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Three Men and a Tenor

Land of the Giants (1998)

3.2

June 30, 1998

Tuning / Blend 3.2
Energy / Intensity 3.2
Innovation / Creativity 3.2
Soloists 3.2
Sound / Production 3.8
Repeat Listenability 2.6
Tracks
1 I Do 3.8
2 HELP! 3.4
3 We Three (The Victrola Years) 3.4
4 We Three 3.4
5 Misty 3.4
6 Little Bitty Pretty One 3.6
7 Four Months to a Lifetime (Original) 2.2
8 She's Every Woman 3.2
9 Don't Worry, Be Happy 3.0
10 It's You (Original) 3.0
11 Loves Me Like a Rock 3.4
12 Deep River 3.6
13 In My Room 2.8
14 A Cappella Safari (Original) 2.8
15 Sweaty Hillbilly Rap 3.4
16 Ring of Fire 2.8

Recorded 1997
Total time: 42:36, 16 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 I Do 4
2 HELP! 2
3 We Three (The Victrola Years) 3
4 We Three 3
5 Misty 3
6 Little Bitty Pretty One 4
7 Four Months to a Lifetime (Original) 3
8 She's Every Woman 4
9 Don't Worry, Be Happy 2
10 It's You (Original) 4
11 Loves Me Like a Rock 3
12 Deep River 3
13 In My Room 2
14 A Cappella Safari (Original) 3
15 Sweaty Hillbilly Rap 3
16 Ring of Fire 3

If scientists were somehow able to cross-pollinate The Trenchcoats with a lighthearted barbershop group, the results would be Three Men and a Tenor. The song selections on their album lean heavily towards oldies with songs by the Beatles (Help!), the Beach Boys' (In My Room), and Paul Simon (Loves Me Like a Rock) thrown in for good measure. Occasionally, they toss in a more modern approach to their older songs, like the vocal percussion drum fills on the bridge of the chipper I Do. While the blending of classic and contemporary pop singing works sometimes, sometimes it only serves to muddy an otherwise respectable arrangement. For example, the verses of Help! are fun and harmonious, but when they try to pick things up with some drums on the chorus, it only makes group sound like they're spreading themselves too thin.

On the whole, Three Men and a Tenor are best when they play it straight with bouncy oldies like Little Bitty Pretty One. That said, the best songs on the CD are probably the most recent ones: Garth Brooks She's Every Woman and the original It's You. She's Every Woman starts off with a strong soloist singing, well, solo. The group comes in to back him up with some simple chords and eventually a little vocal percussion rounds out the mix. The percussion is gratuitous at best and disruptive at worst, but the song still evokes a nice mood. It's You has a similar feel, but the harmonies are a little broader and the arrangement is slightly more complex without ever sacrificing its simple sound.

One final note: Lots of groups have the one short guy. Lot's of groups make fun of him in their patter. It usually isn't funny. But for some reason, it actually works on the back cover of this CD. The Tenor has to sit on a tall pedestal to be the same height as the Three Men. It's generally a bad idea to make your album name or design a joke because once you get the joke, usually a corny one, it gets old fast and makes the music on the album seem kind of like a joke too. But if you must make a cover joke, at least make it a funny one, and they did. And since they don't take their music TOO seriously (witness the them totally cracking up and winging it on Ring of Fire) the joke doesn't even hurt the music.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 I Do 3
2 HELP! 4
3 We Three (The Victrola Years) 3
4 We Three 3
5 Misty 3
6 Little Bitty Pretty One 5
7 Four Months to a Lifetime (Original) 2
8 She's Every Woman 4
9 Don't Worry, Be Happy 3
10 It's You (Original) 3
11 Loves Me Like a Rock 4
12 Deep River 5
13 In My Room 3
14 A Cappella Safari (Original) 3
15 Sweaty Hillbilly Rap 4
16 Ring of Fire 2

In the liner notes of Land of the Giants, it says that the members of Three Men and a Tenor met while in the Glee Club at Michigan State. Checking out the song selection, I could have told you that (well, I might not have picked MSU as the source, but this CD screams "Glee Club!"). We've got favorites from the '50s, '60s, and '70s (I Do, Help!, Little Bitty Pretty One, Loves Me Like a Rock, and In My Room) as well as a few even older tunes (We Three, which even starts off doctored with a victrola-ish studio effect, Deep River, and Misty). The album is rounded out with country (She's Every Woman and Ring of Fire), the ubiquitous Don't Worry, Be Happy, several originals, and a tv theme/techno medley (just to make sure the listener is paying attention!).

This quartet has a lot going for it in terms of tuning and blend (most of the time), and the production values of the album let that shine through. They refer to this as their "most precise recording to date", and I don't doubt it. However, I feel like the precision of the recording took some of the zest out of it. I'm sure that many of these songs are crowd pleasers at their live shows (especially, I would guess, for the non-a cappella-head crowd), but that doesn't come through on CD. Instead, I'm struck by the sameness of many of the tracks.

Several of the songs do stand out, however. There are two "instrumentals", neither of which completely satisfies me. Misty seems a bit thin (it's only bass, percussion, and horn solo), and A Cappella Safari, an original, is cute and quirky, but doesn't really go anywhere. The other two originals also come up short — Four Months to a Lifetime, which is accompanied on guitar, is sappy enough to put me in mind of Dan Fogelberg gone awry, and although It's You doesn't have the musical edginess that I'd prefer, if you block out the rather simplistic lyrics ("I miss you each and every day/that I am away/I can't imagine how we can go on this way") it's actually rather pleasant to listen to. The spiritual, Deep River, gives the group a chance to create some really big chords, and is a nice change of sound for the CD. And from what comes before it, I would never have predicted what the penultimate track, Sweaty Hillbilly Rap, consists of — a rap version of the Beverly Hillbillies theme melded with an energetic rendition of Gonna Make You Sweat. If the a cappella thing doesn't pan out, Three Men's tenor has a calling as a dance music diva!

A final minor gripe is the format of the liner notes. Not only do Three Men and a Tenor choose to not identify the soloists on each track (I'm assuming they're concentrating on a group identity, since the arranging credits also go to the group as a unit, and I can respect that), but they also fail to note which member sings which voice part (except, of course, the "Tenor"), so I can't even guess who's singing what part. A minor complaint, but since I have the pictures and names matched up, it would be nice to put a vocal part with each of their profiles.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 I Do 4
2 HELP! 3
3 We Three (The Victrola Years) 3
4 We Three 3
5 Misty 3
6 Little Bitty Pretty One 2
7 Four Months to a Lifetime (Original) 3
8 She's Every Woman 3
9 Don't Worry, Be Happy 2
10 It's You (Original) 3
11 Loves Me Like a Rock 3
12 Deep River 3
13 In My Room 3
14 A Cappella Safari (Original) 3
15 Sweaty Hillbilly Rap 2
16 Ring of Fire 3

I wish I could recommend this album. I really, really do. The gentlemen of Three Men and a Tenor seem to be a very likeable bunch. Their liner notes tell of their college days and how they became a professional group, and that was kind of inspiring to me. They sound like they're having fun and they have some creative moments (The old record effects on We Three and the melding of C&C Music Factory and the Beverly Hillbillies come to mind). And I would guess that their show is a hit at all the various college campuses, luncheons, etc, that the group performs at.

Unfortunately, their musical execution found me wanting. The tenor has all the range in the world, but there's no power behind it, and the sound comes out weakened, even whiny at times. The arrangements for the most part expose the weaknesses of a four man roster rather than showing off the strengths, and the blend between the four guys very rarely locks the way it needed to. The song choices were OK for the most part, mixing some "standards" with some very neat ideas...however, Don't Worry Be Happy was recorded one time too many by Bobby McFerrin to begin with, and a note-for-note transcription left me cold. And although Sweaty Hillbilly Rap was a neat idea, the execution left something to be desired.

There are some neat moments here, and I have to hope that they fall under the banner of "Stronger live than recorded", but I can't recommend this album.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 I Do 4
2 HELP! 4
3 We Three (The Victrola Years) 5
4 We Three 5
5 Misty 4
6 Little Bitty Pretty One 4
7 Four Months to a Lifetime (Original) 1
8 She's Every Woman 2
9 Don't Worry, Be Happy 4
10 It's You (Original) 2
11 Loves Me Like a Rock 3
12 Deep River 4
13 In My Room 3
14 A Cappella Safari (Original) 3
15 Sweaty Hillbilly Rap 5
16 Ring of Fire 4

This album is a treat. No, it's not perfect by any stretch, but for the most part it is a light-hearted endearing album by a relatively new group. They seem to have had a great deal of fun making this album, and it definitely comes across to the listener. There's quite a mix of styles, some of which work, some of which don't. Some of the arrangements could use a little tweaking to get away from "vocal transcribing" — lose a couple instrumental solos and drum breaks — but there are some incredibly clever touches like the Sweaty Hillbilly Rap, a crazy trip into black and white tv dance music...

Some of the songs suffer from tuning issues — especially the originals, and especially the baritone. Most of the soloists do quite well, and the overall sound is nice. What really sold me on this album, though, were the quirky little insights into the group. They're having fun throughout the CD and let you in on things that they think are fun to share. We Three is lovely and has been stuck in my head since I got the CD.

My overall scoring should be tempered with the following: For best results upon repeat listening, skip tracks 7, 8 and 10. Four Months... is performed with guitar (perhaps recorded after the vocals, and in a different key) and is disturbingly similar to Eric Clapton's Wonderful Tonight. Ow. The other two originals on the disc are relatively unremarkable.

Some of the goofing off may wear on the repeat listener, such the drawn out Johnny Cash impersonation for Ring of Fire — but this song in particular is saved by the fact that they crack themselves up. It's a reminder that they're not taking this overly seriously and neither should you. If you come to the CD looking not for vocal perfection but for a charming good time, it's a keeper.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 I Do 4
2 HELP! 4
3 We Three (The Victrola Years) 3
4 We Three 3
5 Misty 4
6 Little Bitty Pretty One 3
7 Four Months to a Lifetime (Original) 2
8 She's Every Woman 3
9 Don't Worry, Be Happy 4
10 It's You (Original) 3
11 Loves Me Like a Rock 4
12 Deep River 3
13 In My Room 3
14 A Cappella Safari (Original) 2
15 Sweaty Hillbilly Rap 3
16 Ring of Fire 2

From its opening moments to its closing fadeout, and including all the liner notes, photos, and songs in between, Land of the Giants shows most strongly the comedic influences shared by these four men. It's clear that these guys have a lot of fun singing the songs they do: they spice up their choices with energy, attacking what they sing with a respectable gusto. Their mugging and antics come through very well, a rare achievement for a studio album; one can only guess that their stage presence must be wonderfully engaging.

That said, there are some points which could benefit from some more work. The arrangements themselves are fine; there is only so much texture possible with four voices. Blend is sometimes a problem, however, if only from the singular character of the voices involved. The tenor especially has a particular tone to his (very high) voice which sometimes makes it an inappropriate standout. For doo-wop and comedy it works wonders; on the ballads and more deliberately "choral" pieces it can be a little too noticeable. The four guys (excuse me, men + tenor) generally listen to each other and are consistent in their shared dynamics. The only "problem track" in terms of blend and/or tuning was, to the surprise of this reviewer, the accompanied track (7). When on their own they're doing fine.

As with most "older" groups (with no offense intended!), the attempted vocal percussion could stand some work. In all, though, this is an enjoyable album. There are some songs to be skipped, some to listen to mainly for comedic value, but in general the men and their friend do quite well. An admirable addition to any a cappelist's collection.

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Ordering Information

For all Three Men and a Tenor information or orders, Call Bill Drake III at 1-800-27-SOUND, or mail to

P.O. Box 12128
Lansing, MI 48901-2128

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