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The Dear Abbeys

Boston University

Sincerely, Lost in Boston (2007)

4.3

September 5, 2007

Tuning / Blend 4.3
Energy / Intensity 4.7
Innovation / Creativity 4.0
Soloists 4.0
Sound / Production 4.7
Repeat Listenability 3.7
Tracks
1 Where The Streets Have No Name 5.0
2 Feel Good, Inc 4.0
3 Jesusland 4.0
4 Fa Fa 4.3
5 Dr. Worm 4.3
6 I'd Do Anything For Love 4.0
7 Get Set 4.3
8 Helplessly Hoping 3.7
9 Don't Cry 4.3
10 Let's Stay Together 3.7
11 All Night Long 5.0
12 Rocket Man 4.0

Recorded 2006 – 2007
Total time: 48:29, 12 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Where The Streets Have No Name 5
2 Feel Good, Inc 5
3 Jesusland 5
4 Fa Fa 5
5 Dr. Worm 5
6 I'd Do Anything For Love 5
7 Get Set 4
8 Helplessly Hoping 5
9 Don't Cry 5
10 Let's Stay Together 5
11 All Night Long 5
12 Rocket Man 5

Sincerely, Lost in Boston opens with one of the boldest statements I've heard lately — a solid minute and 45 seconds of scene-setting introduction to Where The Streets Have No Name. It starts with a computer-blended swell of sound, finds focus in rhythmic overlays, then blossoms into a solid U2 cover from the sweet spot of the a cappella playbook. This intro is about twice as long as it really needs to be. But it doesn't suck. And it speaks volumes about what Sincerely, Lost in Boston will turn out to be — bold, yet never too far from the beaten path. On the one hand, it's a raging success, because this is extremely likable music, expertly handled. On the other hand, I would have liked more new ground that didn't fall in the category of "subtle surprises" or "obligatory quirky They Might Be Giants cover". Even so, there's plenty to enjoy in the Dear Abbeys' wanderings.

Mood swings are one of this album's delights — the track list veers hither and yon, without ever losing its central sound. I thought Feel Good, Inc. was extremely successful, edges and rap solos and all, and yet it led easily into the mellow journey of Jesusland. These two songs were my favorites of the disc, and I enjoyed each turn and twist in the arrangements as well as the source materal.

Scott Williams is the group's big soloist this year, contributing three leads and eight arrangements, if I counted correctly. It's a great body of work, and Don't Cry is a particularly fabulous vocal performance. But Get Set is less successful, and Where The Streets Have No Name is a solid U2 star turn, which is to say in line with the state of the art these days. On the arrangement side, my favorite was Helplessly Hoping. Williams not only arranged the lush melody, he brought out the best of the backdrop, in one of the best a cappella acoustic guitar adaptations I've heard anywhere. All this said, it wasn't just the Scott Williams show. Nathan Brenner is another star soloist — his timbre on All Night Long is positively yummy — and John Gilling and Andrew Schwartz combine to arrange and sing a terrific rendition of Rocket Man, good enough to overcome my nostalgia for versions from days of yore.

Overall, the Dear Abbeys have a nice blend anchored by velvety basses. I love their rich vocal color. I love that they sing that way, and that the studio folks had the good sense to play it up for the recording. This record clearly required some long hours in the studio. I'm pleased to report that it all turned out for the best. It's a strong album, this Sincerely, Lost in Boston, and I'm glad they let us tag along.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Where The Streets Have No Name 5
2 Feel Good, Inc 4
3 Jesusland 3
4 Fa Fa 4
5 Dr. Worm 4
6 I'd Do Anything For Love 4
7 Get Set 5
8 Helplessly Hoping 3
9 Don't Cry 4
10 Let's Stay Together 3
11 All Night Long 5
12 Rocket Man 4

The recipe for Sincerely, Lost in Boston, the latest album from the all-male Dear Abbeys of Boston University, went slightly awry on the most important ingredients. Same great packaging as Abbeys Road (pretty liner notes, strong production from John Clark). A slight upgrade on arranging, with a lot more texture and movement here. A heavy downgrade on soloists and repertoire. Put it all together and you get an edible, bland dish that neither embarrasses nor inspires, which I unfortunately doubt was the Abbeys' intent.

Losing a voice like that of Victor Sandman would be a mortal blow to most groups, so it's hard to blame the Abbeys soloists for the uninspiring spread. A high point is Scott William's tenor wail, which works best on the sparkling Get Set where he loses the fussy mannerisms that almost sink the U2 opener and torpedo Don't Cry. His mates don't fare well with pallid imitations of Meatloaf, Al Green, and Elton John (although Nick Cortese gets a chuckle from me for a fully committed and ultimately successful Dr. Worm). A cappella 101: I don't need to hear a karaoke version of the original soloist — let's hear your take.

The Abbeys also didn't do themselves any favors with the tracklist. Even stellar performances of Jesusland, Fa Fa, or Helplessly Hoping wouldn't hide the fact that these tunes don't really go anywhere (and these aren't stellar — the first tenors deserve a beating for the wonky falsettos heard on each of these tracks). On the other swing of the pendulum, the theatrics of I'd Do Anything For Love fall flat without stage visuals to back them up. And the choice to reinvent a spare, quirky Gorillaz tune with a "ba ba" background has a predictable outcome. It's tough to see talented singers handicap themselves like this before they even get started on the singing.

It'd be unfair to say Sincerely is a full step backwards — there are flashes of brilliance here, including the nimbly-sung bass line on Jesusland, the lilting choruses of Don't Cry, the retro groove of All Night Long, and the entirety of Get Set. But without the right leads or source material, the Abbeys can't quite cook up the feast we were expecting.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Where The Streets Have No Name 5
2 Feel Good, Inc 3
3 Jesusland 4
4 Fa Fa 4
5 Dr. Worm 4
6 I'd Do Anything For Love 3
7 Get Set 4
8 Helplessly Hoping 3
9 Don't Cry 4
10 Let's Stay Together 3
11 All Night Long 5
12 Rocket Man 3

The Dear Abbeys sing a lot of different songs on their new album Sincerely, Lost in Boston, but as a group they're singing the turnover blues. Group member turnover has hit this group pretty hard in the time since Abbeys Road, and I'm sad to say that this new album is missing a lot of the vocal prowess that made their previous release a CARA-winning effort. This is not to say that Sincerely doesn't have bright spots, indeed it has many, but it had a tough act to follow and I don't think it holds up in comparison.

The album starts off strong. Where The Streets Have No Name is without a doubt the best song on the album, and I applaud the guys for being savvy and putting it up front to grab the listener's attention. One thing it proves that production is still one of the ways that this group is on top of the game. After that though, things unfortunately start to unravel.

Probably the most obvious way that this album begins to decline is in the quality of the soloists. This is where losing members has hit these guys the hardest. I'm really reluctant to draw comparisons between Victor Sandman and Scott Williams, but by turning in three soulful high tenor solos and eight arrangements, I feel like Williams is trying to fill some big shoes. On the vocal side of things he tries mightily (and credibly) on the first track, but over the course of the album his quirks become more and more apparent. Ditto for the rest of the bunch. All of the lead vocals sound less polished this time out.

Now, all of that said, I have to admit that this is still a fine album. It's just nothing special. My advice to the guys for next time is to take more time producing the vocals, especially the leads. You may not have the star power right now, but there was a lot more vocal quirkiness on this album than I think there needed to be. The combination of patience and hours in the studio to get the take you want can make the difference between professional and collegiate sounding solos.

Good luck for next time, guys. I think you've got what it takes to raise the bar again. Until then, I'd still recommend Abbeys Road if you're on the market for a Dear Abbeys recording.


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Ordering Information

To order this album visit the group's website or A-cappella.com. Individual tracks are available for download on iTunes.

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