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The Bostonians

Boston College

Gotta Get Up Now (1998)

3.4

July 29, 1998

Tuning / Blend 3.6
Energy / Intensity 4.2
Innovation / Creativity 3.8
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.0
Repeat Listenability 3.6
Tracks
1 Sweet Child O' Mine 4.4
2 Always Be My Baby 3.6
3 The Old Apartment 2.4
4 Foolish Games 3.6
5 When Doves Cry 3.8
6 Everywhere 3.4
7 Open Arms 3.6
8 St. Theresa 4.2
9 This Charming Man 3.2
10 Respect 3.8
11 I Wonder Why 2.8
12 Summertime 3.8
13 Listen to the Music 3.6
14 Ironic 4.4
15 The Water is Wide 3.0

Recorded 1997 – 1998
Total time: 52:30, 15 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Sweet Child O' Mine 4
2 Always Be My Baby 1
3 The Old Apartment 2
4 Foolish Games 3
5 When Doves Cry 3
6 Everywhere 3
7 Open Arms 3
8 St. Theresa 4
9 This Charming Man 2
10 Respect 3
11 I Wonder Why 1
12 Summertime 5
13 Listen to the Music 3
14 Ironic 5
15 The Water is Wide 3

This is perhaps the most blindingly inconsistant album I have ever come across. It defies overall numerical quantification, and there is very little average about it — much of the album is easily sortable into Good and Awful. Good is their album-opening Sweet Child of Mine - remarkable arrangement, authentic (if unpretty) solo and surprising in its innovation. Awful is the track that follows it, a painfully out-of-tune version of Mariah Carey's Always Be My Baby that never should have left the studio.

Also good: a version of Ironic that is the best I've heard, including Off the Beat. It made me almost like the song. There's also a nice arrangement of the Sunday's Summertime, which I've been waiting to hear someone do well a cappella. The Bostonians' St. Theresa also is very nice, with a great soprano line arranged into the end, but it missed an excellent rating because the arranger wimped out big time on the triplet/four-four counterpoint in the beginning, which was so nicely nailed by Off the Beat.

Good and awful in the same song was Respect — lovely, creative arrangement weakened by consistently flat tuning. Gifted, Jodi Jenkins -type solo made to sound lightweight by being too low in the mix. Listen to Lori Trespicio go off at the end — nothing lightweight about her. But she got a short straw in the sound booth.

Mike LeBlanc also turns in a really nice solo on When Doves Cry, a highly ambitious arrangement that was original and well-thought out. It leans a little too much on their highest sopranos at the beginning, a fault taken further in Journey's Open Arms. That, and the Barenaked Ladies' This Charming Man are among those to feature high quality immitative solos over sloppy backgrounds.

The Bostonians have come a long way since I heard them on Boston Bacchanalia, an album of standards and the hilarious "men" song. Gotta Get Up Now has some fabulous ideas, and a few nice performances in between the chaff.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Sweet Child O' Mine 5
2 Always Be My Baby 4
3 The Old Apartment 1
4 Foolish Games 5
5 When Doves Cry 4
6 Everywhere 4
7 Open Arms 4
8 St. Theresa 4
9 This Charming Man 4
10 Respect 4
11 I Wonder Why 4
12 Summertime 4
13 Listen to the Music 4
14 Ironic 5
15 The Water is Wide 3

Damn, I hate Nick Niles. Where the hell does he get off? Who does he think he is?

I first started hating Nick Niles when I got the Bostonians' new CD, Gotta Get Up Now. It arrived in the mail at my office on Friday afternoon, just in time to entertain me on my weekly 4 hour bus trip to visit my lovely and talented girlfriend. (Aren't long-distance relationship a blast?) I eagerly tore the shrink-wrap off the handsomely designed disc. I popped it into my portable disc player, leaned back into the Peter Pan bus seat, hit play, and closed my eyes. Track 1 was this totally wailing, balls to the wall rendition of Guns and Roses' Sweet Child of Mine. The passengers on the bus were probably staring at me at this point, wondering why I was bopping my head back and forth like an idiot. Well, who cares what they think? My eyes were closed, the volume was up loud, and the song rocked.

The arrangement was solid (with the exception of a lone soprano voice going "ha ha" over and over again in the sparse opening. That just sounded goofy.) The soloist was impersonating Axl Rose the whole time, but it still seamed totally real and natural for him. The arrangement also featured a guitar impersonation. Normally that's a big no-no. Never do that. It's the a cappella version of the Prime Directive. But in this case the guitar worked beautifully. Largely because the arranger doesn't just drag it out to show you that the they can do it and hopefully impress you. Sure they do let the guitar take big solo lines, but they also throw it into the background mix and let the guy (probably the soloist) just jam his ass off. He's not just making guitar noises; he's "playing" the guitar well.

"What about Nick Niles?" you ask. I'm getting to him. Just stick with me.

I went on to mostly enjoy the rest of the album. There was only one BAD track, a soulless reading of Barenaked Ladies' Old Apartment. The soloist was awkward, like he was just so busy trying to stay on key he couldn't be bothered with thinking about the words. Otherwise, the songs were all of a respectable quality. The song choices where an interesting mix of standard alternative stuff and older stuff your parents used to listen too (Fleetwood Mac, The Doobie Brothers, Aretha Franklin). There was only one other blatant attempt to try and push the limits and really blow you away (the first being Sweet Child of Mine): When Doves Cry. Strangely, the arrangement doesn't play up the overlapping lead vocal line (where Prince overdubbed himself) which I always thought was the song's big hook. Here, the selling point is the energetic, free-wheeling solo.

The movie started. (Yes, busses show movies now.) I took off my headphones. It was no use trying to listen to music — it can't compete with the roaring soundtrack to Jumanji. Oh well, I've seen it before, but at least it's a good movie this time. (Peter Pan in the past had made me watch Free Willy 3, Carpool staring Tom Arnold, and Chevy Chase in Vegas Vacation, a movie so bad, they sadistically chose to show it to me on 4 separate trips.) I flipped through the CD jacket to see who sang what. Mike LeBlanc, I learned, was a frequent arranger and also soloed on When Doves Cry as well as the surprisingly enjoyable Listen to the Music. Liz Hartmann gave a deeply engaging performance on Jewel's Foolish Game. The list goes on. This group has strong soloists.

Nick Niles. Oh lord, Nick Niles.

After browsing the song credits, I looked at the fine print to see who designed the packaging. I'm a designer and I can't help but notice how awful almost all of the CDs that get sent to RARB look. So when a tasteful, techno inspired design that makes good use of a rich color pallet comes my way, I sit up and take notice. I scanned the type (all nicely set) looking for the design credit. There it was: "Album Design by Nick Niles".

Now, I have no problem with some college kid being a good designer. Good. I like to think that I'm one of them myself. But then I cross-referenced his name to the song list. Shit! Nick Niles is the soloist form Sweet Child of Mine! He can design AND sing too! I can't carry a tune in a bucket, so I began to feel jealous. Why should this other designer also be able to sing? I bet he's only good at doing Axl Rose impressions, I thought. But it was no fluke — he also did a great Morrisey impersonation on the Smiths' This Charming Man. My jealousy grew. Then I realized, if he can sing that well while impersonating other people, his natural singing voice must be even better! My jealousy went off the charts. Damn him, damn him to hell! I wanted his voice — I was like Ursala the Sea Witch in the little Mermaid. We're talking jealous here folks.

But then I got off the bus and saw my cuter-than-cute-itself girlfriend. "The joke's on Nick," I thought. "He doesn't know what he's missing."


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 4
Tracks
1 Sweet Child O' Mine 4
2 Always Be My Baby 5
3 The Old Apartment 3
4 Foolish Games 3
5 When Doves Cry 4
6 Everywhere 3
7 Open Arms 3
8 St. Theresa 4
9 This Charming Man 4
10 Respect 4
11 I Wonder Why 3
12 Summertime 4
13 Listen to the Music 3
14 Ironic 3
15 The Water is Wide 4

I was excited about this CD as soon as I opened it up and saw that This Charming Man was one of the tracks. The Old Apartment added to my interest. Then I realized that the rest of the tunes on the album spanned as wide a range of styles as I've seen on a contemporary a cappella album. For example, the same soloist mimics both Axl Rose and Morrissey (quite accurately in both cases), another takes on both Mariah Carey and Alanis Morrissette, and a third tackles Prince and the Doobie Brothers. This isn't something to be afraid of, as the Bostonians audibly put a lot of effort into every track, and are often quite successful. However, I think that at points the Bostonians overextend themselves on this album, which leaves the group with spotty results. After the first two tracks (Sweet Child O' Mine and Always be my Baby), which are among the strongest on the CD (I never thought I'd say that about Guns n Roses and Mariah Carey covers!), the rest of the album varies more widely in quality. Not to say that this is a bad album — it's not, and the Bostonians actually avoid any significantly low points throughout. It's just that the potential is there, on nearly all the tracks, but only in spots is it fully realized.

It's hard to focus on just a few things the Bostonians do well (or not so well) on this album. Instead, there are a lot of elements that are quite solid in various places; the weaknesses arise when you realize that what was strong on one track is merely so-so on another one. For instance, the first two songs have complex, layered arrangements, well carried-off by the group, while the arrangement of the next track (The Old Apartment) seems overly simplistic in comparison. Or the soloist (Erin O'Connor) who is so effortlessly acrobatic on the Mariah Carey song lets Alanis-esque affectations take over on Ironic, to the detriment of the song. One arrangement that could have become very repetitive but ends up interestingly varied is Summertime, while the following track (Listen to the Music) has almost no variation at all (though the arrangement, especially in the chorus, adds a nice bluegrassy feel to the song, whether intentional or not). Sometimes the tuning is right on, other times (especially in some of the arpeggiated passages, and very especially in some of the moving soprano parts) it's not quite there. One consistently solid element is the rhythm section of basses and percussion; one repeated weak spot is soprano parts that are overly choral and vibrato-y.

I think the Bostonians have the potential to make a really kick-ass, jaw-droppingly cool album. While generally fun to listen to, this is not that album. It does make me want to look for their next release, however, and from a group's perspective, there are worse reactions a listener could have.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Sweet Child O' Mine 5
2 Always Be My Baby 3
3 The Old Apartment 3
4 Foolish Games 3
5 When Doves Cry 5
6 Everywhere 3
7 Open Arms 5
8 St. Theresa 4
9 This Charming Man 3
10 Respect 4
11 I Wonder Why 3
12 Summertime 3
13 Listen to the Music 4
14 Ironic 4
15 The Water is Wide 3

OK, do you like Off the Beat? If you do, then you should like the Bostonians. The comparisons are pretty much unavoidable. The two groups focus on alt rock and contemporary pop, with lots of vocal percussion and interesting/complex arrangements. Lots of people think that OTB is the best college a cappella group on the planet. I have never agreed with that, and I must to say that I enjoy the Bostonians album Gotta Get Up Now more than any of the OTB albums I have or have heard.

I find this album to be a good listen. There are some good soloists, some good arrangements, and some good songs. It is good, but it's not great. It is definitely above average college fare, and the sound is pretty polished with few technical problems. Tuning is fine. One of the things that helps the Bostonians sound better than Off the Beat (IMHO) is the fact that they have better intonation and blend. OTB has always seemed unnecessarily chaotic and noisy rather than musical. The Bostonians do a good, consistent job throughout the album. The vocal percussion is also notable, in that it's consistently good.

One of the things that really shines about the album is quality of the arrangements. They are all decent, and a good number of them are very good (all written by Mike LeBlanc). I was impressed by the arrangement of their opener Sweet Child O' Mine, as well as that of the old Prince song When Doves Cry. That one gets a great rock treatment with some neat atmosphere. All of Mike's arrangements are great.

One thing that OTB has over the Bostonians is soloists. It seems like OTB requires singers who are pretty amazing all by themselves. (Maybe that's why the don't blend as well as a group.) The Bostonian soloists are not as consistently good, but all are reasonable. There are a few real standouts though. One soloist in particular who is just great is Lori Trespicio on the Aretha Franklin song Respect. This woman does Aretha proud by just ripping this song to shreds (in the best possible way!). She really gives everything she's got, and never falters. Two snaps and a circle for Lori! Mike LeBlanc also shows that he's got some good stuff goin' on as well for When Doves Cry, and Listen to the Music by the Doobie Bros. One solo that really missed the mark was Liz Hartmann in the Jewel song Foolish Games. All the energy that this song requires is just not in evidence. Just singing this song quietly like Liz does just doesn't cut it. Sorry.

I only gave this album a 3 overall because the album started to sound the same after a while. While Mike's arrangements are quite good, the others were too similar and not as good as Mike's. This made it hard to want to listen to the whole album, and I found myself skipping around. But I must say that in the realm of college a cappella, this album is most definitely above average... and with as young as many of the members are, this bodes really well for the next album they produce.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Sweet Child O' Mine 4
2 Always Be My Baby 5
3 The Old Apartment 3
4 Foolish Games 4
5 When Doves Cry 3
6 Everywhere 4
7 Open Arms 3
8 St. Theresa 5
9 This Charming Man 3
10 Respect 4
11 I Wonder Why 3
12 Summertime 3
13 Listen to the Music 4
14 Ironic 5
15 The Water is Wide 2

The Bostonians, a mixed group from Boston (no foolin'), offer with Gotta Get up Now a substantially good and very listenable selection of songs. Song choice is varied, running the gamut from contemporary pop to alternative to eighties rock and back again. With one exception, the group proves at home across the board, putting their practiced blend to good use, dropping in some well-integrated percussion and smoothing it all out with some nice studio work; the smooth sound given to the basses is a nice touch. Throughout, the songs are kept interesting through innovative arrangements, although the group's daring sometimes fails them (track 3, for example).

Laced atop their smooth blend are some damn fine soloists, who prove they can rock the house when allowed to strut their stuff (track 1, 7, etc.). The match of soloist to song is generally quite good, with some real belters screaming where needed and softer voices lulling the listener into hedonistic abandon at other times. A couple of renditions are lackluster.

Before this reviewer offers some humble suggestions, let him say that this is a wonderfully listenable album, entertaining and solidly done. Slide it in your CD player and sit down for some solid a cappella. What might make this very good group excellent would be: less formulaic introductions (the group often goes SA for two measures, then +TB thereafter); more varied and frankly percussive percussion; and more SOUND more often (where they do open up, they really shine). In all, however, one can't lose with the Bostonians. A piece of work.


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Ordering Information

To order Gotta Get Up Now please contact Mike O'Brien at

The Bostonians of Boston College
McElroy 141
Chestnut Hill, MA 02167
(617) 552-4909

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