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YellowJackets

University of Rochester

Yellacappella (1997)

4.0

May 30, 1998

Tuning / Blend 4.4
Energy / Intensity 3.4
Innovation / Creativity 2.8
Soloists 3.4
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.4
Tracks
1 What I Like About You 3.6
2 Traffic Jam 4.0
3 Horse With No Name 3.4
4 Tuxedo Junction 3.4
5 Life in a Nutshell 3.2
6 Handyman 4.0
7 Walk in the Sun 4.4
8 You Give Love a Bad Name 2.8
9 Here Comes the Sun 3.6
10 You Can't Hurry Love 3.2

Recorded 1997
Total time: 31:17, 10 songs


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 What I Like About You 4
2 Traffic Jam 4
3 Horse With No Name 3
4 Tuxedo Junction 4
5 Life in a Nutshell 3
6 Handyman 4
7 Walk in the Sun 5
8 You Give Love a Bad Name 3
9 Here Comes the Sun 3
10 You Can't Hurry Love 3

Yellacappella, by the University of Rochester Yellowjackets, is a cappella comfort food. It's a big dish of homemade macaroni and cheese or chicken noodle soup — it doesn't offer up many surprises, it doesn't challenge you or anything, but sometimes it's exactly what you need.

Ok. Food metaphors aside, Yellacappella is a solidly pretty good album — while there are a few tracks that stand out above the rest, there aren't any clunkers, and most of the album strolls along at the same laid-back pace. The arrangements (save a few) aren't the most complex, but they're not bad either. The ten-man Yellowjackets create a full sound, with generally good balance, blend, and tuning. Their repertoire ranges from jazzy (Tuxedo Junction Traffic Jam) to 80's cheese (What I Like About You, You Give Love a Bad Name) to '90s alternapop (Life in a Nutshell), yet somehow they infuse the entire album with the same feeling, which I can only describe as "laid-back". I mean this in the best possible way, because each song still retains its own individuality while still feeling like part of the album as a whole. The arranging style certainly contributes to this, because nearly every song retains the pattern of having some of the arrangement devoted to chords on oooh's or aaah's or some other syllable, and a significant remainder comprised of the background parts singing harmony on the lyrics of the song behind the soloist.

On a more critical note, some of the arrangements became a little repetitive by the end of the songs. This is most evident on Horse With No Name, which teases with interesting touches throughout the first verse and chorus, but then repeats the pattern on subsequent verses. You Give Love a Bad Name falls into the same trap — the idea of singing that song is amusing, but nothing is done to get the listener interested in any capacity. I also had the strange feeling throughout this song that the group was going flat, but they weren't, so I guess it was an intonation thing. On some of the tracks I was also bothered by rhythmic issues, usually involving the percussion/snaps/clicks sticking out weirdly from the rest of the song. The snaps on Tuxedo Junction and You Can't Hurry Love seemed to be phasing a little bit, and during Life in a Nutshell the percussion that comes in the left channel during the late part of the chorus is somewhat jarring and seems out of sync.

But the fun thing about this album is that the Yellowjackets seem to be having a great time on it. Even the songs that don't generally do a lot for me have cool little touches — You Give Love a Bad Name has a difficult but well-executed rhythmic section during the bridge, and Here Comes the Sun, another rather repetitive track, playfully manages to incorporate (what I think is) the name of each member of the group in one background part. My favorite tracks on this CD (due in no small part to their common soloist, Brian Scharfenberg) are Traffic Jam which has a nice jazzy, rhythmic feel to it (the other James Taylor cover on this album, Handyman, does less for me, though it appears on BOCA '98...), and the Bruce Hornsby cover Walk in the Sun, which has just enough extra complexity in the arrangement and interesting percussion (not to mention the "Scooby Doo and Scrappy too" syllables in one of the background parts!) to make me consider it the standout track on the CD.

In short, this is not the most ground-breaking a cappella CD you'll hear, but it makes for an enjoyable listen. This group is solid enough to make an album with no bad tracks, if only a few that stand out from the rest.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 What I Like About You 3
2 Traffic Jam 3
3 Horse With No Name 3
4 Tuxedo Junction 2
5 Life in a Nutshell 2
6 Handyman 3
7 Walk in the Sun 3
8 You Give Love a Bad Name 2
9 Here Comes the Sun 3
10 You Can't Hurry Love 2

I had never heard the Yellowjackets before receiving this album in the mail, though I have heard OF them. Nobody has ever said anything bad about them before, and I am not about to start. However, I am not going to say lots of great things about them either after hearing this album.

Not to say that this is a bad album. It's not. It is a consistent, well recorded collegiate album. The Yellowjackets are a pretty tight group of nine guys with a nice sound and a style that works for them. They sing a lot of mellow music with a soft edge and gentle style. They have some nice voices in the group, though nobody that really stands out. Their strength is in the mellow pop music realm. Songs like Handyman, Here Comes The Sun and especially Horse With No Name really show off their good blend. Horse is one of the better songs on the album. It has a nice groove, a good sound and an arrangement that is pretty good. The arrangement is marred only by a somewhat weak instrumental bridge... and that is probably more the fault of the singers going slightly off pitch.

It is when the 'Jackets try to do more Rock & Roll oriented songs that they start to fall short. The worst offender in my opinion is the Bon Jovi song You Give Love a Bad Name. The opening chords are indicative of a song that is going to be anticlimactic. There is only slightly more energy in this song than there was in Tuxedo Junction. They try, but it just does not make it for me. They do a decent job however with the opener (What I Like About You) in making it energetic and fun.

The arrangements on the album are fine for the most part. Pretty straight forward stuff, and not too complicated. But they were written with an eye out for chord structure, helping to keep things sounding good and catering to the group's strengths of blend and mellow singing. Though I do have to say that I did not like the endings of a couple of songs, namely Tuxedo Junction (a song that's nothing to write home about) and Handyman. Too abrupt and too stilted (respectively). The vowel choices throughout the albums were not very inventive, but you don't always need something wacky. The percussion throughout is understated in the mix. Not getting too overwhelming and never getting in the way of the music.

The only real strike that they have against them is tempo problems. In many of the songs they speed up and slow down with no warning, or the parts get apart from each other. The percussion rushes or the snap track is out of sync. Tuxedo Junction is one of the worst, with the snaps ahead of the singers through the whole song. Life In A Nutshell has a good sound, but the tempo is all over the place and the percussion is most definitely ahead of the rest.

Yellacappella is pretty standard collegiate fare overall, and there aren't very many compelling reasons to rush out and get this album. It sounds pretty good, but you've heard it before.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 What I Like About You 4
2 Traffic Jam 4
3 Horse With No Name 2
4 Tuxedo Junction 3
5 Life in a Nutshell 4
6 Handyman 4
7 Walk in the Sun 4
8 You Give Love a Bad Name 3
9 Here Comes the Sun 3
10 You Can't Hurry Love 3

These boys are pretty tight, save the occasional tuning issues (most notably in Tuxedo Junction and You Give Love...). Nice blend throughout the CD for sure, and most of the soloists are quite good. My two biggest problems with the CD are these: 1) creativity (must we record Horse with No Name? oh dear...) and 2) energy. I get the impression that the 'Jackets were concentrating so intensely on production and blend that they lost the raw power and emotion of live performance. I was struck by a few lackluster moments here and there, but overall the CD is pretty good. Percussion was subtle and super-realistic, and usually kept tempos rock-solid — except in Life in a Nutshell, where there were a couple stutters and off-spots. I feel like these guys do a great job on the adult contemporary side of a cappella and lose their calling when they get into rock and roll. Handyman and Walk in the Sun are great mellow ballads, done quite well; What I Like About You and You Give Love... are pushing the limits for me of what the group is comfortable with — which in itself, I suppose, is a valid point — but they really left me wanting more power, more rock 'n' roll feel, less glee-club "nah nah wah doo doot bah bow bow" moments. (Though I must admit the "instrumental" break in You Give Love... made me smile. Very nice!) This is a fine album, and I'd like to hear these things from the group in future recordings:

  1. the same attention to blend and production details
  2. more emotion and high-energy moments to really grab the listener
  3. more interesting sounds that might set them apart from the slew of east coast large groups doing similar arrangements

Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 What I Like About You 4
2 Traffic Jam 4
3 Horse With No Name 5
4 Tuxedo Junction 4
5 Life in a Nutshell 3
6 Handyman 4
7 Walk in the Sun 5
8 You Give Love a Bad Name 3
9 Here Comes the Sun 4
10 You Can't Hurry Love 5

This album's immediate strength is its cleanliness, its sheer economy of form and production. From the design and packaging (which are thankfully understated) through the selection of songs and soloists, the Yellowjackets demonstrate ample awareness of the possibilities and limits of a cappella. Every musical moment points to a deliberate and practiced professionalism on the part of the ten men who make up the group. In short, Yellacappella is an aural treat, marred, in this reviewer's opinion, only by its shortness (it clocks in at just over half an hour).

The group's strength lies in its fantastic blend, powerfully maintained through each song and over the album as a whole. The backing voices go far towards building the appropriate atmosphere for each song, aided in part by arrangements tending towards simple syllables and textual mimickry. One near-drawback of the smooth commonality of sound is an overly choral feel to some pop numbers which demand more fronting of the lead voice (tracks 1, 5 and 8 in particular). All the voices sound as if they are continually singing well within their practiced range; thus the group is very good at what it does.

And what it does sing, while never straying too far from the fold, is varied enough to make the album diversely enjoyable. The group handles pop and jazz with equal panache; some moments are pure a cappella heaven (the descant tenor I in track 10, the refrain in the same, the lulling pull of track 7), and most of the rest is not far behind. A standout feature is the vocal percussion, tending very realistically to snare and cymbal (especially that done by bass Joey Chen; go ahead, quit your day job!). One could wish for more variety, but the song choice only reinforces the coherent feel of the whole album.

In all, then, the University of Rochester Yellowjackets' Yellacappella is fantastic. Any a cappella aficionado would do himself and the group an injustice in passing this album up.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 What I Like About You 3
2 Traffic Jam 5
3 Horse With No Name 4
4 Tuxedo Junction 4
5 Life in a Nutshell 4
6 Handyman 5
7 Walk in the Sun 5
8 You Give Love a Bad Name 3
9 Here Comes the Sun 5
10 You Can't Hurry Love 3

New format — nice space we got here, eh? (Enough with the pleasantries) The Rochester Yellowjackets — even before I opened the CD I felt like it was going to be a slick production, as the cover art and liner notes were minimal. The picture of the group also was a good indicator of how the CD would sound: ten guys in coat and tie, definitely a professional atmosphere. Two key things about this album struck me:

  1. It does NOT rock
  2. It DOES captivate
These guys know how to put together an album. Take ten songs, work really hard to polish up the basics, stand back and watch the magic. For me, there were only two questionable tracks: What I Like About You and You Give Love a Bad Name. No doubt they tried, especially on the latter, but they just didn't fit into the feel of the album. The only other problem I had with the album was a lack of innovation — not that they weren't creative at all, just that it didn't happen often enough. However, that being said, I'd rather hear an album where a group sacrificed innovation for pitch, blend, and production, than an album where they pushed innovation to the detriment of production value. The Yellowjackets overall come off as a group that was cool before cool was cool. I especially appreciated Brian Scharfenberg's solos (Traffic Jam is excellent!!!), a definite highlight on the album (why weren't either of them nominated for CARAs?). Their execution was focused, producing an album that delivers a mellow groove of music that will leave you humming. More importantly, they accomplish it in a recording that comes in at under 40 minutes, which left me wanting more...the way it should be.

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Ordering Information

For info on how to order Yellacappella, contact the Yellowjackets at:

Music Program
207 Todd Union
Rochester, NY 14627

or by phone or fax at:

(716) 275-2828
(716) 442-5345 (fax)

or by e-mail at:

jackets@uhura.cc.rochester.edu

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