, Joni Mitchell
and Seal sung a duet, but here the second voice never
quite steps out of the role of back up singer. That
aside, the two do make a good pairing.
The soloist seems to be struggling in spots. Some
of the sounds are a bit strange, particularly an
individual doing a muted trumpet kind of sound. The
group sounds incredibly distant — with all the reverb,
you can barely figure out what's going on in the
A very Seal-sounding
Gordon has just the right lazy take on this song,
and the very in-tune background is a pleasure to listen
to. They use studio effects very well in this; the
different reverbs are just perfect. The various unusual
background sounds come through wonderfully and only
vaguely sound like human voices; they're much more like
synthesizers. Finally, whoever's on "trumpet" is a
genius; why don't they credit this sort of thing?
Background is Enya-like,
gives me neat images of ripples on a deep underground
pool in a vast cavern. Basses are richer than usual,
and the surround-sound effect is great. Unfortunately
most of what's on top of that lavalamp of sound is not
up to snuff — the solo is too light and seems a bit
overwhelmed by his part, and the women aren't open
enough or smooth enough. To be fair, they do have some
pretty rapid-fire bits but I still think it could have
This song has the potential to irritate, and the
arrangement doesn't help — too boppy and
also sounds slightly ragged on the chorus. The solo is
also a tad nasal for my tastes. The basses do a cool
thing at one point though. Male descant in the chorus
sticks out. Percussion is inappropriately beat-box-y.
Ending is kind of cool.
Rich, bouncy, and fun! This track is a good wake-up
song, if ever I heard one. The lead vocal is rock solid
and enjoying herself. The high point of the track is
when the arrangement breaks down into a simpler,
pre-vocal percussion, styled arrangement.
You gotta love a group that's not afraid to use "R"
as a vowel sound — actually, I wish they would have used
it even more. Normally I'm not a big fan of perky,
happy pop songs, but this one was just a lot of fun.
Having the "percussion" dropping out and coming back in
is used effectively.
The repetitive chorus wears thin after a couple of
times, but almost everything else about this track is
great fun. Energetic solo and background, great
percussion, fun busy arrangement. Very little in the
way of tuning missteps, and a freaky fading ending tops
it off in a rather cool way.
This is a cute little girl-rocker perfectly suited
to the nasal women's sound the 'Mates can't seem to
lose. And amazingly , now that it's ok to play with it,
they go normal for some "doo doo" overlays that are
Interesting and unusual arrangement, especially in
the beginning, but as the song progresses it becomes
more apparent that it's too top-40 sounding for the
song. Ditto the percussion, solo, etc. But it
_sounds_ really good, for the most part, but I
think if it were _felt_ a little more, it would
be amazing. As it is, so many things are going on in
this song that it blows my mind, _and_ they
hold it together to keep a coherent sound out of it all.
Some might hate me for saying this, but I like the
lead on this track more than the original performance by
Jonatha Brooke (of The Story). This would be a
superlative cut, except for all the tempo changes.
Mermaid has a lot of tricky tempo shifts and unusual
rhythms, and, sadly, the Amalgamates stumble over some
of them. You can hear them occasionally lurch or, more
often, drag on a snippet here and there.
The opening riffs and vocal percussion do a good job
of setting up the haunting feel of the song. Very cool
sliding parts in the backgrounds gliss from note to note
— it's almost like a
kind of effect. A section of the song in triple
meter lends an especially dreamy mood to the song, and
is followed by a nice percussive transition back into
the original feel.
Don't know the original of this, and the words don't
do much for me, but it's certainly pleasant to listen to
— the harmonies are interesting, and the solo is clearly
understandable. Time-signature changes in the middle
keep it interesting, and the whole song is technically
well done. I'd like to take this opportunity to praise
the percussion on the whole album, and especially on
this song (_somebody_ does a damn fine snare
drum). But again, I wish extra things like percussion
were credited in addition to the solos.
Solo does a good job with Jonatha Brooke's
inflections and highly individualized solo line. The
backing vocal parts are done pretty well too. I like
the arrangement of the chorus with the doo-ba doo-bas —
nice effect. I like the fadeout ending. Ooh, nice bass
line on the break before the "needles and pins" verse,
which itself has some nice harmonies. The percussion
seems to drag it for some reason, I think it's a little
heavy for the song. Other than the slight drag, the
only thing I don't like about this song is the
beginning, which uses syllables ending in "ink" or "ing"
and doesn't feel right.
is rapidly becoming the male version of
Tori Amos — an
artist with a very distinctive voice that soloists try
to imitate with varying degrees of success. This
impression is somewhat close, although sometimes he
sounds more like Anthony Keidis.
He doesn't need those
effects, however. Arrangement is pretty good, the
female guitar imitations don't irritate as much as they
could. This song has a groove that works well, but I'd
be a lot more impressed if it did it without such
_obvious_ effects. Nice ending chord.
As good as anything I've heard from
in a couple of albums. From the easy going shuffle of
the opening notes, you would never expect this song to
crescendo the way it does, but by the end you can hear
this song for the Dave Matthews' concoction that it is.
A vocal line or two is distorted (if you've ever sung
into a harmonica mike, you know the sound). There's a
nice quote from
in the Sky with Diamonds, but coming off of that
section, the lead decided to do a little falsetto that
doesn't fit in with the rest of the track.
This one was _almost_ my favorite song on
the album. For the most part, it's right on target.
The groove is there from beat one, and the soloist does
a decent Dave Matthews impression (some wobbly rhythms
and too much voice cracking, though). What ruins the
whole thing is the last chord — a major seventh chord
(with ninth)? It has nothing to do with the rest of the
song. And the Lucy in the Sky with
Diamonds excerpt in the middle almost works. But
An interesting, funky accompaniment figure starts it
off, then soloist John Clark comes in alternating
between a breathy-lazy and a powerful projecting sound
that both sound great. I'm not familiar with the
original, but this version got in my head for days at a
time, which I take as a good sign. The "Lucy in the
Sky" quote in the middle seemed pretty unnecessary,
though. (If it was in the original, I'd bet it sounded
pretty out-of-place there too.)
Dave Matthews Lite — Basically the same thing, but
without the edge. Which is a shame, particularly for
the bulk of the solo, since he has such nice tone and
gets the falsetto stuff right. They also have him
over-reverbed in parts, which I don't get at all. The
high soprano is there, as always, and there's a
nummanumma part that also seems to be a requisite —
mercifully for this song it's brief. If they'd cut it
by a minute or two they could have really brought it
together. There are a couple of nicely intoned
harmonized guitar accents by them women — when they
come back in towards the end it makes you want to
forgive them for the "Lucy in the Sky" bit. But it's a
very pleasant ditty that grooves respectably on the
verses. It's music to get stoned to.
The smooth (held) parts come in much too early -
this song has to sound chopped-up at least in the
beginning to make the contrast worthwhile. Bass sounds
a little hokey, good bass drum though. Again the solo
doesn't sound like Sheryl Crow, but she doesn't sound
that great, either. Nice additions to what's in the
original in the second half of the song.
An exciting arrangement, but the lead vocals don't
convey any of the songs emotional messages. Sheryl Crow
simultaneously sounded wounded, broken and vulnerable on
the one hand, while also managing to practically
DARE the listener to try to handle her — an
emotional tempest waiting to unleash some massive
destruction. The lead hear does neither. She isn't
strong. She isn't weak. She's just on tune.
A pretty standard cover of this song. The high
soprano part in the background seems unsteady (and is
one of the rare times on this album when a singer has
too classical of a sound). This one's pretty much saved
by strong vocal percussion part.
A note's missing! I swear, the highest note in the
original accompaniment figure, the note on beat 3, is
just GONE here, replaced by a rest. Does this
bother anybody but me? It was really hard to pay
attention to the rest of the song when every couple of
measures I heard something that sounded so wrong. That
aside, the soloist and the rest are quite good, but I'm
just thrown by the deletion. What a strange arranging
Interesting beginning — the slow tempo sets the
song apart from the pack. Solo "Lie to me" chorus is
very bottom heavy except by a bunch of Anna
Callahan-like way high bits over the top. (Anna was
Amazin' Blue's sax woman on Englishman in NY, in case
you don't remember.) I think
bow-biddy-biddy-bottom-bootom was a very unfortunate
choice of syllables for an otherwise needed treble
break. Mix and tempo get a little out of hand toward
the end, but it's still a nice track.
Good if standard arrangement for this song, it's
well-executed though. Also an interesting bass line.
Solo is at once overly affected and too far back in the
mix. Nice soprano echoes off the solo. They end just
when it starts to get mechanical. I am beginning to
realize (despite my previous misgivings) that this is a
good song to do a cappella.
The Stone Temple Pilots would be so thrilled to
know they've written the newest a cappella standard — a
Lion Sleeps Tonight for the 90s.
Seriously, there is something about the music that
actually works well a cappella. Strange, but true.
Even bad groups have done a decent job with this song.
The Amalgamates put a good rendition on this album. The
lead is particularly well suited to the material without
having to bend of backwards to try to turn in an over
the top ROCK AND ROLL performance. It's a very
It's nice to hear a cappella groups do rock songs.
Not pop songs, but real, honest to goodness rock songs.
And this is one of them. Aggressive bass and backbeat
add to the intensity. I liked how the group used vowel
sounds that would change (and get just a little nasty)
as a chord would crescendo.
Back to the strongest material the Amalgamates do:
big rock. Soloist
Wells does a fine job, with a strong enough voice
to take on this song. It's another dense arrangement,
and the group handles it well (though the syllables "bow
now" do get a little old). As always, excellent
percussion and energy.
Exactly the sort of grungy track you'd expect from
them. Perfectly fine, but gets slightly lower marks
from me for its sheer obviousness.
I'm afraid I cannot say the same for this song,
however. Solo is (of course) less annoying than
Rucker, but he ends up being unconvincing in the
long run. Arrangement is mildly interesting (nice
swells on the verses), but the song itself is so
repetitive and goes on so long that it doesn't hold
interest for that long. Bad song sequencing — they have
too many unusual and good song choices on this album to
put the three overplayed songs in a row.
I wasn't in a frat, but I actually like Hootie.
That said, was this really necessary? The lead is
nowhere near as interesting a vocalist as Darius Rucker
(except for a little improv vocal where he cuts loose
and gets a little raspy and soulful for a few measures).
The track seams to drag to me.
You know, this song isn't nearly as inane if you
don't pay attention to the lyrics. The soloist seems to
fumble around a little on the Yeah Yeah Yeah's and No No
No's. Overall, pretty decent. Considering it's a
Soloist Jonathan Callard does a fine Hootie, and the
arrangement sounds great. The choruses are satisfyingly
"big". The only flaw is that the chords in the
background are frequently out of tune — not severely,
but noticeably. Fortunately, it usually passes quickly
enough so as to not interfere too much with the feel of
Nice basses. Whatever the engineers did, I approve.
Nice balance on the upper parts, too, and the solo is
surprisingly tolerable. So despite my personal aversion
to repetitive alternarock tracks and especially Hootie
and the Blowfish, I'm gonna have to score this one well.
They even use dynamics!
A departure for the 'Mates — this song is venturing
Counterparts territory, although with the rest of
the album's pop/rock/alt slant (not to mention
engineering!), it comes across as a calculated maneuver
to show their versatility. And while they execute it
well, they don't have that much of a jazz
_feel_ for the song, so it's not as convincing
as the aforementioned Counterparts. Solo is good, but a
little breathy, coy and Broadway. _Nice_
basses at the end!
Is this the Amalgamates? It can't be. It sounds
like a bunch of tuxedo clad wimps. An all female bunch
of tuxedo clad wimps. (Ignore the men, the main sound
is that of a substandard women's group.) The bass helps
things a bit, but the brief vocal brass line is joyless.
At the very end, for a second, they lay on a smooth,
jazzy chord that shows what this track could have been.
Apparently, the 'Mates wanted to satisfy the
curiosity of all the people who were wondering if they
could do styles other than pop. Well, they give us an
answer, and it's a definite no. Along with the
stylistic change (to swing), this is the only song on
the album that doesn't have vocal percussion or any
studio effects (other than a little 'verb). And it just
sounds like a mess (the basses in particular sound like
complete mud). I hope that this is only a sign of the
group's unfamiliarity with the style, not an indication
that the group can only sound good when they're using
fancy studio tricks.
This one just feels out of place. While it could be
looked at as a plus in terms of diverse song selection,
this Harry Connick Jr. original just falls flat with
me. If this song is any indication, the Amalgamates
should stay away from cutesy jazz. It might be better
with a different soloist...not that this one does
anything technically wrong, but stylistically she just
sounds a bit too lackadaisical. While Connick has the
casual-but-energetic sound down pat, this solo came out
way too 'light', too proper; not enough slyness.
On the positive side, the "tuba" break is fabulous.
Token jazz effort, which as one might expect is not
their style. The background is quite heavy-handed,
worsened by the altos and "wa" syllables. I think the
engineer knew this and threw on lots of stuff to try and
make the best of it, but it still flops. Except for the
solo — just when I think there's a track that I can at
least differentiate by its lousiness, there's this
light, pretty, fluffy solo that is not in the least
nasal or misplaced. You go girl!
Whoever is doing percussion does a _really_
good beat-box, but while it's appropriate (for once)
it's a little dominating in this song. This song is
well done, but its Gloria Estefan-like vibe begins to
grate on my nerves after the first five bars. Solo is
fine but far from enthralling. Unnecessary effects on
one part. But again, there's really nothing wrong with
this song — I just can't stand it personally.
What is it about this song that makes reminds me of
a dance mix of "The Love Boat"? Anyway, the backing vox
and percussion are truly head-bopping, but the lead
vocalist doesn't live up to them. She's generally too
soft and gets lost in a song that seems like it could
have used a real diva on the lead.
The falsetto parts that worked so well on
track 3 are brought back, but they
don't work on this one — here, they are intrusive. In
general, this track sounds less crisp than the others.
I think this one puts the group over their allowed quota
for happy 80's pop tunes.
Wow, this took a lot of falsetto work by the guys.
The primary background figure is a bunch of quick high
stuff, which the guys and women pull off pretty well
(though that many high piercing notes from men can
eventually get irritating). A fair number of odd
rhythms and neato key shifts make this one particularly
challenging, but the group handles it just fine.
I don't know if it's what they were going for, but I
gotta say, this is one of the best jazz fusion tracks
I've ever heard, a cappella or no. Percussion intro is
a good comeback from the last one. Nice intro, great
use of the high soprano and I'll try to overlook the
glaring "break out" by the altos. Solo is a little
choral for a dance track, but overall preferable to
going overly nasal like they've been wont to do. The
song has a good overall feel to it and would be really
popular on one of those "bright" music stations. Kinda
reminds me of the
Night Shift, but more uptempo. Yeah, its not the most
overwhelming of genres, but for what it is it's great.
For once I can hear the basses scraping bottom.
Soloist sounds like he thinks this is a Devo song, but
the background is pretty good, although it sounds stiff
and clockwork in the chorus, perhaps due to the
robotically precise percussion and bassline. Blend
suffers towards the end, and song could stand to end
quite a bit sooner than it does.
This wasn't one of the big hits from keyboard-wizard
but if you've ever heard the original,
you're bound to like it. Good 80s pop. And a song that
seems to have some a cappella potential. But the lead
vocalist sounds like he's singing into his head instead
of projecting. He has a very interesting vocal quality
about him because of this, but the tone is on the odd
side. Maybe he would sound good as a character actor in
a musical, but it doesn't work on this strait forward
pop piece. Towards the end of the arrangement, the
group cuts back to an in sync, chant-like style. The
percussion however, doesn't cut back. If anything, it
only becomes more prominent. The section would have
worked better if it had been pure, naked, a cappella.
The soloist sometimes goes into crooning mode on
this one. The pitch drifts around a little bit. The
highlights on this one are the subsonic bass parts and
the cool percussion interlude in the middle. We're
almost at the end of the disc here — it seems that we've
made it to the filler section. Honestly, this is a
pretty long album; it probably would have been better if
this song and the two before it had been left off the
This one is dominated by extremely poor tuning in
the background, especially on the choruses. The soloist
sounds fine and the arrangement seems like it should be
cool, but I'm frankly surprised this one made it onto
the album when it was this out of tune. A couple of
iterations of the chorus are actually painful to sit
through. This track's quality is nowhere near the level
of the others.
This one sounds a bit discombobulated; a good
middle-of-the-set song. Needs some tuning, an
intonation workshop, and somebody needs to ax whoever
thought really-fast soprano vibrato would be a good idea
for the chorus. The altos or whoever is doing that
one-dimensional nasal alto bit need to open up in
the biggest way. Solos would be good on the covers, but
a similar warble veers dangerously close to the piano
bar, particularly combined with the way he swallows the
verses. Despite him, the bridge and segue back into the
ending are kinda neat — made me sit up and take notice
after I'd already written off the song.
Effects are obvious and unnecessary, both on the
solo and the background. She has an appropriately
high-chest-voice top 40/Michael-ish sound though,
especially on the high parts. (It is a tiny bit
ironic to have a woman singing about seeing a man in her
mirror, however!) Arrangement is complex and works
well, especially after the key change, which is spot-on.
The ending is really well done (although the percussion
belongs more to "Scream" than to this
song), and the song does not go on too long.
The word "perfect" comes to mind. This is a top
notch arrangement with a truly professional sound. The
whole thing is grounded by a superlative bass (Jeramie
Hammond) and capped off with the best lead vocals I've
heard in many an album courtesy of Amy Birnbaum, who
also sang Mermaid and
Birnbaum gets extra bonus points for doing such
incredible work on a Michael Jackson song. Whereas most
(if not all) cover of Jackson (and Prince) songs resort
to bad falsettos that sound nothing like the original
and pretty crappy in their own right, Birnbaum comes at
this with a healthy lower register. I sort of dismissed
the original song as a standard "feed the world", overly
sentimental, pop ditty. But listening to it on this
recording, it suddenly sounds very real and heartfelt.
I often wonder what the original artist would think if
he heard the collegiate a cappella covers. I imagine
the typical reaction would involve throwing the stereo
out the window. But I'm sure if Michael heard this, he
would be happy beyond words. As for myself, I fell in
love with this track before it was even halfway through.
Then the arrangement modulated, the vocals exploded, and
I was blown away.
The (female) soloist does a great job of capturing
the Michael Jackson sound, but am I the only one who
finds it odd having a woman singing about how she's
looking in the mirror — and seeing a man there? You get
just the slightest hint that the group isn't taking
themselves too seriously, which is reassuring. This one
provides the group an opportunity to do the big "choir"
sound and get away with it.
My initial skepticism about their choice of a
Michael Jackson song gave way to uncertainty about their
decision to use a female soloist, but then I just sat
back and gave in to sheer enjoyment. Soloist Amy
Birnbaum once again grabs a tough song by the throat and
beats it into submission with her powerful voice and
musical skill. The arrangement is well-constructed and
is sung expertly by the group. A fine closer.
This is a _good_ way to finish. It's the
'Mates at the top of their style, with a nice solo. She
blends her own style with Michael Jackson's on a line
that I'll bet sounds a lot easier than it is.
Arrangement is fluid, engineering tricks and the soprano
are well used. Fantastic key change, and the part of
the song that comes after that reaches a whole 'nother
level of excellence. Good job.
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Albums and singles received after November 23 will be reviewed in 2016.×