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RARB REVIEW

School: Tufts University
Group: The Amalgamates
Album: Hat Sale! Get Mama!

Total time: 63:25, 16 songs
Recorded 1996

Ordering Information


Track Listing

  1. Break It Down Again (7.4)
  2. Possession (7.4)
  3. Express Yourself (7.8)
  4. Take the Time (6.8)
  5. Galileo (6.8)
  6. If I Could (6.8)
  7. Awake (7.2)
  8. Mermaid (7.4)
  9. Jimi Thing (7.4)
  10. Strong Enough (6.2)
  11. Interstate Love Song (7.0)
  12. Hold My Hand (6.6)
  13. Wink and a Smile (4.8)
  14. Breakout (6.8)
  15. Everlasting Love (4.8)
  16. Man in the Mirror (8.4)

Reviews

Overall

Brookes McKenzie

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)

Matt Cohen

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" Jeramie 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, is Amy 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)

Mike Connelly

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)

Steve Bogart

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)

Rebecca Christie

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)


Individual Tracks

  1. Break It Down Again (7.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Matt Cohen

    Good idea for an opening track: a catchy yet intelligent 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.
    Rating: 6

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Steve Bogart

    Arranger John 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.
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    The opening reminds me of an out-of-tune easy listening version of the Superman 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.
    Rating: 7

  2. Possession (7.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    This is slower than Off the Beat's version. (Does anyone out there NOT own BOCA 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.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    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 sound.
    Rating: 8

    Steve Bogart

    Beautiful and haunting, like the Sarah McLachlan original. Soloist Sarah Weireter 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.
    Rating: 9

    Rebecca Christie

    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.
    Rating: 7

  3. Express Yourself (7.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Steve Bogart

    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.
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    The choruses to this are like an uptempo Philip 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 tone.
    Rating: 7

  4. Take the Time (6.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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 MIT 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.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    The liner notes say this is originally by the Freddy 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.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Steve Bogart

    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 Larry Kwon has a nice smooth voice, but he always sounds happy even when the lyrics don't seem to call for it.
    Rating: 6

    Rebecca Christie

    The solo on this reminds me a lot of Chris 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 voices.
    Rating: 7

  5. Galileo (6.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 5

    Matt Cohen

    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 gate.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Steve Bogart

    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.)
    Rating: 7

    Rebecca Christie

    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 Jonatha Brooke. 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.
    Rating: 8

  6. If I Could (6.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Mike Connelly

    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 backgrounds.
    Rating: 6

    Steve Bogart

    A very Seal-sounding Doug 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?
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    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 been tighter.
    Rating: 6

  7. Awake (7.2)
    Brookes McKenzie

    This song has the potential to irritate, and the arrangement doesn't help — too boppy and Muppety, 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.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Steve Bogart

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Rebecca Christie

    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 quite effective.
    Rating: 7

  8. Mermaid (7.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    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 doppler 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.
    Rating: 8

    Steve Bogart

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Rebecca Christie

    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.
    Rating: 7

  9. Jimi Thing (7.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    Dave Matthews 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.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    As good as anything I've heard from the Beelzebubs 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 Lucy 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.
    Rating: 8

    Mike Connelly

    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 not quite.
    Rating: 7

    Steve Bogart

    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.)
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    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.
    Rating: 7

  10. Strong Enough (6.2)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Steve Bogart

    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 decision.
    Rating: 5

    Rebecca Christie

    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.
    Rating: 7

  11. Interstate Love Song (7.0)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    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 genuine performance.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 8

    Steve Bogart

    Back to the strongest material the Amalgamates do: big rock. Soloist Chandler 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.
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    Exactly the sort of grungy track you'd expect from them. Perfectly fine, but gets slightly lower marks from me for its sheer obviousness.
    Rating: 6

  12. Hold My Hand (6.6)
    Brookes McKenzie

    I'm afraid I cannot say the same for this song, however. Solo is (of course) less annoying than Darius 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.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Mike Connelly

    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 Hootie song.
    Rating: 7

    Steve Bogart

    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 the song.
    Rating: 6

    Rebecca Christie

    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!
    Rating: 8

  13. Wink and a Smile (4.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    A departure for the 'Mates — this song is venturing into UPenn 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!
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 4

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 3

    Steve Bogart

    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.
    Rating: 4

    Rebecca Christie

    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!
    Rating: 6

  14. Breakout (6.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Steve Bogart

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Rebecca Christie

    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 Commodores' Night Shift, but more uptempo. Yeah, its not the most overwhelming of genres, but for what it is it's great.
    Rating: 8

  15. Everlasting Love (4.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    This wasn't one of the big hits from keyboard-wizard Howard Jones, 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.
    Rating: 6

    Mike Connelly

    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 disc.
    Rating: 5

    Steve Bogart

    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.
    Rating: 2

    Rebecca Christie

    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 Lisa Loeby, 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.
    Rating: 5

  16. Man in the Mirror (8.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    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 Express Yourself. 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.
    Rating: 10

    Mike Connelly

    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.
    Rating: 7

    Steve Bogart

    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.
    Rating: 9

    Rebecca Christie

    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.
    Rating: 9




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