Your browser does not support our new site design, so some things might not display or function properly.
We suggest upgrading to Google Chrome, Firefox, or Internet Explorer 9+ for the optimal experience.

RARB REVIEW

School: University of Pennsylvania
Group: Off the Beat
Album: When Mama's Not Around

Total time: 73:40, 16 songs
Recorded April-August 1996

Ordering Information


Track Listing

  1. You Oughta Know (9.0)
  2. Come Talk To Me (8.0)
  3. Saint Theresa (7.8)
  4. Carnival (live) (8.2)
  5. Pain Lies on the Riverside (7.4)
  6. Ironic (7.6)
  7. Wonderwall (live) (7.4)
  8. Caught a Light Sneeze (7.6)
  9. Anna Begins (7.2)
  10. Natural One (live) (7.4)
  11. Like the Way I Do (7.4)
  12. Hook (6.4)
  13. Elsewhere (8.6)
  14. Say it Ain't So (6.4)
  15. Gangsta's Paradise (9.2)
  16. One Other Thing (4.0)

Reviews

Overall

Shawn Pearce

This album is required listening for any a cappella arranger in specific, and any a cappella fan in general. The arranging style is very cutting edge, in fact, its the signature of OTB's sound. The problem with it is that it all sounds VERY similar back to back straight through an album. The best way to listen to this album for maximum enjoyment are 2-3 tracks at a time so you can listen to the arrangements and go "wow" and not get tired of them.

There's a few minor clunker arrangements, but even the clunkers are listenable. (You may even like them if you like the original song.) This is a collegiate a cappella album that holds up on repeat listenings. One interesting thing is that I found their best tracks to be the live ones...where they just cut loose and didn't tinker so much with their sound in the studios. I wish I could see this group live sometime...they are truly one of the top 10 college groups out there, with a sound on par with the professionals.
Rating: 9 (7.8)

Randi Sherman

The song selection is great. They kept it to the 90's semi-alternative tunes, and even if one doesn't like these songs, you must give them credit for a consistent selection which fits the musical style (except for the out-of-place "Gangsta's Paradise" at the end). This group has a lot of fun recording — it's obvious. Even though at times there is just too much going on at once during a song, it's a really solid album. There are no bad soloists, some are fantastic, and the arrangements are creative and original. Diction is a problem in lots of the songs, but it's not impeding on their success with this album. Great college a cappella to listen to.
Rating: 8 (6.9)

Matt Cohen

This is a mature, carefully crafted, and professionally sung a cappella album that just happens to rock the rafters. For those of you who haven't heard an OTB album or at least one of their various BOCA songs, off the beat specializes in insanely complex arrangements of mostly "alternative" music. They often use lyrics in the backing vocals where most groups would use nonsense syllables. The syllables they do use contribute to the "alternative" sound: lots of "ja" and "dja." And they can scream their heads off with the best of them. I have the two OTB albums before this one. The first of those, Flail, is a classic. One of my favorite discs, period. The follow-up album was rather disappointing. A few good cuts, but it didn't work as well as flail. The same elements were there, but the arrangements and the performances weren't up to snuff. I was scared of this album since it was the group's first disc since the departure of the musical director who made Flail so good. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to hear that this disc was every bit as good as Flail. OTB officially has staying power. What makes this particular CD so spiffy is that the group manages to cover all the parts in the packed arrangements and still get lots of harmony into the mix. If you're only a jazz, barbershop, or doo wop fan, this isn't the album for you. Otherwise you need this CD. Even if you don't normally listen to the artists being covered, don't be afraid of the track list. Buy the disc, get your best pair of headphones, and give this a close listen.
Rating: 10 (8.9)

Rebecca Christie

Nice new album from Off the Beat, particularly the first three tracks. The rest of the disc is nice too, but can't compare to the blockbuster quality of the first half-inning. These covers — Alannis Morissette, Peter Gabriel and Joan Osborne — have energy, execution and innovation, reaching out in a way that eludes musicians of many stripes. Osborne's "Saint Theresa" is a very unusual song, and this group exploits that and brings that out without crossing the in-your-face line of trying too hard.

The almost-album-closing cover of Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise" is also in another league. It's serious, it's well done and it goes places most a cappella groups know enough to leave alone. This is dangerous ground, and it's a pleasure to see it traversed so competently.

The rest of the album is pretty much what you'd expect. Alternarock and a bunch of matching ballads, well enough sung but with very little that sticks with you. I could listen to "Come Talk to Me" three times in a row and something new out of it every time — with some of these I felt like I'd heard it all by the end of the first minute. And most of them are 4 to 5 times that long. This is a great group — all the soloists can sing, all of the arrangements have texture and for the most part the backgrounds are smooth and complex in Off the Beat's vaunted vocal tapestries. The intrusive syllables that characterized them a few years back have given way to these shifting wordless compositions, and the syllabification remaining is used to good effect.
Rating: 9 (7.1)

Sarah Andrews

The short-version description of Off the Beat is that they do covers of the latest alternative music, mimicking the original as closely as possible. Lots of groups do this adequately, but OtB does it extremely well. One of their biggest strengths is vocal percussion, which is typically so good it's really easy to take it for granted. It only really stands out when it's lacking. The only big things I found lacking were a little extra bass power would be nice sometimes, and the arrangements were sometimes a little too busy, so as to be distracting. But among groups that do straight covers, with little manipulation of the way the original songs go, Off the Beat could teach a lot of people how it's done. I'll even forgive them for liking Alanis Morrissette too much. :)
Rating: 8 (7.3)


Individual Tracks

  1. You Oughta Know (9.0)
    Shawn Pearce

    What got to me first...in a good way...was the soloist. If they wanted the essence of Alanis, they found it. The arrangment, in a word, rocks... there's a lot to the background, and some very creative usage of lines from other songs, especially towards the end. It doesn't QUITE have the drive of the original during the verses, but they come a LOT closer than most. The transition section was very very sweet stuff. Excellent track.
    Rating: 8

    Randi Sherman

    Ok, ok, it's on BOCA 3. It can't be bad. The soloist is excellent, and the vocal percussion is nothing short of professional. The arrangement is amazing, and somehow they work a chorus of NIN "Head Like a Hole" into the song very subtly. The song has a very rich quality to it, the tempo is excellent, and no voice part sticks out at all. I can't think of anything bad to say about this song, so it definitely deserved the 10.
    Rating: 10

    Matt Cohen

    Okay, I lied. I said in a prior review that Mixed Company's version of this song was about as good as you were likely to hear. Well, this one tops that version with a superior lead vocalist and arrangement. Off the Beat opens the album on the right foot with some wicked percussion. Great echoes in the "instrumental" bridge. Pay close attention to the subtle soprano part. What really adds the requisite anger (and makes this arrangement kick butt in general) is the men screaming their heads off in the background under the last chorus. This is a fine example of how Off the Beat excels at using lyrics instead of conventional a cappella syllables.

    Nothing against Mixed Company. Their "Why Should I Cry for You" is still unbeatable. And this time I mean it. Really.
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    This cover of the only Alannis Morrissette song I've ever liked begins with a sensual solo backed by only a light rhythm. It then oozes into the song, a nice enough bridge melting into a layered chorus that suddenly makes me realize that this song is gonna rock. Soloist Alex Jarige is at her best on the verses, when she translates Alannis' grating into something much more powerful; the background is at their best on the choruses when rising and falling lines propel the melody (which more or less stays in one place). This track is heavily produced; I prefer vocal edginess to electronic, but I guess they figured a mix would work for them. The studio definitely helped the percussion — their drum people don't have a great range of sounds, but they are well-placed and generally effective.
    Rating: 9

    Sarah Andrews

    Let me preface this by saying that I am not a big fan of Alanis Morrissette, so an album with two Alanis covers might be a bad idea for me to be reviewing. Too late! So I will go on to say that the soloist is a pleasant surprise — she sounds just like Alanis and yet she doesn't feel the need to punctuate her singing with that annoying gasping/yelping thing that Alanis does. She gets extra points right there. From this opening track I see that this is a well-produced album — in a good way, meaning that I don't have to get past the quality of the recording to comment on the actual singing. The arrangement is heavily textured, but due to the quality of the recording it is distinct, not muddled. The background has the effect of a wall of sound broken up at points for dramatic impact. And I liked the NIN quotation toward the end — Trent Reznor is even more angry than Alanis, and it adds a little interest to the song.
    Rating: 8

  2. Come Talk To Me (8.0)
    Shawn Pearce

    The arrangement really evokes the worldmusic feel that Gabriel tends to pride himself....although it is a different feel than the original. That's OK, 'cause this feel works very well for a cappella. One thing OTB is excellent at is evoking the emotion from the music...I wish I had a buck for every group out there I've heard that just sings the notes and doesn't add anything to the endless covers that they sing. OTB doesn't do that here, and it's refreshing. The rest of the arrangment is vintage OTB.
    Rating: 8

    Randi Sherman

    Great ethereal quality to the beginning of this song with a huge dynamic crescendo. Once again, the percussionist, Dan J, is amazing. He really carries many of the tunes on this album. I already love Peter Gabriel, because some of his music is calling to be performed a cappella. The soloist drags a little bit tempo-wise, and the whole piece isn't too consistent rhythmically. The bass "dum-de-dum" doesn't really fit the style of the song, because it's too weighty, and they're a little flat throughout the piece. The female who sings over the soloist could've been louder. Another great arrangement with not too many confusing soloists, but the overall sound is a little brassy.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    I've been waiting for a college group to cover this one for a while, and I can tell you why in two words: Sinead O'Connor. Peter Gabriel wrote some great harmonies into this song for her to sing and they're all lovingly duplicated here. Okay, I was kind of hoping for them to do even more harmony on the leads than they do, but there's still plenty going on here. The arrangement is a little clumsy in the beginning, but in exchange for that you get an emotional and ever so slightly raspy vocalist born to sing Gabriel-esq music. Plus a cool chanted section (I won't even hazard a guess at what language it's in) that lurked in the background of the original recording comes front and center in this cover.
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    Peter Gabriel has a wonderful knack for creating uplifting music without being cloying. Off the Beat captures that feeling, with an arrangement by Dan Jurow that balances mood, simplicity and texture; it really moves throughout the song. Even though the melody is often the same, you never feel like you're stuck in the same place through almost 6 minutes. Once again drums are used to good effect in the chorus, which is where the complexity really comes in. The arrangement breathes in the verses, you can hear the different parts — just a great mix. Foreign language bit is very good, with harmony over a very light skeleton and a kickass bass drone. Solo takes a listen or two to appreciate. He's no Peter Gabriel, but really does a pretty good job, styling as much as he dares without losing it.
    Rating: 9

    Sarah Andrews

    I don't think I've ever heard the original song. Here's a case where the soloist is trying to sound like the original singer, Peter Gabriel, and it doesn't work. (Nobody sounds like Peter Gabriel.) It wouldn't bother me if he just went ahead and did it in his own way, because I have nothing against his singing otherwise, but I get this feeling like he's trying to be PG and it just doesn't quite work. The chorus and last verse go better when he's joined by a female singer, and I don't notice it enough. The arrangement also does a good job creating a different mood during the African chant part. Same wall of sound effect — it pretty much continues for the whole disc.
    Rating: 8

  3. Saint Theresa (7.8)
    Shawn Pearce

    Very inspired use of syllables here, as opposed to actual spoken words, like a lot of the songs have. Very skillful execution of the mixed meter, something a lot of groups don't manage to carry off. A little less emotion here than others, but it seems to be executed a bit more crisply, and the original feel of the song is invoked, even if emotion isn't here as much as it is in the other songs.
    Rating: 8

    Randi Sherman

    Never heard this song, and I don't know if the soloist's "grinding" in her voice is how it's performed, but sometimes it makes it hard to understand her lyrics, but she maintains a professional sound. The recording of this song is a little gritty, and it keeps the song from sounding very clean. The soloist becomes a little "lost" in the sopranos during the chorus. The syllables "bo-day-do" are original and work well without using harsh consonants. Occasionally the louder dynamics press the pitch a little flat, but this is a minor detail that happens once or twice.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    It's the good Joan Osborne song. OTB serves up a suitably breathy and haunting performance. Very ambient. I like the explosive choruses.
    Rating: 9

    Rebecca Christie

    Nice rhythm and a refreshingly vocal sound open this Joan Osborne cover. Off the Beat is excellent at turning their backgrounds into these vibratoless, blended chords that sound so much like instruments; it's not exactly a choral effect here, but it sounds like people. Solo to me sounds a little like Brandi — I like her styling but at times wish she'd sink a little more voice into it. Many of the lower notes breathily growl out, replacing rather than augmenting the pitch that ought to be there. But the overall product shows she put a lot of work into it and came out pretty good. As the song progresses the background goes back to the tapestry effect they use so effectively, but I liked that the beginning was sung into being. Another nice Dan Jurow arrangement.
    Rating: 8

    Sarah Andrews

    The bass intro seems a little out of place until the other parts come in. The background parts are arranged in such a cacophony of syllables that I feel like there's a hidden message in there that I'm supposed to decode. Sometimes it's just enough variety in syllables, but other times it crosses over into sensory overload. The ending seemed a little too abrupt for me, even with the dramatic swell. The soloist seems to be scraping the bottom of her range in a couple of parts, but for the rest of the song she does a good job of fitting the feel of the song without doing a full-out Joan Osborne imitation.
    Rating: 7

  4. Carnival (live) (8.2)
    Shawn Pearce

    One of three tracks that are recorded live at a venue, non-stop, warts and all, rather than recorded and produced in a studio. It loses very little. This is actually, one of the better tracks on the album...good soloist, great arrangement, great background...and without the studio effects, even. They manage strong dynamics here as well, which is cool, considering they are doing the dynamics, not their soundboard.
    Rating: 9

    Randi Sherman

    Ok guys. You spend the time and money to record a CD, so DON'T start a song with two people coughing. Even though the director counts off, you could've edited that out. It's really tacky and probably avoidable. The beginning sounds out of tune and takes a while to settle. Natalie Merchant's voice is hard to imitate, and the soloist does it wonderfully. The chorus is way too loud. One shouldn't have to adjust the stereo all that much when listening to a CD. Great percussion again, this time by someone else, but it's really consistent. I think the group needed to back up "volume-wise" because it's not pleasant to listen to when they sound like they're yelling.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    A small beef: the brief bit of coughing and other audience noises at the beginning of this cut makes the album a little less of a coherent album and more of a collection of separate songs. But by the time the clapping at the end of this song comes around, you've long since forgotten that you're listening to a live cut. The recording is that good. The vocals are that clear. The performance is that flawless. This is what a live recording can and should sound like. In other news, the duet vocalist (played by Annie Lennox in the original but uncredited here) is the real "value added" component of this version.
    Rating: 9

    Rebecca Christie

    Ok, I'm bored now. Elapsed time: 20 seconds. Solo doesn't make it in until just before the minute mark. She's got a great Chrissie Hynde quality - Pam Beecroft uses abrasion as a real strength. Also un-Merchant like is a rock song chorus that I like a lot. Short but sweet, hits about 1:45. Second chorus has a pretty, and pretty bland, voice doing the overlay, which knocks out the rock song effect. Ok, at 3:45 the instrumental bridge almost takes the song somewhere, but there's not a whole lot to work with and pitchiness creeps into the experimental. That's the problem with Natalie Merchant — the music to song-length ratio is rarely high enough to hold my attention, even though there's nothing. I gave them an extra point for being a quality live track — I bet the bridge took a lot of work to polish like that.
    Rating: 8

    Sarah Andrews

    I like the intro with male voices — for the first 30 seconds or so it's a "guess what it is" sort of thing. And this live performance certainly holds its own against the production on the studio tracks — they're obviously not hiding too many flaws on the more highly produced tracks. When they come in on the chorus ("have I been blind") they are huge — a great change in mood! I don't like the little "wadda wadda" riff very much — it's kind of distracting and too busy, distracting from a relatively seamless sound. The soloist gets points for not trying to sound like Natalie Merchant (another who just can't be imitated) but she doesn't really strike me very much otherwise. I did really like the harmony part on the chorus a lot though.
    Rating: 9

  5. Pain Lies on the Riverside (7.4)
    Shawn Pearce

    Really good intro...maybe I'm just a sucker for a "gale force" kind of opening, but this has it. The percussionists in this group are really good...they're not the virtuosos of an Andrew Chaikin or a Jeff Thacher, but they serve their purpose, and they drive the song without being intrusive. An excellent interpretation of the rock song. The one fall point is that the soloist tries TOO hard to sound like Live's lead singer and pulls himself into weird tonal directions doing so.. but it's a minor point.
    Rating: 8

    Randi Sherman

    This group knows their percussion, except that it gets rushed a little bit by the rest of the group. TEMPO! It runs away again in this song. The soloist needs some serious work on his diction, and it sounds too much like a bunch of vowels. He doesn't sound like he's paying attention to what he's saying, either. The sopranos are too bright in the song compared to everyone else. Nice echo effect they added in editing.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    I don't listen to Live (the group, that is). Not my cup of tea. But this wailer of a song gets my interest up anyway, mostly because of the lead vocals. Huge, loud harmonies make this the perfect type of song to play for one of your unenlightened friends who still thinks a cappella is wussy.
    Rating: 9

    Rebecca Christie

    Gets a nice score because Off the Beat is such a quality group. Personally, though, I'll skip this track whenever I play the disc. Solo is in tune and blandly alternarock; his tone quality . Background is very 80s sounding, with a fast poppy drum track and female ya-ya-yas in the back ground. Nice soprano work, by the way. Moves smartly along in a most interminable way — 4:57 is a long time for a song with such a small number of chords to choose from.
    Rating: 7

    Sarah Andrews

    Standard disclaimer: I'm not a big Live fan either (I know I'm from PA and I'm supposed to love them and all, but...). The feeling I got from this song was that it was supposed to have a driving force, but instead it came off feeling frantic. This made it seem overly busy, and the syllables of the accompaniment were so fast that sometimes it seems they didn't have enough time to spit them out. The soloist was right for this Live song, and he does a really good job of covering the challenging range of the song.
    Rating: 6

  6. Ironic (7.6)
    Shawn Pearce

    Two Alanis songs on the same album? I just find it amazing that they have two different soloists that can do Alanis. The arrangement was neat, but I felt it was a little TOO busy. It evoked the feel, but the arrangement, for the first time so far, got in the way of the song and the soloist; it seemed too much "Hey, look at this cool arrangement" rather than "Listen to this really cool song." But (and I'll probably get flamed for saying this) mediocre OTB (at least on this album) is better than the best that a lot of groups have to offer.
    Rating: 7

    Randi Sherman

    Ok, so I know all the words to this song, too. I was amazed at how the blend of the duet during the chorus sounds just like the recording, except for the absence of a few Canadian pronunciations. (Not meant to be mean) I think because the other Alanis Morrissette song was much stronger, they shouldn't have done two by the same artist. Yes, this is a slow song, but the mushy vowels make it drag even more. When the soloist says "And isn't it ironic, don't you think?" towards the end of the song, the backup is singing words that aren't understood. If a group isn't using syllables, they should make sure the words are audible and clear.
    Rating: 8

    Matt Cohen

    A much more natural choice for an a cappella cover than You Oughta Know. The harmonies on the choruses (which rock a lot more than you'd expect them too) are bright and engaging. The lyrics-as-backing vocals are subtle to the extreme. Another winner.
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    This song suffers from comparison to You Oughta Know, and would not have been that great on its own. I felt like every single singer on this track knew that this was not as good a song — there's less energy, less attack (which adds so much to already good tuning). The solo dances around the pitch so she can do her Alannis styling, and her lighter tone comes up short to the subtle swank of the other number.
    Rating: 7

    Sarah Andrews

    This is more Alanis than I really think is necessary on one disc. Don't even get me started on what other great female alternative vocalists they could have covered. In this case the soloist falls prey to imitating all of Alanis' affected vocal tics. She is dead-on Alanis during the chorus, but I didn't really find her that pleasant to listen to. The arrangement provides a nice platform for the solo, though some of the consonants during the quieter parts distract from the solo. If I were going to drop one of the Alanis songs, it would probably be this one.
    Rating: 6

  7. Wonderwall (live) (7.4)
    Shawn Pearce

    The best way for me to know when a song execution works is if they take a song I really HATE and can actually get me to enjoy their rendition of it. This is one of those cases. The arrangement is really superlative.... a good slow build, and a sweet hook when everything hit. Soloist evokes the Gallagher brothers without getting into a fist fight to do it. And the fact that this song, to me, is better than the original source material is strengthened that this was another live, sing it straight through track. Some minor rhythmic problems, unfortunately, doesn't allow the 10.
    Rating: 9

    Randi Sherman

    Again, problems with the live recording! Should've just started where the song starts. We didn't need to hear the pitch, someone clear their throat, and everyone humming their pitch. The soloist seems to be speaking more than singing. He's got a very nasal quality, and although that may just be the sound of his voice, he needed to open up the vowels a little more. But it's the great percussionist in the group. The tempo is a little shaky again in the song. The sopranos that sing the words underneath the soloist are really whiny. (Sorry, can't think of a better word.) It's a creative arrangement, but too much is going on and it sounds almost like they were singing into a tin can.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    Would anyone really care if any of the arrogant lads from Oasis died of ruptured egos tomorrow? I didn't think so. But I digress. This is another fine arrangement/performance (and a great live recording). It just lacks the magic of some of the other tracks. They do a great job with the material, but maybe it wasn't the best song choice.
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    Here are some vintage in-your-face syllables: "jum, jum, jadida jum jum." Glad to know the tradition is still around, even though I think wordlessness is a nicer trademark. This is a nice little grunger — it could use more attack, but picks up some after they bring the drums front-n-center. Like the post-bridge background very much, with a tenor doing the "jum-jum" thing over the wordless background. Cool. Oh, by the way, this one is live too. You can tell, but it's a good listen.
    Rating: 7

    Sarah Andrews

    Another live one — here they prove they're human by humming after the pitch pipe. The intro is very tight (so I guess it worked!), but unfortunately I felt like some of that tightness was lost after the percussion came in. I think if the "zhum" syllable was more prominent after the change it would make for more continuity. Also, I keep wanting just a little more "oomph" from the percussion once it comes in. The soloist never seems to settle in - he always seems like he's on the verge of shouting.
    Rating: 7

  8. Caught a Light Sneeze (7.6)
    Shawn Pearce

    The big danger with singing Tori a cappella is that her voice is SO distinctive and so necessary for the songs to work that if you don't have a soloist that can invoke Tori when they sing, it tends to make the song flat. Fortunately, OTB could probably find a soloist who could invoke Marilyn Manson if they had to, so that's rarely a problem =) .

    Good arrangement...I can't say how much they invoked the original as I've never heard the original, but the song ebbs and flows quite nicely in and of itself.
    Rating: 8

    Randi Sherman

    Amazing percussion in the beginning. Didn't sound real at all, but the disclaimer on the album said they didn't use sequencers or synthesized sounds. There are a lot of tough chords in this song, and they do them very well. The soloist was drowned out by the moving "whoa-whoa's" that moved a step at a time. It's obvious this is the same soloist from the first track, "You Oughta Know" because she's an excellent performer. The pitch is under a little bit during some of the transitions, which is a natural tendency for many groups.
    Rating: 8

    Matt Cohen

    It would be very easy to screw up the this complex Tori Amos number. But OTB knows their way around complex arrangements and their cover comes off as effortless and understated. Impressive work that doesn't hit you over the head to show you how impressive it is.
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    Very nice high bit in beginning over the men. The women mid-range "ya" ostinato is not as in-tune as I would like. The whole middle background never comes together, making this song less of a success than its peers, but there are no major gaffes. Liner notes say this is a Tori Amos songs, which means those slidey two-note repetitions must have been from clear succinct piano keys in the original. Oh well. I like the solo; she has a great quality to her voice that sounds like Jewel except when she gets really open, when she's like Tori without quite the abrasion.
    Rating: 6

    Sarah Andrews

    Here's an unusual case where the intro seems a little shaky, but it falls into a nice groove once the entire wall of sound is in place. The solo is a tori sound-alike, but very natural about it rather than forced. The percussion is great — it's worth commenting on because it fits so well in most of OtB's songs that when it is at all lacking (like Wonderwall) is the only time it really sticks out.
    Rating: 8

  9. Anna Begins (7.2)
    Shawn Pearce

    I have to preface this by saying that I find Counting Crows HIGHLY overrated. That having been said, this song was OK...certainly not among their best, but not bad either. Unlike the Oasis song, though, it wasn't good enough to make me forget that I dislike Counting Crows. Add to the fact that by OTB standards the arrangement is kinda pedestrian pulls up a rare mediocre track
    Rating: 6

    Randi Sherman

    This is the first song where I think the group didn't use all of the voices all at once. Great dissonant chords in the song. The percussion is good, but I realize that it's starting to sound pretty similar to a lot of the other songs. The song is a little weak in the bass department; their sound isn't clear basically because it's too low for them. I think that they should have stuck to syllables a little longer in sections of the song, because by the time you get used to hearing them, they're gone. There's too many changes, but the climatic ending is great, where everyone drops out and the arrangement is minimized.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    OTB covered "Mr. Jones" on one of their previous albums (Flail) and it didn't seem like a natural choice for the conversion to a cappella. Good, but not at the same quality as their best material. Anna Begins, on the other hand, works perfectly a cappella (lots of built-in harmony). And its somber tones fit perfectly into OTB's musical pallet. The highlight is the "rain falls down" in the backing vox (it starts fairly faintly and slowly builds each time they sing it until it swells to glorious proportions). The crescendo makes the surprisingly moving "Am I in love?" that closes the track that much more effective.
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    Pitch on this suffers — because of the layering in the background it's tough to describe how, but it doesn't sound right. Nothing in this song really catches my ear enough to write about it. There are better songs, and better Counting Crows songs.
    Rating: 6

    Sarah Andrews

    Hey — it's Live sings Counting Crows! No, but really, I was really surprised to read that this wasn't the soloist from the Live song, because he sounds so much like the guy from Live. I like the beginning, with long stretches of sound, a feel that is continued pretty much throughout with longer syllables. I was glad they didn't busy it up too much, because the arrangement really fits the feel of the song. The final "Am I in love" from the women seemed out of place — if they're going to go for strict imitation of songs, stuff like this can fizzle. They seemed to take the last word away from the soloist.
    Rating: 8

  10. Natural One (live) (7.4)
    Shawn Pearce

    EXCELLENT opening. I never heard of this song until this album, and I was hooked from the opening chords. I like hearing baritone/bass solos, as there are too few in a cappella today. Everyone wants to sing HIGH or REALLY LOW, and there's nothing for the middle ground. Again, this is a live, straight-thru track, yet it's as together, if not more so, than many of the studio tracks. Fun arrangement, slinks around like a 60's sex kitten.
    Rating: 9

    Randi Sherman

    I'm not going to make another comment about the start of the song that they perform live. Sure, the audience wants to hear them talk, but unless it's important to the album, it's not important to those listening. Great octave jumping in the beginning of the song, and the "gregorian chant" style in the beginning sets the style really well. Again, if they're using words, I want to know what they're saying. The repetitious bass line sticks out, but if that's how the chords proceed, they can't do much.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    See? You can have a bass sing solo on something other than "60 Minute Man"!
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    The spoken intro takes a bit to get to the point; I don't think it's interesting enough to merit its length and inclusion. Song rocks, though. It's live, it grooves, and the women make a really tough "ha" line sound easy. Bridge seems to drag a bit. I've never heard the song before, but it's a good way to give the spotlight to a low bari. And it's open — I appreciate the space in the song/arrangement as much as the cuteness of the song and what they have going on in it. Rescues me from balladitis.
    Rating: 7

    Sarah Andrews

    The opening is awesome, imitating the sort of electronic buzz from the actual song. I don't really like the frantic octaves from the women that immediately follow it though. The simplicity of the first verse was cool, but then the treble part coming out of the right channel got pretty annoying. The percussion is just right, but I want the bass to be a little more noticeable. I think this song is a really good try at a tricky sort of song — sort of electronic and fuzzy guitars — but it doesn't quite pull it all the way off.
    Rating: 6

  11. Like the Way I Do (7.4)
    Shawn Pearce

    Man, I'm starting to get a little tired of heaping the praise on these guys.. but it's hard for me to find flaws with what they're doing. This song in particular does a good job of mirroring Etheridge's passion when she sing, both in the solo and in the background. Vocal Percussion drags behind the group a little. But overall, good track.
    Rating: 8

    Randi Sherman

    Oooh's that the sopranos come in on are out of tune, and they stay that way most of the song. This is a pretty simple arrangement, but the same percussion returns of "doom-doom-pfffff" which is hard to describe with words. The soloist doesn't do much dynamically. They have really clean transitions in this song, but overall, each part sticks out and they don't really sound like they are listening to each other at all. The song is too bright and needs more bass and alto.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    An emotional lead vocalist, an arrangement that builds around a nice soprano/tenor part (following what was formally the guitar part on the verses), and a great song choice. What's wrong with this track? Not one damn thing, that's what. Check out the "obsession, possession" in the backing vox. And you don't want to miss the lead screaming "Nobody aches!" on the bridge or giving just the right amount of rasp to a drawn out "rock" (on "electrify and rock you").
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    Nice tone can't hide the fact that this solo is consistently flat. Background is good — mellow, but good — but this is a front-and-center solo song, and this solo gets grating as the song goes out. Pity, because she starts out with the edged smooth quality of mid-career Annie Lennox (e.g. Thorn In My Side). She loses her pitch first, then adds serious husk like Etheridge, but it doesn't help until the last chorus when she can play with the chorus a little. I like the groove on the middle verse, when the women waft all over a nice rhythm section and a good foundation from the boys.
    Rating: 6

    Sarah Andrews

    Here's another soloist (like the one in St. Theresa) who picks up on the feel of the song without directly imitating the original. During the chorus I feel like I'm getting sensory overload — how many parts _are_ there? I feel like there's an alto part in there that I should be hearing better and I'm just not getting it. The verses are like a welcome respite from all that busy-ness, though the constant "like the way-ay-ah" does get a little repetitious.
    Rating: 7

  12. Hook (6.4)
    Shawn Pearce

    Thank you very much for not trying to emulate Popper's harmonica....it still moves without it, and not too many people can truly do it. However, that plus doesn't counteract the minuses....this is the first track where I can truly say the soloist doesn't fit the song...now this happens often in collegiate a cappella, but on this album it REALLY sticks out. And the style of arranging that OTB uses doesn't seem to fit in this song like it does the others. And the really fast singing section on the 3rd verse doesn't invoke Popper as much as it does Rufus Xavier Sasparilla from Schoolhouse Rock.
    Rating: 6

    Randi Sherman

    Are they singing words or syllables in the beginning? There's too much going on syllabically. The soloist has a great, clear voice, but it's not much along the lines of emotion. On the chorus, the back-ups who sing the words aren't together, and they need to be louder than the rest of the group. I think throughout the whole song, too much is going on and it takes too much attention away from the soloist, except for the "Suck it in suck it in." where he doesn't even do it at first. The basses are really messy at this part, and maybe they should've backed off.
    Rating: 4

    Matt Cohen

    Okay, a brief history of OTB: I heard a tape of them back when I was in school. They were a strong coed group (if a little stiff). They liked the 80s. They did a notable version of Erasure's "I Just Can't Get Enough" and a fun "Take Me to the River." They had some comedy bits. They had a sense of humor. The next time I heard them was Flail, an album that, in my opinion, redefined college a cappella as much as the Beelzebubs had on Foster Street. It found a way to sincerely do "alternative" music and showed what a complex but artful arrangement is all about.

    I'm not saying I want OTB to start doing 80s music or comedy again, but they do tend to be exceedingly dark. Hook shows that they can still sing more upbeat music (albeit with some biting lyrics). Normally Blues Traveler covers don't work because a good Blues Traveler song depends on the unearthly harmonica playing. But Hook doesn't need that. It instead relies on the rapid fire lyrics in the bridge. OTB delivers them breathlessly and with razor sharp diction. Greg Kwiat brings a clarion voice to the leads and the group matches him with bright harmonies. With apologies to John Popper, it's an improvement on the original.
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    Solo is to be commended on the way he sings the words — it's the way he sings the notes that doesn't grab me. No faults with his tuning, but the melody isn't crisp, which is what this song needs. Given that Off the Beat has such great altos, and given that I heard this song effectively done by the UNC Loreleis, I am left wanting. I think the alto/soprano duet doing the main instrumental hook throughout is very well conceived, clear over the rest of the voices, but I wish they were more evenly balanced. The alto is louder. Bridge is not really up to standard; I like the way they simplified it for a verse after and then dropped everyone back in, nicely low key.
    Rating: 6

    Sarah Andrews

    Ba-da-bah? This group uses syllables I've never even _thought_ of before on other songs, then uses this bland one so prominently here? The background is very drone-y, almost overpowering the soloist on the verses. I think a song this quirky could use something quirkier in the arrangement. Though it was much more surprising and fun to hear the female voices doing the quick-talking part before the soloist comes in on it. On the first part of the song, the soloist was adequate but not outstanding, but when he came in on the second part (quick-talking part — what do you call it anyway?) he really stood out, even if he seemed to lose a couple of words. And again with the women getting the last word at the end — that's an arranging quirk I'm not way into.
    Rating: 6

  13. Elsewhere (8.6)
    Shawn Pearce

    Finally...a McLachlan song other than "Possession". I didn't notice until I heard this song, but this is the one truly slow ballad on the album...the other ballads have too much business in the arrangements for them to seem slow. VERY powerfully sung by the vocalists, and the pace of the song..and the relative simplicity of the arrangement...is a good switch of momentum from the rest of the album, and it really grabs the attention.
    Rating: 9

    Randi Sherman

    My whole campus seems to like Sarah McLachlan, so I've heard this song almost every day coming from someone's room. It was great that they slowed it down a little bit to fit their style of the arrangement. The "zhoom" syllable is really effective, and it's a great ballad, even if it's the only true ballad on the CD. The syncopation of all the parts is clear, on time, and sharp, which makes this song simple and powerful.
    Rating: 9

    Matt Cohen

    This would be powerful and involving stuff on any album, but here it also serves as an Oasis from all the vocal percussion and pyrotechnics that define the rest of the disc. It gives the listener a chance to breath. A rich alto soloist finds all the right emotional notes in this Sarah McLachlan song.
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    This is a pretty, faithful rendition of Sarah McLachlan's "Elsewhere", from the Fumbling Towards Ecstasy album. But as McLachlan shows on her Freedom Sessions disc, it's a song that can be so much more. Off the Beat does it very slowly, very simply — not that it sounds easy, but it's not very ornamented, like a well-made designer suit. I like the difference in mood between it and the other song. I guess I feel it could have more bite to it, not just be a melancholy melody, but they do pretty good. Tenors don't have the best blend/tuning here — they stick out in various spots throughout.
    Rating: 8

    Sarah Andrews

    Disclaimer: Sarah McLachlan is my favorite singer, hands down. So my only comment on the soloist is that she did it better than I could, she was fine, actually she was really good considering she wasn't Sarah. But my biggest gripe with this song was that there was no percussion! Why? They didn't otherwise really depart from the original version of the song, so I don't see why they left that out. Every time the verse led into the chorus, and then the chorus back into the verse, I was waiting for them to break out into percussion. It's frustrating, because otherwise this was a really good version of a great song. Oh well.
    Rating: 7

  14. Say it Ain't So (6.4)
    Shawn Pearce

    Ehhh...average song. There isn't much that the group can do to rescue this one. Very boring, and too reminiscent of "Soul to Squeeze" to really send me.
    Rating: 5

    Randi Sherman

    I think they placed this song in a bad place on the CD. It's relatively slow, and it's right after the one ballad on the CD. Should've gone somewhere else. That same percussion returns from previous songs of "doom-doom-pffff" which is now not as creative as it seemed 10 tracks ago. When there's a transition into the bridge, it sounds really out of tune, and I know that's not how the song goes. It's not really polished, and parts stick out again from time to time.
    Rating: 6

    Matt Cohen

    OTB moves back to more familiar ground with this Weezer cover. Great execution of a song that doesn't really deserve the quality performance it's getting here.
    Rating: 8

    Rebecca Christie

    This is a Weezer song, which means the solo is allowed to sing off-key and call it styling 'cause it's not his fault. There's one verse where this happens a lot, and I'm sure it was that way in the original, but it grates on me. Otherwise I thought this song had some neat ideas. It's got very nice dynamic motion, a mix of styles in the background, with an arrangement that brings to mind Soul to Squeeze on the choruses.
    Rating: 7

    Sarah Andrews

    I like the first verse — it starts out kind of light and fun, but at 1:15 it gets much bigger than I expect a Weezer song to be. The tuning and blend, which for OtB are typically good enough that they don't really bear commenting on, here fade in and out, and are especially shaky in the staccato women's part during the verses. The soloist has a rough edge that is just right for this song. And the guy shouting "yeah" during the chorus is fun too.
    Rating: 6

  15. Gangsta's Paradise (9.2)
    Shawn Pearce

    The arrangement rocks....they concentrate less on technical proficiency and more on evoking the sound of the original...meaning it's less busy and more powerful. The soloist does the best job he can, but still comes off slightly vanilla...but it's better than many I've heard. I would have liked to have seen this live to see what they would have done on stage, but the overall effect is a good way to close the album
    Rating: 9

    Randi Sherman

    Whoa! How does this fit into the "90's alternative" album? It should've gone with Notorious B.I.G. In any case, it's a good song, but not good enough to end the album, because it's a bit of a surprise. I wonder if two people rapped, or if they recorded the soloist's voice twice to make it sound like an echo and two people. They really don't have the groove that Coolio and Stevie Wonder (yes, he did the original that Coolio based his song on) had. Sounds a little more like a chain gang. Because it's such a repetitive song, it wasn't good for the finale. The ending is good, how they layer the parts of "Living in a Gangsta's paradise" and "Tell me why are we so blind to see". The final chorus has a really full sound, and musically, it's a strong ending, but I simply didn't like the choice.
    Rating: 7

    Matt Cohen

    Rap with gothic backing vocals. One of the biggest sounds I've ever heard out of an a cappella song. I can't even imagine how many overdubs they must be doing. Great harmonies. The rap is dead on. (At first I thought the lead sounded like Weird Al. Then I realized that the soloist and Weird Al both do impeccable Coolio impersonations.) Although it's clear from his performance that the lead totally loves this song, it does sound a little silly when you remember that these guys all go to Penn! But ignore that and just listen to that huge sound.
    Rating: 10

    Rebecca Christie

    What's great about this is they don't camp it up, they don't do it as a joke song. This is serious stuff, and they treat it that way and do it up good. It's got edge, not self-consciousness. They're not the best rappers in the world, but they don't back down, and the singing is good. Women are very ethereal over a wonderful bass line that has much more presence than most everywhere else on the album. Arranger Adam Hellegers knew how to get a great mix of faithful and when to let vocals do their thing — the background is reminiscent of Peter Gabriel's Passion. This is original. Listen to it twice and enjoy something different.
    Rating: 10

    Sarah Andrews

    Oh my god! I am totally convinced by this cover. I don't know why I'm actually surprised I like it so much. If I could change anything , I might bring the bass and percussion up a notch and drop the "ooh"s back a bit, so I can blast it on my car's sound system with the windows down this summer. :) But really, this song is nearly perfect. Really!
    Rating: 10

  16. One Other Thing (4.0)
    Shawn Pearce

    [not reviewed]
    Rating: none

    Randi Sherman

    I thought this was pretty funny. They took real karaoke and recorded themselves doing it, one person at a time, and then they clipped different songs that they did. Of course, it shows no talent of the group as a whole, but it's creative. Some of the soloists were outright funny, but others were really just singing as well as they could. The funny part is some of the songs they picked, like "I've Got The Power" and "When Doves Cry." It doesn't necessarily add to the album, but it doesn't take away, either. 6 minutes was a little long, though. Definitely worth listening to at least once.
    Rating: none

    Matt Cohen

    It's a mix of the group singing karaoke. They claim in the liner notes to be "crappy" at karaoke. Some of it is truly crappy. They rather gleefully (and probably drunkenly) murder "Sucker with No Self Esteem." Some of it is actually cool. If they don't try to cover "Hey, Jealousy" on the next disc, well, I'll be disappointed. Anyway, this is worth one listen, but the mix is jarring and rambles so you'll regret coming back for seconds. But they at least give it it's own track instead of tacking it onto the end of Gangsta's Paradise. I guess the bottom line is that it's good for what it is.
    Rating: 5

    Rebecca Christie

    I'm glad they have a really nice recording of this to keep for years, play for their friends. It'd make a great keepsake. It makes a rotten addition to an a cappella album, though, particularly for those of us who have no connection to these people and don't want to listen to them singing over karaoke over loud instrumental. There's a nice harmony bit around 3:10 of When Doves Cry over a low-key background that I can live with fine — the rest of it is one voice over guitars on a buncha pop songs. Next time, keep it for yourselves, folks.
    Rating: 3

    Sarah Andrews

    Cute — once again OtB is human. There's a reason why the Offspring should never be done karaoke style!
    Rating: none

How To Get Your Work Reviewed

To have your album (2 or more tracks) reviewed by RARB, please email us with your name, group name and album title. You will receive a response with information on how to register your album in our system.

To have your digital single reviewed by RARB, please fill out our online singles registration form.

×