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RARB REVIEW

School: University of Pennsylvania
Group: Counterparts
Album: Explicit Groove

Total time: 47:25, 12 songs
Recorded 1995-96

Ordering Information


Track Listing

  1. Why Should I Cry For You (6.4)
  2. Rock With You (7.2)
  3. My Funny Valentine (4.0)
  4. Hot Romance (and Hot What??!!) (5.4)
  5. I Thought It Was You (6.8)
  6. Summertime (5.8)
  7. 10 Minutes Till The Savages Come (7.0)
  8. As Time Goes By (6.0)
  9. Since I Fell For You (7.0)
  10. Damn (I Wish I Was Your Lover) (6.8)
  11. The Lady In Red (5.4)
  12. Heavy Cloud, No Rain (7.7)

Reviews

Overall

Brookes McKenzie

What the hell happened to the Counterparts? You know, the perfect jazz 40's imitations coed group? The group as a whole seems to have thrown that entire idea out the window. Basically they went from being an excellent and relatively unique group to one of the 8 million coed groups that does mostly pop songs. Sure there are some jazz songs on this cd, but they're far less interesting and well chosen — instead of the real obscurities and cool tracks, they're relatively generic. Furthermore, the old-timey intonation that they had had down pat has been completely scrapped — this group has to keep that flat top-40 sound in their syllables, as if to remind us that they're still cool. The competition for audiences at Penn must have been too much for them. The last thing the a cappella world needs is another pop/grunge/80's coed group that loves mucking about with studio effects. It's not that they're bad — actually, they're above average (except for the relatively abysmal percussion), and for the most part they're probably more on as far as pitch and blend is concerned (as well as being better recorded/engineered), but they've lost the soul of the old group. There are some quite good tracks on this cd, but the majority of them should have been left to other, more generic-by-nature groups.
Rating: 7 (6.0)

Alison Berube Sullivan

The tracks that stick out in my mind from this album are the groovy and funky tunes, such as "Rock With You" and "Damn (I Wish I Was Your Lover)" — this genre is a strength of the Counterparts. A notable feature of this album is the frequent use of non-vocal sound effects such as bells and rain, and the occasional appearance of guitar and piano (once each). Though they don't always add much to the song, they give this album a unique flavor.
Rating: 5 (5.8)

Matt Cohen

Lots of good things come from the University of Pennsylvania: My girlfriend, Off the Beat, and now, the Counterparts. The Counterparts are one of the too few college groups that really have a distinct sound. They perform jazz and pop with equal skill. The pop is sung with a brisk precision and the jazz has some real spirit behind it. In many ways, they sing jazz better than most of the strictly vocal jazz groups the I've heard on campuses today (the Ivy League sound is too glee-clubish for my tastes).

The other thing that distinguishes this smart, coed group is their total lack of fear of using instruments. Two of the best tracks, "Hot Romance" and "As Time Goes By" have a guitar and a piano respectively. Normally I hate it when a cappella groups do that sort of thing (usually it's gratuitous percussion), but the album still has a clean, spare, a cappella feel to it despite the briefly used instruments. The Counterparts also like sampling from other CDs, which I like in principle, but it doesn't work in practice. It actually undercuts their version of "Damn! (I Wish I Was Your Lover)" which is otherwise pretty superlative. Overall, despite a few minor mistakes in judgment and two dud tracks, this album is consistently refreshing.
Rating: 8 (7.3)

Joe Oliva

A pretty good album overall. I suspect this group spends quite a bit of time in the rehearsal room as well as in the studio. For my liking, there was too much "outside sampling". It got past the point of being an accent to the music and began to command the listener's attention. Tuning is good throughout the album, and dynamics seem to be consistently well done. The lead vocals were generally good, but consistently mixed just a hair too low. Not an album I would run out and buy, but a decent collegiate recording nonetheless.
Rating: 7 (6.5)

Mike Connelly

Let me start out by getting my biggest complaint out of the way — almost all the songs on this recording are medium to slow. If you like to listen to slow songs for an hour straight, you'd probably love this disc. Personally, I'm not much of a fan of slow songs, and I like a lack of variety even less.

That said, the group generally sounds pretty decent, with only occasional pitch and blend problems. The ensemble does a good job with the rhythmic aspects of their arrangements, so even some slower songs have a solid pulse. Soloists are consistently average and have the tendency to be lost in the mix.

I liked the fact that the group was brave enough to try some original arrangements of jazz tunes. The arrangements are adequate, but I got the impression that the arrangers don't really have much of a jazz background. Harmonies tend to be mostly modal, without much traditional voice leading, so the chords sound nice, but there isn't much direction to them; I generally didn't get the feeling of tension and release, dissonance going to consonance.
Rating: 6 (5.5)


Individual Tracks

  1. Why Should I Cry For You (6.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    Of all the (excessively many) versions of this song that I've heard, this has to be one of the weirder ones — it's as if the song is being played on an acoustic guitar in block chords. It could have been incredible, if it were just a little more convincing. They don't go all the way with it, which makes it seem like they were trying for the typical layered effect but couldn't pull it off. The "climactic" bridge comes off oddly, with unsuccessfully syncopated percussion (which is weak throughout) and a switch to the female soloist, who is better than the (wimpy) male one.
    Rating: 7

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    Nice tempo and a nice feel overall. Good use of dynamics. Good arrangement, good solo and nice duet.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    What an unpromising start to an album. The lead male vocalist is just plain timid in his approach to the material. The first tempo change is totally flubbed. Ugh!
    Rating: 3

    Joe Oliva

    Crickets, dogs barking, and thunder. These are the sampled sounds which open this Sting tune. Brilliantly arranged, produced and engineered and mixed. Background vocals are great perfect in tuning and mix. Both the male and female lead vocals are well done, perhaps mixed a little low.
    Rating: 9

    Mike Connelly

    Although the group loses the groove a bit in one spot, the rhythms are nice and crisp for a slow tune. There's a sound in there that I think is supposed to be a bass drum, but it sounds more like someone coughing.
    Rating: 6

  2. Rock With You (7.2)
    Brookes McKenzie

    I don't quite know what to make of this song. The rap intro is tolerable, but it doesn't particularly interest me. The rest of the song is okay, but it would be a lot better if the percussion weren't so lame — it reminds me of the Zumbyes version, which has some interesting things going on, but the song as a whole doesn't rock (ha, ha) the way that they so obviously want it to. The soloist is pretty good, although I don't like the way she says "all the night".
    Rating: 6

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    There are gaps where everyone seems to be breathing together. Other than that, this is a very funky track with great percussion. Nice intro and key change.
    Rating: 8

    Matt Cohen

    Aaaah! That's more like it! A nice, smart arrangement, briskly sung. The layered intro with its light rap section is a real ear opener. Overall, a slick track.
    Rating: 8

    Joe Oliva

    Okay. Not bad. The lead vocalist is acceptable, but, comparing to track 1 this track left me expecting more. The key change helped peak my interest toward a nice smooth ending.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    A fairly mellow solo over a relaxed hip-hop beat, along with some rap over the intro, make for a complex, interesting texture. The group gets a fairly soulful sound which is only marred by some intrusive high soprano parts. I don't know if I liked the switch to major at the ending.
    Rating: 7

  3. My Funny Valentine (4.0)
    Brookes McKenzie

    Jazz standard that's a little too standard for the Counterparts, I think — in that why regress to doing more overdone songs? It's not a bad version, although the solo is unremarkable, and the arrangement doesn't grab one's attention, either. They do have a slight tendency to be harsh on the loud parts, but not nearly as much as most groups, who would, of course, butcher the song. But that's not saying much, really.
    Rating: 6

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    This is a good song choice, but it drags. This version is very heavy all the way through. The background is unsteady at times, and entrances and cutoffs are rough.
    Rating: 3

    Matt Cohen

    Question: How many female jazz singers does it take to sing "My Funny Valentine"? Answer: ALL of them!

    But seriously folks, this track is a dud. The overall pace is sluggish to the max. The group scores points for trying something different and giving this song to a guy, but it doesn't really work in practice. There's a lot of great songs about looks not being what's important ("Picture Perfect," "Quiet Sensation"), but something just sounds wrong when you turn the tables and have this song sung to a woman. "Your looks are laughable, unphotographable." The feminist in me find it almost rude. (Speaking of which, it sounds suspiciously like the group is singing "Don't change YOUR hair for me." Does that make the song petty, or what?)
    Rating: 2

    Joe Oliva

    This 'legato supreme' rendition is taken at less than 60 beats per minute. Hmmm, a little too slow for the third song on any album. Other than that, the piece is well tuned, sung, and produced. Nice dynamic climax near the end of the recording.
    Rating: 5

    Mike Connelly

    Probably the slowest and most gloomy rendition I've heard of this song. I'm not sure why it's so solemn and dirge-like — the lyrics are at the very least ironic, if not somewhat humorous, but the group sings them like they're a requiem. Some of the harmonies are a bit odd — the fully diminished chords and the suspension at the end sound more like corny halloween music than jazz standard. In some spots, the soloist is singing the same words as the backgrounds, but in a different rhythm — it could work, but they don't sell it well enough to make it sound intentional.
    Rating: 4

  4. Hot Romance (and Hot What??!!) (5.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    An original comedy number, this is mildly amusing. It is also, however, not strictly a cappella, as it has guitar accompaniment. It works perfectly well for what it's intended to be — obviously the audience liked it. I think this one should have been the secret hidden (or 'bonus') track on the cd, though, so that we wouldn't have to listen to it every time.
    Rating: 4

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    It should be noted that this Counterparts original is not a cappella, but is accompanied by guitar. That said, it's funny, and it's a live recording, which is appropriate, since the reactions add to the song.
    Rating: 5

    Matt Cohen

    Warning, I'm going to rant for a bit on this one. I think any group attempting a novelty song should give this track a listen. So many college groups fall flat on their face when they try comedy because

    1. They do something original and funny, but it isn't the sort of thing you'll laugh at (or want to hear) twice; or
    2. They try to copy someone else's comic timing. Most groups are guilty of #2. You can't top Weird Al. You'll never recapture the magic of "If I Had A Million Dollars." Don't even try.

    Now take a look at this song. It's an original tune about hot romance and hot wings. Yep. Hot wings. Sure, it's basically a sex joke, but it isn't about briefly amusing innuendo. What makes it funny is the passionate, deadly serious performance. It's never treated as a novelty song. They sing lines like "Forget the blue cheese — I'm feeling DANGEROUS" with such conviction, such abandon, that you get hooked in. In fact, I can't get this damn song out of my head. Listen to the live audience in the background. When they cheer out in response to the more passionate lines, they can tell it's a joke, but their still responding on a gut level, the same way they might yell at a Melissa Ethridge concert. The Counterparts try to have it both ways on this one, and they pull it off.
    Rating: 10

    Joe Oliva

    A live recording which includes a guitar. A novelty (comedy) piece about "Hot Romance and Hot Wings". I'm sure this song goes over very well during the live shows, but I don't think it translates well to recorded product. The alto soloist has some serious tuning troubles.
    Rating: 5

    Mike Connelly

    This duet between two voices (with guitar) is basically a one-joke novelty number that isn't even funny the first time around. It's recorded live, and the overly enthusiastic crowd (I would have to assume the people laughing every four bars, whether there's something funny there or not, are friends or relatives of the group) only made it more obvious how humorous the song isn't.
    Rating: 3

  5. I Thought It Was You (6.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    The most interesting pop song on the album, mostly because it has a good arrangement and is not a disgustingly overplayed (or over-covered) song. The song also lends itself to a cappella quite nicely - there are some interesting chords in there. I love the chiming women in the beginning (even though they're on that most dangerous of syllables, "bum"), but they get a little brassy on the chorus. The solo is nice, with a Sade tone, but the percussion continues to suck rocks. The single alto muttering in the way background bugged me at first, but she grew on me.
    Rating: 8

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    Very nice percussion on this groovy track. Nice solo. Sopranos could use some tuning as well as blend.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    This track has also been lingering in my head. It's only real downside is that the solo need more MUSCLE. Fortunately the song, like a well played game of Pac Man, gets a power pill in all the right spots when some of the other women harmonize with the soloist on the lead vocal line.
    Rating: 7

    Joe Oliva

    Great arrangement, intricate background vocals back a nice voice on the lead singer. Vocal percussion is fairly well done. Some really nice chord progressions.
    Rating: 8

    Mike Connelly

    The song starts out sounding kind of annoying, with high bell tones in the sopranos, but it gets better when the bass line and vocal percussion come in. The high unison soprano parts are abrasive (it doesn't help that they're not in tune). Another tune with a slow groove that locks in well.
    5

  6. Summertime (5.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    This is the kind of song that would have been too common for the old Counterparts to have done. That said, this is a far from terrible version of the song. Nice crunchy chords, a decent male soloist, and the requisite lush background about sums it up. Not particularly original, however, which for this group is almost a crime.
    Rating: 6

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    The opening chords are soft and pretty, but then the background gets choppy, which is accentuated by synchronized breathing and dissonance. I like the soulful soloist.
    Rating: 3

    Matt Cohen

    Just like the great "Blue Moon" controversy, there are two schools of thought on how to perform this song: Slow and drawn out or wickedly up tempo. The Counterparts fall into the former camp. The lead soloist is breathy (but not as breathy as, say, Peter Gabriel). The arrangement has lots of slurs and swells, which work particularly well on the first "hush". Totally different from the killer version by Extempo, but still a good track.
    Rating: 7

    Joe Oliva

    This is one of those Gershwin tunes that I think is overdone. I dreaded this song going into it, but the arrangement changed my mind quickly. Interesting background arrangment, unfortunately, slightly untuneful at times. The lead vocalist sang very well, the slurs were especially interesting.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    One of the better (and more original) arrangements on the disc features some cool falling off of and scooping up to chords. Unfortunately, the performance is a letdown — very stilted (and we get yet another tempo that crawls along).
    Rating: 6

  7. 10 Minutes Till The Savages Come (7.0)
    Brookes McKenzie

    I can't stand the Valley Girl intonation the sopranos have on this song ("ba doo dee" as opposed to "ba doo dwee"), but aside from that and the soloist (who's inconsistent), this is a good rendition of the song, even compared to the version on Straight Ahead. For one thing, their pitch is less shaky, and overall the background sounds fuller. They also enunciate so that you can actually understand the (rather strange) words.
    Rating: 6

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    On this track, the soloist really works into her own groove and is quite enjoyable to listen to. She gets a bit lost in the loud background though. Kudos to the group for getting the snaps together.
    Rating: 8

    Matt Cohen

    Strait up vocal jazz with a nice snapped beat. The disc actually has one of those stickers that tell you what the singles are, and this is one of them. A very nice quote from "Fever" (which should give you a good idea of the overall mood of the song).
    Rating: 9

    Joe Oliva

    Well sung lead vocal, unfortunately mixed too low. Rhythm suffers at times but overall tuning is respectable. Arrangement is quite interesting employing several "jazz" chords coupled with good background dynamics.
    Rating: 8

    Mike Connelly

    On this Manhattan Transfer number, all the basics are in place (blend, pitch, etc.), but the group just doesn't seem to have much of a handle on the swing style. The "scat" syllables in the backgrounds are clumsy, and the group doesn't relax enough to really make the tune swing.
    Rating: 4

  8. As Time Goes By (6.0)
    Brookes McKenzie

    Yet another effect, this one is imitating a scratchy record, complete with slightly tinny sound, which goes on too long and then doesn't flow well enough into the full version. The soloist sounds better there than on the regular part, though. What is that swishing noise in the background? I hope it's not intended to be percussion. There's nothing particularly wrong with this song — I just find it terribly cheesy. They sing it well enough, but need to watch their cutoffs.
    Rating: 5

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    This track, again, is not entirely a cappella, but the "old record" gimmick works with this song, as does the smooth voice of the soloist. Again, the background drowns him out... loud does not necessarily equal strong.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    The lead is taken by the vocal percussionist (relax-there's none of that on this cut) and he's surprisingly good. Surprising not just because he probably spends his time spitting rhythmically, but because he has a refreshing, decidedly breathy voice. One of the more interesting male vocalists I've heard recently. The track starts off with piano accompaniment. They've engineered in to sound faint and scratchy, like an old recording. It then fades into modern production quality (sound and an a cappella arrangement) till the very end where it jumps back to the aged effect. A cheap trick, but a good one. And it's perfectly suited to the material.
    Rating: 10

    Joe Oliva

    This song drags. It opens with some sort of an old vinyl recording which recurs throughout the song. A fairly unique idea, but it just didn't work for me.
    Rating: 4

    Mike Connelly

    A cool "old time" sounding intro starts this one off, complete with tinny sound and vinyl record noise. Otherwise, it sounds pretty similar to the other jazz numbers on the disc.
    Rating: 5

  9. Since I Fell For You (7.0)
    Brookes McKenzie

    Practically the exact same as the previous song, minus the cute scratchy record effect and plus a female solo, who actually does a much better job. She sounds a little bit like Bjork, actually, but that shouldn't make a difference on a song like this. Plus the background has a new twist — some actual dynamics! Possibly the best Jazz (tm) song on this album. I like the female trio but the male one falls a little bit short. The snapping also works for me — lazy but on beat.
    Rating: 7

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    A rough start for the background, and it sounds like the soloist is singing above her comfortable range. When not too high, she is great. Nice ending.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    This doesn't stick in my head the way the some of other songs do, so every time I hear it, it's almost like the first time. (Am I going senile?) The song has some nice musical surprises — the arrangement builds in such a way that you're not expecting it when it boost the energy level up another notch. The strong vocalist sound a lot like Sinead O'conor.
    Rating: 8

    Joe Oliva

    Can this be the same soloist from "Hot Romance"?! Alto Thais Stiklorius redeems herself on this track with a much better sung lead than track 4. A nice background recording with some decent tuning, dynamics, and well mixed.
    Rating: 7

    Mike Connelly

    I have always liked this song, and this version is no exception. I would have liked some bluesier, more adventurous harmonies (Is it just me, or is this song just begging for a key change?), but there are some nice spots in here, especially the parts that are doubled in octaves (and some unisons). The finger snaps are some of the worst I have ever heard — on first listening, I thought I was hearing a nasty glitch in the recording.
    Rating: 6

  10. Damn (I Wish I Was Your Lover) (6.8)
    Brookes McKenzie

    The background (complete with fairly random sound effects — a music box here, a train there) overpowers the soloist on this song, even though it's obvious that she's singing as loudly as she can — she's just way (too far) back in the mix. In fact, she sounds like she's trying a little too hard — she doesn't really do it for me, although of course no one can be as annoying as Sophie B. Hawkins. The percussion, again, is much too obvious (and badly recorded) to work on a song like this. Also I don't like all the stopping and starting.
    Rating: 5

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    This song really grew on me. The choruses are strong and groovy, even if the verses are a bit muffled. And the sound effects are unnecessary. Nonetheless, the arrangement is good and I just like it.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    Damn! I'm always amazed at how well the lead vocalist pulls this off. There is such conviction in her voice. You believe every last "Damn!" of it. Every "Shucks" is both charming and charged with emotion. The track isn't flawless though. The lead vocals take a couple of measures to warm up. Until they do, they're barely there at all. Also, the song samples a bit of a music box from the original Sophie B. Hawkins song. It isn't really necessary (or particularly effective) when it opens the track, and it seriously undermines the song when they cut back to it at the end. It comes in under the lead vocalist singing the last line solo. It would have been very powerful to have just let her loan voice contrast with the rest of the groups explosive energetic performance. The music box distracts from that. But still, a winner. I like listening to this track back to back with the Spur of the Moment version of As I Lay Me Down (which is also by Sophie B. Hawkins.)
    Rating: 10

    Joe Oliva

    By now, I seem to be getting a little tired of all of the outside sampling done on this CD. The credits indicate a total of at least three tunes that having outside sampling included. My favorite Sophie B. Hawkins tune, done okay. Lead vocal mixed too low. There is a very high A-flat "feedback-like" voice or keyboard that really gets annoying after the first minute or so.
    Rating: 6

    Mike Connelly

    The "music box" effect that serves as the intro (no, it's not a vocal thing, it's a synth) is very cheesy and fake sounding. The arrangement has some nice effects involving things fading out, then coming back in — parts almost sound like a fake ending. Effective use of dynamics really help move the tune along.
    Rating: 6

  11. The Lady In Red (5.4)
    Brookes McKenzie

    Even though I tried to overcome my personal feelings towards this song (difficult though that may be), I'm still not particularly enthralled by this version. The arrangement is at once oversimplified and cheesy, with unnecessary background words and random choral segments; the solo is nasal and uninteresting, and altogether they make the song sound like Cheap Trick or something, what with the snapping, which on a song like this is the aural equivalent of swaying lighters.
    Rating: 5

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    At times, this song is dominated by the overbearing background. However, when they are not belting, it is a pretty song. Variations in dynamics are useful, but are overdone here.
    Rating: 4

    Matt Cohen

    The lead vocalist from track 1 is given a chance to redeem himself and he puts the chance to good use. Nothing spectacular, but a solid performance by the group.
    Rating: 6

    Joe Oliva

    The only Chris DeBurgh tune I am familiar with. Chord progressions are basically exactly like the original, thankfully however, the lead is not bad and doesn't seem to be trying to mimic DeBurgh.
    Rating: 6

    Mike Connelly

    Some sloppy releases and individuals otherwise sticking out. I was never all that excited about the original version of this song, and this rendition doesn't really improve on it.
    Rating: 6

  12. Heavy Cloud, No Rain (7.7)
    Brookes McKenzie

    Why this song out of all of them is not listed is a mystery to me, as it has more energy and pop sensibility than half the other tracks on this cd — not to mention the best male soloist on the album and by far the best song choice. I even like the arrangement - simple but works well; and the usual unconvincing percussion is minimized by being far back in the sound because it's a live recording. I'd have liked to have seen the credits for this track, too.
    Rating: 7

    Alison Berube Sullivan

    [not reviewed]
    Rating: none

    Matt Cohen

    This one comes after a long pause in track 11. I don't know why they didn't put it in as a regular track, nor do I know why they didn't sing this one in the studio. A very nice cover of the Sting song with a soulful introduction. They picked a song off the beaten track, put their own musical stamp on it, and performed it well to boot. What more could you want?
    Rating: 8

    Joe Oliva

    [not reviewed]
    Rating: none

    Mike Connelly

    Wow, it's the best song on the album, and they didn't even put it in the list of songs. The group finally shows what they're capable of (in a live recording, no less), with a high-energy, soulful performance (especially compared to the songs leading up to it). Hopefully next time around the group will feature this aspect of their repertoire more.
    Rating: 8

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