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RARB REVIEW

School: University of Pennsylvania
Group: Quaker Notes
Album: The Quaker Notes

Total time: 41:01, 13 songs
Recorded 1993, except 2 & 11 1992

Ordering Information

$12 cd, $8 tape
4055 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-3021

Track Listing

  1. Who's That Girl? (5.8)
  2. I'm Sorry (5.4)
  3. I Will Survive (5.6)
  4. It's Raining Men (6.0)
  5. You're No Good (4.4)
  6. Leave It (6.4)
  7. Don't Let Your Heart (6.0)
  8. Roam (5.4)
  9. Hazy Shade of Winter (6.4)
  10. Save a Prayer (6.8)
  11. Do You Believe in Love (5.6)
  12. Sweet Dreams (5.6)
  13. I'll Be There (6.2)

Reviews

This album was reviewed by five members of RARB. In this compilation, their comments are always listed in a consistent order. Thus, for each song (and in the "overall" section), all comments numbered "1" are from the same reviewer, as are those numbered "2", etc.

Overall

  1. This is a pretty good album needing a massive infusion of soul. Hell, I'd settle for some energy. Almost all the pitch problems sound like they might have been avoided had there been any mutual feeling of what was going on. They sound like an unenthused choir, which I guess they are, and a cappella needs more than a nice voice and an arrangement to get it going. The arrangements are for the most part straight, though some do show some innovation. Dynamics are good, but their sense of tempo is in some songs utterly lacking. In a few of the songs, the endings are the only parts with any pep, almost as if they're psyched it's over.

    Their song choices are very good — stuff with potential, that people like to hear, and percussion is well done and effectively used. The Quaker Notes' soprano section shows well but seems seriously underused. Who's That Girl? and Leave It in particular could have been greatly aided by a sop line and I Will Survive has this great and practically mute soprano overlay. Go figure. The second altos are great in that they avoid the "laserbass" syndrome (e.g. "dow, dow, dow" at the bottom of the range, short and stacatto with no feeling or expression) They're very strong, but at times unconnected with the rest of the group.
    Rating: 7 (6.6)

  2. Overall, this is a pretty good album. The Quaker Notes have some powerful and talented voices. The large number of members in the group allows them to sing many parts, giving them a full sound, but so many voices can also be quite powerful, and it seems that all but the strongest soloists could be in danger of being drowned out. Another consequence of this is that the Quaker Notes are often heavy on middle parts in the background, and lose the high and low parts a bit. But the group size also allows them to spare voices for percussion while maintaining their full sound. I think that vocal percussion really adds to a song, especially in a women's group. My only other comment is that it would be nice if the group would give credit in the liner notes for the songs that they cover, either to the songwriters or to performers whose versions they covered.
    Rating: 6 (6.6)

  3. This album is solid. Some nice soloists, none terrible. Arrangements are not terribly interesting, some are way simple. Tuning problems, and soloists ocasionally miss pitch. Listening to this album, I feel like more should be happening. Not that complex arrangements are per se better, but simple arrangements must be very well sung to work, and the Quaker Notes don't always quite pull it off. If the tuning was better, I think the album would have been improved significantly. Some of the chords and blend just weren't there. Parts needed to be crisper, singing more intense. Something isn't clicking. Energy sometimes seems low. Nothing sticks out as "wrong" with this album; it is fine, but many areas could be fine-tuned and improved.
    Rating: 5 (5.5)

  4. It was very difficult to review this album, as the recording quality is so bad that it's hard to tell what they actually sound like. This may have something to do with the fact that this album is on a tape rather than cd, but that shouldn't be that horrible. The overall sound is so tinny, quavery and fast that I can't tell if all the soloists have insane vibratos or if it's just that. Everything also sounds really high, but I think that is because they only have one Alto II who can hit anything below an F (below middle C), and this forces them to raise 2/3 of the songs. Their blend is so-so, and often their sound is not really well balanced between the various parts — I can always hear the Sop I's but never the Sop II's or Alto I's. Soloists are middling to poor. I do, however like their percussion a lot when they do it, but they should a) do more of it, and b) sing it out.
    Rating: 3 (3.1)

  5. This group has a smooth, easy blend and lead vocalists who know how to step out of the background and take charge of a lyric. Pitch sense is excellent though and the ensemble is flawless. This album shows very uniform, high quality. The weakest point is the arrangements. These are, without exception, imitative arrangement and follow the original versions quite closely. This is a disappointment in three respects. First, the group has a predilection for dance numbers, which generally make hideously boring album/concert pieces. It also means they have to deal with the problem of fade-out endings, many of which are translated here to rather abrupt, unsatisfying cut-offs. Second, it relegates the background voices to two or three syllables, which are probably no more interesting to sing than they are to listen to over the span of an entire album. Finally, the group is clearly capable of much more challenging and interesting material.
    Rating: 7 (7.2)


Individual Tracks

  1. Who's That Girl? (5.8)
    1. The soloist hits it too hard — it sounds overly deliberate a lot in an attempt to imitate Annie Lennox's tones, and the heavy intonation is not at all consistent. But it's a tough job so I shouldn't be too critical. The second altos sound awfully good on the "just one thing" but they sound alone too — arrangement gets bottom-heavy and at times sparse. It feels as though a good soprano line would really help it out.
      Rating: 6

    2. The Quaker Notes kick off the album with a solid track. The solo is strong and rich. The group uses changes in dynamics very well. The blend in the background is good, but the background tends to be a little bit sloppy.
      Rating: 6

    3. There are some unnecessary (and unwanted) dead spots in this arrangement. The soloist was a little wavering on pitch. Backup ok.
      Rating: 6

    4. Generally sounds really thin, the arrangement is really choppy although parts of it work, the descant in particular. Solo is also uneven — sometimes she works and sometimes not — sort of husky in a weird way, but one of the better songs on this album.
      Rating: 4

    5. Tempo tends to drag during the choruses of this number, which presents a problem for the otherwise excellent soloist.
      Rating: 7

  2. I'm Sorry (5.4)
    1. This soloist is too light for my tastes, with a thin tone. I do like the execution of "I'd feel so guilty if you died." The soprano obbligato is lovely. The alto 2s sound nice, but the rest of the background has ups and downs. There's not much else I can pinpoint about the song, but this version of it grates on me.
      Rating: 5

    2. This is a really cute and hilarious song. (I wish I knew where it came from, but the liner notes don't say.) The clever lyrics are so enjoyable and the soloist's style so perfect for them that I almost don't mind the tuning problems that permeate the song (especially the high harmony, which is always a bit off.)
      Rating: 6

    3. Never heard this song. It's cute, funny. The soloist has just the right timbre for this.
      Rating: 7

    4. This is a hard song to do a cappella without wrecking it, and unfortunately, they miss. Arrangement exceedingly weak ("dit-dit"), solo quavery and inappropriate, stratospherically high descant. This song is high enough to begin with, and they raised it even higher. Generally irritating and unsuccessful version of the song.
      Rating: 1

    5. I particularly like the high, clear lead and even higher, clearer upper harmony voice. This is good, because it helps to distract from the background, which I begin to find tedious after the first two voices.
      Rating: 8

  3. I Will Survive (5.6)
    1. Nice by the soloist, who does a good job with a tough assignment. The soprano line should have been mixed a little louder — it sounds good, but is very background, and could have tempered the harshness of the "ba ba ba"s which are tough to keep precise and get pretty sloppy intonation wise. Good choice of ending.
      Rating: 7

    2. Great song choice! Soloist has a nice voice and a good attitude. The arrangement is good, but the highest and lowest background parts (which may be the most interesting) tend to get overpowered by the "ba-ba-ba"s of the middle harmony parts. The ending is weak, but overall not a bad song.
      Rating: 8

    3. Solo good. Song seriously lacks punch, however. There is a solo with a "ba-ba-baaa" backup, plus a soprano line. Either a more rhythmically varied arrangement (perhaps with some percussive, layered parts rather than just the ba-ba-ba) or some vocal percussion is needed. Some major tuning problems at times in backup. Arrangement slightly boring.
      Rating: 4

    4. Typical arrangement of this song for a women's group. that takes all semblance of rhythm out of it. They're off-pitch during the instrumental section, the solo is decent but her phrasing is extremely weird — she needs a little more soul/attitude.
      Rating: 3

    5. Lead is excellent. Very true to the original and every bit as boring. The monotony is occasionally relieved by a rare pitch problem in the high descant voice.
      Rating: 6

  4. It's Raining Men (6.0)
    1. The ensemble bit right after the spoken stuff works well, and I really like the soloist's tone for the most part. The verses sound weird though, and the solo flattens out the top of her range. End chord a little shaky, and the spoken part doesn't really do it for me recorded, though it may have worked better live.
      Rating: 7

    2. Here is a pretty good arrangement of a song that wasn't very good to begin with. The bassline consistently keeps the song moving. At times, the soloist seems to be singing above her range, and so sounds strained. Another weak ending.
      Rating: 5

    3. I can't believe this song exists. I didn't enjoy the choral ending, it doesn't work (IMHO). Alto line keeps song moving well. Lead nice, with a few pitch problems.
      Rating: 7

    4. The beginning of the arrangement works for me, but then (just when it ought to kick in) it degenerates to rhythmless annoyance and a lame Alto II line. Solo has problems overcoming her massive vibrato; she's also too trained-sounding for this song. Occasional pitch problems. She seems to think that getting into it means getting out of control. Ending (of arr.) is ridiculous and inappropriate.
      Rating: 3

    5. Another dance number which, unlike the previous one, at least has more than one eight-bar phrase. Blend is particularly good during the intro and bridge sections. The lead is also quite good.
      Rating: 8

  5. You're No Good (4.4)
    1. I like the verses, but the choruses were too fast and anemic. This song needs conviction, here it's just a song. I would have slowed down the last verse a lot. Effective and more dramatic use of tempo changes would have made a big difference.
      Rating: 5

    2. Well this is not one of the better tracks. The soprano solo is weak, and often gets drowned out by the background. The background blend is good, but the song lacks energy. The arrangement could use some percussion, perhaps.
      Rating: 4

    3. Arrangement — same story as I Will Survive. Very simple. The arrangement should develop this song over the verses, not merely repeat.
      Rating: 4

    4. This song is a good one for them to do, but the arrangement is wimpy. The main problem with it is that there's no distinction in intensity between the verses and the chorus. Strange little attempt at humor in the middle of the song. Also solo sounds like the song is too high for her.
      Rating: 2

    5. I was disappointed not to hear some sort of emotional buildup through the course of this song.
      Rating: 7

  6. Leave It (6.4)
    1. Mostly good pitch, nice choral arrangement. Pffft. Not enough punch to the opening, and the whole song sounds slow. The solo has vibrato, for Chrissakes — nothing too bad, but when was the last time you heard Jon Anderson with anything vaguely approaching vibrato. There are some nice points, too — the instrumental lead in to the "a cappella" chorus is lovely, even if the chorus itself is lackluster — an energetic soprano line could have made it great. Great percussion, though. The opening chorus had a lovely ensemble sound most groups don't get when they cover it (yes used a chorus effect, so it's understandable), but didn't punch it enough. The solo's pitch sounds odd in places throughout, and the "free time" stuff in the middle really lacking.
      Rating: 6

    2. This is a great arrangement of a good song. Nice opening — tight harmony and smooth blend. Good, strong solo and good vocal percussion. I especially like the high sound effects in the first verse. The dynamics are very effective, and the ending is tight.
      Rating: 8

    3. This song has been done before, and if you're going to cover an a cappella tune you should pick one you can really rock. This version is only fine.
      Rating: 5

    4. I like this song a cappella (I barely even remember the original), and their version of it is one of the more successful songs on here. Percussion is nice, however the rest of the background sounds as if about two people are singing. Solo is not bad but sometimes her pitch is slightly off, especially on the high notes of the verse. Nice echoing in the chorus.
      Rating: 5

    5. Every bit as interesting as the original. The group does an excellent job of presenting the changing textures in this piece. The lead is quite good.
      Rating: 8

  7. Don't Let Your Heart (6.0)
    1. Nice percussion by them second altos. The opening multi-voice is unsettling if you are familiar with the song, but is kinda neat — just different. The solo has some nice moments, but could use some oomph — she drags during the bridge, which should be the most pumped part of the song. But then she rushes the opening to the bridge — maybe she just needs connection, because after a really nice percussion expo she comes back in sharp. She does do a good job for the most part, but in a few places sounds hesitant and almost flat for the highnotes. Enthusiasm could help — it shows through in that great "yeah" at the end of the second verse and in the last phrase of the song of all places, but not nearly enough in the song. Interesting mix in the choruses that drops the middle voices out — not how I would have done it.
      Rating: 7

    2. Percussion on two songs in a row is a bonus. The claps aren't always together, but this doesn't really detract from the song. The energy is high, and the soloist has a clear voice quality. The section after the 2nd chorus, consisting primarily of percussion and sound effects, is great.
      Rating: 7

    3. Same comment as 6 — especially for a song that so many women's groups do. If you're going to do this, you'd better rock it. Or at least do something different with the song. This is a transcription of the Mint Juleps version, with (as expected) less impressive singing.
      Rating: 4

    4. Pretty standard Mint Juleps cover, solo again has a massive vibrato, also sort of wavers and blares simultaneously. Percussion break isn't bad, but the rest of the background sounds like they a) don't have any Alto II's and b) they can't go very low.
      Rating: 4

    5. The obligatory Mint Juleps number. This one also benefits from an interesting original.
      Rating: 8

  8. Roam (5.4)
    1. Very soft — what's with that? Good beginning, nice choruses. The verses sound disjointed, though, and I'm not sure about the ending. Overall, a good effort — I really like their interpretations of the instrumental sections.
      Rating: 7

    2. A good song choice and a good solid arrangement. Nice blend in the background, and the balance of background parts is much better in this song than in some others. The solo has a distinctive personal style, and the 'basses' are also good.
      Rating: 6

    3. Handclaps help, but arrangement could be 'rockier' and more true to the original with a more complex arrangement. Overall pretty good.
      Rating: 6

    4. The homemade 'wind blowing' effects in the beginning are cheesy, the solo is really hard to hear — she needs to be further forward in the mix. She has an extremely audible break between her chest and head voice(s). the arrangement starts out very basic, and attempts to become more complex in the middle of the song, but the result is just chaotic. They used bad syllables, and I think it's an annoying song choice anyway.
      Rating: 2

    5. The usual arrangement; the usual solid performance.
      Rating: 6

  9. Hazy Shade of Winter (6.4)
    1. The choral effect helps them more than it hurts them here. The melody seems a little light, but comes across. Great job by the second altos, who here give a wonderful example of how to sing low stuff rather than just blat it out. The bass solo sounds soft and sultry and really good, and not just blaring the way some bass sections do.
      Rating: 8

    2. This song offers a nice variation in style and a change of pace. It is done as a group song, the only one without a solo. There is lots of movement in the arrangement, as well as changes in tempo and intensity. The melody gets a bit lost at times, but nice use of dynamics. The crescendo to the end is very effective.
      Rating: 8

    3. Sounded thin. I know that this song needs that in some places, but it should fill out more than it did.
      Rating: 6

    4. Has none of the fullness of the Bangles version, striking lack of dynamics where they would be particularly helpful, even more lame syllables ("na-na-na" for the guitar solo).
      Rating: 2

    5. Dynamic control is very good, blend is impeccable. The occasional surprise unisons are perfect — a great effect.
      Rating: 8

  10. Save a Prayer (6.8)
    1. Nice song — gets my vote for best on the album. While slow, the group feels like they're excited by Deke Sharon's arrangement and the group really comes together. The soloist works, though she can be a little needlessly heavy at times, and the obbligato is lovely. The beginning two bars seemed unrelated to the song, but the soprano guitar and then the line at the end really worked.
      Rating: 8

    2. Nice, smooth percussion starts this song. The solo is strong, but seems to waver a bit. The choruses are very full, which contrast nicely with the light, haunting verses. I like the fade-out ending.
      Rating: 7

    3. Solo misses in spots, but generally fine. Perhaps a little too stripped down, although I often like that. Sound builds well moving into chorus.
      Rating: 6

    4. Nice percussion, although it could be much louder. Even though the song's been raised, it's nice to hear something even remotely low. Arrangement is quite good, although a little blare-y on the chorus (it's actually probably the only time they really sing out on the entire tape), with none of the failings of the others — good Alto II line, and good balance, and the Sop I's aren't agonizingly high (although the descant at the end makes up for it). Solo likewise is excellent on the middle range, but she sounds shaky on the low and high ends. Minorly lame instrumental imitation in the end. Other -wise, the best song on this tape.
      Rating: 5

    5. Changing textures throughout this piece are excellent. Dynamic control is outstanding and the blend and ensemble are (once again) perfect. The lead is well done.
      Rating: 8

  11. Do You Believe in Love (5.6)
    1. The chords sound funny at times — the second altos are lovely and strong when they're doing their own thing but a lot of the full chords don't seem to work. The solo gets awfully whiny at times, and the chorus is — well, it isn't fun enough. The "do you" needs some kind of spin on it, to make it peppy and catchy and teeny-bopperish — this song isn't exactly Madonna, but neither is it Sarah McLaughlin. (And Sarah would have ornaments, which would be odd.)
      Rating: 6

    2. This is a good, upbeat song choice. The solo is solid, but her tempo is inconsistent at a couple of points. The background blend is good, but the arrangement is boring.
      Rating: 6

    3. Solo a little too talky. The ba-ba-bas are overdone here. They are good for moving into the chorus, but in the verse don't work that well. There are 1000s of syllables out there, try another!
      Rating: 5

    4. Decent version of a song that I really like a cappella (sappy lyrics aside). The arrangement — especially on the chorus — is not bad at all, although they really should avoid "doo-doot". Their blend is negligible on this song — I can distinctly hear several parts and individuals are sticking out. Solo sort of tremulous, but she conveys the feeling of the song well. It is raised so high that I hardly recognized it.
      Rating: 4

    5. Same old same old
      Rating: 7

  12. Sweet Dreams (5.6)
    1. The scatting/improv/whatever parts are, surprise, surprise, lacking and at times flat. The high ones at the beginning are particularly hesitant and flat. So are some of the "hold your head up, keep your head up" parts — they really sound as though energy could have saved them — not to beat a dead horse or anything. The "instrument" parts are really well done, and of all things the end chord is excited and together and has more zing.
      Rating: 7

    2. This song, in my opinion, is overdone by women's groups. Nonetheless, this version is well done. The solo is rich and smooth, and there is nice blend between the solo and the harmony line on the solo. Tight cutoff at ending.
      Rating: 7

    3. A hard song to do well, although a popular choice for a cappella. Solo is slider in pitch than the soloist can comfortably control. Here, diction is too precise — it sounded odd. "holD your hea DuP"
      Rating: 5

    4. Arrangement sounds like it would be a decent arrangement of some other song entirely, but it doesn't work for this one. Solo has so much vibrato she's hardly intelligible, and she doesn't sound comfortable on either the high or the low parts. The arrangement at the end just sounds sort of out-of-control, plus they've raised it so high that the descant at the end sounds ridiculous.
      Rating: 3

    5. Yet another boring dance piece.
      Rating: 6

  13. I'll Be There (6.2)
    1. BO-ring. Come on guys, a whole Mariah Carey song, and not one ornament? No syncopation, no playing with it? The pitch for this song is good and the arrangement is decent — bonus points to the soloist for pulling off a coed duet pretty well — so I feel compelled to give it a nice score. But it's way too fast and the solo needs to relax and have some fun. The obbligato is also too nasal and wispy for my tastes. The third verse starts to get some passion, even if the decoration is missing, so it's obvious that the potential is there. I really hope they got closer to realizing it in concert.
      Rating: 7

    2. This is a well-sung ballad. The soloist has a sweet voice. I like the fact that she doesn't always imitate Mariah Carey's version, but makes it her own without unnecessary ornamentation. The arrangement is simple but pretty, and supports the solo well.
      Rating: 8

    3. Simple, and nice. Did not like the last chord — the color of it, its sound comes out of nowhere.
      Rating: 7

    4. Arrangement overly piping, although the Alto II's are nice and low, background off-key in places. Solo is occasionally flat on the top notes, which is understandable since they would give pause to a young Michael Jackson on helium. This song really sounds like it's suffering from being eaten by a tape deck, especially the warbly solo.
      Rating: 2

    5. This one shows of the lead and ensemble to good advantage. The lead line is handled delicately and well, the ensemble blend is outstanding.
      Rating: 7

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