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Lone Star Sound

Pennies from Heaven (1998)

3.4

November 17, 1998

Tuning / Blend 4.0
Energy / Intensity 3.4
Innovation / Creativity 2.4
Soloists 3.4
Sound / Production 3.2
Repeat Listenability 2.6
Tracks
1 Great Day 3.4
2 My Home Town 3.8
3 Darkness on the Delta 3.6
4 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 3.2
5 Sunday Kind of Love 3.2
6 Are You Lonesome Tonight 3.2
7 I'm Alone Because I love You 3.4
8 Dream a Little Dream of Me 3.0
9 When I Fall in Love 2.6
10 Let It Be Me 3.6
11 Scotch & Soda 2.6
12 Somebody Steal My Gal 2.6
13 Pennies From Heaven 3.0

Recorded 1997 – 1998
Total time: 36:06, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Great Day 3
2 My Home Town 5
3 Darkness on the Delta 3
4 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 4
5 Sunday Kind of Love 3
6 Are You Lonesome Tonight 3
7 I'm Alone Because I love You 3
8 Dream a Little Dream of Me 3
9 When I Fall in Love 3
10 Let It Be Me 5
11 Scotch & Soda 2
12 Somebody Steal My Gal 1
13 Pennies From Heaven 3

It's barbershop!

Here's a question for you: how did you read the first sentence of this review? Did you imagine it as a gleeful announcement or as a warning to run for your life? If you read it with a look of horror on your face, go surf somewhere else. You aren't going to like the new Lone Star Sound CD and there's no point in trying to convince you. If, on the other hand, you got all giddy at the thought of some good old-fashioned harmony, then read on. Okay, now that we've thinned the herd, lets talk about barbershop haters behind their backs. I don't think we can really blame them too much for being the way they are. After all, barbershop can be a bit irritating. You've got lots of corny songs for a start. Plus, the ringing chords that barbershop enthusiasts love can also be a big turn off for everyone else — when every chord is a lovely, self contained moment, the music doesn't really have any momentum. This is bad enough in itself, but it has the added handicap of making barbershop sound somewhat monotonous. Also, always having the lyrics sung by the whole group makes songs less personal and strips them of any real emotion. Now I know you disagree with that. After all, you love barbershop or you wouldn't be reading this. I'd like to look at the Lone Star Sound's CD Pennies From Heaven with the above criticisms in mind.

The Lone Star Sound does a good job of working around the typical barbershop criticisms by mixing up their sound a little bit. They don't radically change the formula. This is still your father's a cappella. But they do, on just enough songs to keep it interesting, use more complex arrangements than you might expect. The lead vocal line steps out of the harmony and into the spotlight every now and then. The cheerful My Home Town, is about as complex as you can legally get without crossing the line from barbershop to contemporary. The result is that they have a song that's bunches of fun on it's own, plus it helps spice up the album as a whole. A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square has an appropriately light jazz flavor to it. Let it Be Me, the album's best cut, has a nice mellow tone. The blend is surprising low and the performance is surprisingly emotional.

So, what's wrong? Well, while the album's songs have a nice variety, the track sequence could have been better. Putting the slow When I Fall in Love and Scotch and Soda on either side of the similarly slow (but superior) Let it Be Me hurts the inferior songs by comparison. Plus it creates a lull in the album. They should have taken some of the upbeat cuts from the beginning of the CD and sprinkled them throughout. (Speaking of Scotch and Soda, the whole track feels sluggish. The song feels like it wants to be more uptempo.) Another problem is that the comedy track, Somebody Steal My Gal isn't funny. It's even a bit sexist (albeit in a quaint sort of that's-what-they-used-to-sing kind of way). To make it worse, the tune should be sung in a more brassy, breezy style than it is. Alan Sherman also wrote a parody of the same song (Has Anybody Seen My Gal by the way) called Has Anybody Seen My Martian Gal? Sample lyric: "Six foot two, solid blue, five transistors in each shoe..." It's a lot funnier and better sung than what you get here. The biggest problem, and I'm serious about this, is the amateurish design of the packaging. It looks like something my Mom did in Printshop on my old Apple IIc. Am I being harsh? Keep in mind the one page cover sheet (which has no song writing credits) claims that the lead singer works as a designer! When I sing, people always tell me not to quit my day job. I can honestly say to this designer: "Quit your day job and take up a career in music!" That aside, this is a nice little album that never wears out its welcome. The singing is faultless, the blend is nice, and they throw enough curve balls to keep it lively. It's not a bad edition to your barbershop collection at all. That is, if you like that sort of thing.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 2
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 Great Day 3
2 My Home Town 3
3 Darkness on the Delta 3
4 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 3
5 Sunday Kind of Love 3
6 Are You Lonesome Tonight 3
7 I'm Alone Because I love You 4
8 Dream a Little Dream of Me 3
9 When I Fall in Love 3
10 Let It Be Me 4
11 Scotch & Soda 3
12 Somebody Steal My Gal 3
13 Pennies From Heaven 2

My disclaimer for this review is that I'm basically approaching it from a layperson's point of view. Although I've been exposed to more barbershop in the last year or so than in the previous 25 years put together, and I even dabbled in singing it a bit last summer, it only serves to show me how I've barely scratched the surface. I'm really only a casual listener of barbershop, and that's where I'm coming from in this review.

Now that we have that out of the way, my lasting impression of the Lone Star Sound is that this is your father's barbershop quartet. If you want to get a visual image of how they sound, take a look at their brochure or website. A CD like this reminds me of why I'm glad that RARB did away with song-by-song reviews: "This song is an upbeat/slow barbershop number. They occasionally have a slight/noticeable problem with tuning. They ring/don't ring the last chord. I found the dynamic contrasts lacking." That would pretty much sum it up for the whole album.

My husband, even more of a barbershop layperson than myself, was forced to listen to this album while I was getting ready for this review. :-) He's seen a handful of barbershop groups sing, and he put into words what disappointed me so much about this album. He thought this CD was boring and showed very little spontaneity, which made me realize — I'm sure these four men love singing barbershop (or they wouldn't bother cutting a CD), and I'm sure that the people they entertain (at conventions, shows, picnics, social events, company parties, or what have you, as stated in their brochure) are thoroughly entertained by their singing, but I get none of this from their album. None of their personalities come through (except on the token humor track, #12, and even parts of that are pretty rote), and the tedium is exacerbated by the scant use of dynamic variation in most of their songs.

Adding to this are the facts that their tenor is weak (very much so in the final tags of tracks 7 and 8), and sometimes nearly unnoticeable in the mix, that their tuning is inconsistent, and that whole is rarely more than the sum of its parts (the parts being four largely unremarkable voices). I might be more forgiving of them musically, if entertainment value wasn't also so lacking. This CD is definitely an offering for "family and friends", but not for anyone who is looking for something new or exciting in barbershop singing.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 2
Innovation / Creativity 1
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 1
Tracks
1 Great Day 3
2 My Home Town 3
3 Darkness on the Delta 3
4 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 3
5 Sunday Kind of Love 3
6 Are You Lonesome Tonight 3
7 I'm Alone Because I love You 3
8 Dream a Little Dream of Me 2
9 When I Fall in Love 2
10 Let It Be Me 3
11 Scotch & Soda 2
12 Somebody Steal My Gal 2
13 Pennies From Heaven 2

Lone Star Sound is the kind of group one might hear at the local bank's community picnic. A few hotdog holding, beer-chuggin bankers have decided this group is just swell. Ten kids are running around in front of the two-foot-high fold-up stage underneath Sparky's rent-a-tent. It's the kind of group the glue-sniffing teenagers won't listen to three seconds of. Maybe the a cappella-lovers choose to listen rather than join in the relay races. But Lone Star Sound is not the kind of group that makes even them stay any later than they planned. And unless you have some kind of uncontrollable psychological compulsion to collect barbershop, I suggest that you skip this one.

I'll give you a sampling of the kind of thoughts I jotted down as I listened: Sometimes the chords lock. Sometimes they would have locked accept that the vibratos are as wide as the late, great, John Candy's butt. Sometimes the chords don't lock because the vowels are as mismatched as a tuxedo and a tutu. The music is cheesy. The performances are not especially noteworthy. The tempos just drag. This album just seems to get slower and slower as each track goes by ... when will this be over?

Not every moment is torture here. Lone Star hits a few winners, but it just doesn't carry the day. Or the album.


Tuning / Blend 4
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Great Day 4
2 My Home Town 4
3 Darkness on the Delta 4
4 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 3
5 Sunday Kind of Love 3
6 Are You Lonesome Tonight 4
7 I'm Alone Because I love You 3
8 Dream a Little Dream of Me 2
9 When I Fall in Love 2
10 Let It Be Me 3
11 Scotch & Soda 3
12 Somebody Steal My Gal 3
13 Pennies From Heaven 4

This is a nice casual album by an amateur barbershop quartet from San Antonio, Texas. Lone Star Sound has a pretty good grasp on their chosen style — blend and balance are quite good, the lead has a pleasant voice, the bass is full, they have an easy flexibility with tempo, and they perform lots of SPEBSQSA favorites.

I feel like the group is going well; they seem to fit well with each other, and things are on the right track. They've put in lots of practice over the last several years (the group formed in '89), and I hope they stick with it. They have a relatively conservative approach... The end of Darkness touched on the potentially great barbershop tag, but the group seemed too cautious to really let it all hang out.

Most tracks are gentle and easily performed, but a few suffer from some tuning issues or shaky harmony lines (Sunday Kind of Love, I'm Alone, Dream a Little Dream, When I Fall). Lead Rich Evans does an especially charming job on Are You Lonesome Tonight and also the title track. Though their blend is quite good, I believe the baritone to be the source of most tuning problems... Somebody Steal My Gal is a clever parody of tunes like Yes Sir, That's My Baby, but the humor is unfortunately at the expense of tuning.

Keep in mind that this is a self-professed amateur group. They're by no means an Acoustix or Excalibur, but they do an admirable job as a casual group of friends.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 4
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Great Day 4
2 My Home Town 4
3 Darkness on the Delta 5
4 A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square 3
5 Sunday Kind of Love 4
6 Are You Lonesome Tonight 3
7 I'm Alone Because I love You 4
8 Dream a Little Dream of Me 5
9 When I Fall in Love 3
10 Let It Be Me 3
11 Scotch & Soda 3
12 Somebody Steal My Gal 4
13 Pennies From Heaven 4

Lone Star Sound, an obviously very excited group out of the deep South, has put together on Pennies from Heaven, a consistently excellent collection of songs. With their basis firmly in barbershop, the four singers set their sights on a variety of songs, all well within their accustomed medium but showing off a broad range of interpretive ability.

Some of the group's strong suits include ringing chords (with vowels well matched among the voices for a blend that's almost eerie), a wide range of voices including a fine high tenor and a wonderfully smooth bass, and an expressive attention to lyrics and tone sometimes lacking in modern interpretations of older music. Above all, the group continually communicates its sheer delight to be singing these songs. It's an infectious feeling, and is sustained over the whole album.

Some points could be fine-tuned for an even stronger sound. Timing can be a problem, with some lag between the higher three voices and the bass; some entrances are spottier than they could be. A couple of songs show mild tuning problems in the lead, although only very rarely; that everyone sounds well within their ranges helps avoid the spotty problems often found in other groups. Their interpretations of jazz standards sound somewhat muddled, a little too free on the rhythms and with some schmaltz in the chords. Finally, and surprisingly, the tags to each song are a little underdone: one might like longer and stronger sounds from the high tenor, and some real ring on those final chords above all.

This is a solid album, with songs performed with heartfelt enjoyment. These four singers have a lot of fun with this, and the listener does, too.

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Ordering Information

Available for:
$15.00 for CD, $10.00 for tape + $2.00 shipping.
Order at our web site, or contact us via e-mail at evans@world-net.net or snailmail at

Lone Star Sound
2850 Burning Hill
San Antonio, Texas 78247-3804

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