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The Binghamton Crosbys

Binghamton University, SUNY

Super Bos (1998)

2.8

February 19, 1999

Tuning / Blend 2.4
Energy / Intensity 3.6
Innovation / Creativity 3.6
Soloists 3.2
Sound / Production 2.6
Repeat Listenability 2.2
Tracks
1 Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 3.0
2 Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing 3.6
3 Ruby Baby 2.6
4 Touch of Grey 3.4
5 On the Street Where You Live 3.0
6 She's Too Good For Me 2.8
7 Somethin' Within Me/Mary 2.8
8 Rosanna 2.8
9 The Crosby Jam 2.6
10 This Magic Moment 3.2
11 John & James 3.0
12 Don't Bring Me Down 3.0
13 Good Ol' Days (Live) 2.6
14 I'm a Man 2.4
15 A Song for You 3.4
16 Hush 3.4

Recorded 1996 – 1998
Total time: 52:57, 16 songs


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 3
2 Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing 4
3 Ruby Baby 3
4 Touch of Grey 4
5 On the Street Where You Live 3
6 She's Too Good For Me 2
7 Somethin' Within Me/Mary 3
8 Rosanna 3
9 The Crosby Jam 3
10 This Magic Moment 3
11 John & James 3
12 Don't Bring Me Down 2
13 Good Ol' Days (Live) 2
14 I'm a Man 2
15 A Song for You 4
16 Hush 3

There's an old saying about "cutting off your nose to spite your face". I've never actually seen anyone do it, but now that I've heard the new Binghamton Crosbys' CD at least know what it sounds like.

The Crosbys are an enthusiastic group with lots of creativity. They've got a nice way with a classic rock song. You'll want to like them. You really will. But they do everything they can to stop you. Their weapon is their arrangements. They'll sneak up on you in mid-song and attack you with startling silliness.

Slipping words and even whole sentences into the nonsense syllables of the backing vocals has the potential to make for a great, subtle arrangement. Ditto for splicing in bits of other songs. The Crosbys use both of these tricks often, but they use them with all of the subtlety of an elephant stampede. The words in the backing vocals are often blatant jokes. They aren't lurking behind layers of sound — they're right up front where you can't miss them. The result is that otherwise good performances of otherwise good arrangements are ruined by crude jokes. It's all very creative, but it's often at the expense of the song.

Some of the more damaging backing vocals include:

  • In Don't You Worry About a Thing, an exciting and moody arrangement, is marred by a strange reference to Barishnokoff.
  • In Rosanna they use the line "Do me, take me to bed."
  • The Crosby Jam is a pretty exciting idea. It's an "instrumental" song (a cappella, just no real lyrics.) And it's good. But why distract us by using the line "I feel like chicken tonight" in the middle of an otherwise almost wordless number?
  • Don't Bring Me Down features a bit of the Batman theme. (There are plenty of more superhero references where that came from.)

I have to say, they do sometimes pull it off. The opening bass line of Touch of Grey set to the words "I missed the bus, you missed the bus, they missed the bus, when's the next bus?" isn't distracting and works well musically. It's a non-sequitur, but it doesn't get in the way. (In case you're wondering, it's taken from the funniest line in Johnny Dangerously. If you have seen it, it's very funny; if you haven't, you probably won't get it.) They also use the names of Grateful Dead band members in the backing vocals. Clever. And not too distracting. The backing vocals stay in the back, where they belong. The cleverness doesn't cheapen the song. There are some nice touches here and there. Baritone David Curry delivers a rich, Randy Newman-esq solo on A Song for You. Also, a couple of songs have a percussion sound that sounds more than a little like someone making fart noises with their armpits. I know you're going to have a hard time imagining it, but it actually fits in with the rest of the vocal percussion and adds a nice texture to the songs. Go figure.


Tuning / Blend 3
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 3
Tracks
1 Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 3
2 Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing 4
3 Ruby Baby 3
4 Touch of Grey 4
5 On the Street Where You Live 3
6 She's Too Good For Me 4
7 Somethin' Within Me/Mary 5
8 Rosanna 3
9 The Crosby Jam 3
10 This Magic Moment 4
11 John & James 3
12 Don't Bring Me Down 4
13 Good Ol' Days (Live) 2
14 I'm a Man 3
15 A Song for You 3
16 Hush 3

The refreshing thing about the Binghamton Crosbys' Super Bos is that it's not your typical collegiate male a cappella album. In fact, the first time I listened to it I said, "What the hell songs are these, anyway?" (Meant in the best possible way, i.e. many songs I'd never even heard before, especially not on an a cappella CD.) Unfortunately, the Crosbys didn't tell me where the songs came from. I looked up as many as I could on the web, and ended up learning some interesting things in the process (for example: did you know that Ruby Baby was originally done by Dion, covered a few years later by the Beach Boys, and was more recently covered by Bjork?). The problem is, I shouldn't have had to do that. In my opinion, failing to credit the songwriters or the original artists for any of the tracks on the album (except for, interestingly enough, the Crosby Jam, credited to the Crosbys' own Mike Van Allen) shows an incredible lack of respect for the artists who created these songs. They may not have meant for it to come off that way, but I'm wondering whether it was just a strange oversight or a conscious decision, and if so, why they made that choice.

Musically, the album is also a mixed bag. The song styles are all over the map: standards, Sting, Take 6, Grateful Dead, classic ska (first and second wave), Stevie Wonder, ELO — you get the picture. The feel of a lot of the album comes off as very jam-band influenced (even if the original artists weren't very jam-band-y) often with a jazzy twist, peaking with the Crosby Jam in the middle of the track list. Even though the CD is spotty as far as tuning, arrangements, and performance are concerned, it held my interest due to sheer variety and the quality of the soloists. The soloists range from good to excellent — standouts are Jesse Afriye on Ruby Baby and "This Magic Moment," Courtney Watson and Roopak Ahuja on Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing, and Jose Castillo and David Curry on Something Within Me/Mary, all of whom add significant soul to the tracks they lead on.

The other, less consistent, elements of the album are disappointing in light of the interesting song choices and strong soloists. Tuning runs hot (or maybe just warm) and cold — the "instrumental"/bridge sections of several songs suffer from tuning problems and lack of focus (noticeably on On the Street Where You Live and A Song for You). Dynamics tend to remain at a dull roar on too many tracks ("Something Within Me/Mary" is a notable exception). Arrangements range from novel and engaging (Touch of Grey with its fun bass intro and Don't Bring Me Down) to boring and overly simplistic (Rosanna).

Finally, it appears that the album was recorded during at least two different sessions over the course of a couple of years (it's kind of hard to tell for sure, but the graduation years of the various members range from 1996 to 2001, so you do the math), and it seems to me that the older tracks may be a bit stronger than the newer ones. The majority of the arrangements (10 of 16) were penned or co-written by Mike Van Allen, the Crosbys' music director who graduated in 1996. In fact, only one song on the album was arranged by a group member who didn't serve as music director, which makes me wonder where the group is going; the two tracks arranged by the newest musical director, Adam Gross ('99), are pleasant enough, but one current arranger in the group is not enough to base a repertoire on. In any case, these are all just extrapolations on my part — they could have 5 or 10 guys prolifically arranging for them as I write, and that would be great. If the Crosbys could clean up and polish the types of things they're trying to do on this album, they could make a really good disc. Right now, Super Bos is interesting but not anything to write home about.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 3
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 3
2 Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing 3
3 Ruby Baby 2
4 Touch of Grey 3
5 On the Street Where You Live 3
6 She's Too Good For Me 3
7 Somethin' Within Me/Mary 2
8 Rosanna 2
9 The Crosby Jam 3
10 This Magic Moment 3
11 John & James 3
12 Don't Bring Me Down 3
13 Good Ol' Days (Live) 3
14 I'm a Man 2
15 A Song for You 3
16 Hush 4

I get the feeling that The Binghamton Crosbys are a hoot to see live. They have the brash sound of a bunch of energetic guys that don't have much polish, but lots of spunk. That is the typical formula for a fine college a cappella concert: chaos and fun.

Unfortunately for the Crosbys, they forgot to leave out all of the chaos when they went into the studio. Most of the soloists are not at all compelling. Tuning is sporadically off, due primarily to poor intonation and some rough blend. When you think about it, these are all pretty typical college group foibles: average soloists, average blend and a somewhat fuzzy off pitch sound, with some average arrangements. The formula for a typical college mens a cappella album. These guys have got it all.

They are also subscribers to the time-honored tradition of inserting all sort of goofy lyrics into the backgrounds of the songs (presumably to make things more interesting). Come on, most every guys a cappella group does it or has done it (I am just as guilty). As you can guess, that just adds to the fuzzy off pitch sound.

There is nothing especially noteworthy to mention about this album, other than they had a few moments of good percussion, and I liked the voice of the soloist in the song Don't Bring Me Down. His voice reminded me of Elvis Costello, but without the irritating whine and pitch problems that Mr. Costello is stuck with. That is a good thing. Ooh, one other thing I liked was the soloist on the last track. He had a very nice voice that was well suited to the song.

So, is there much else to say about The Binghamton Crosbys' Super Bos? Not really. If you want an average album you should get this one. Unless of course you are a big fan of the Crosbys — then it is your duty to get this album.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 4
Soloists 3
Sound / Production 3
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 3
2 Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing 4
3 Ruby Baby 3
4 Touch of Grey 3
5 On the Street Where You Live 4
6 She's Too Good For Me 3
7 Somethin' Within Me/Mary 2
8 Rosanna 3
9 The Crosby Jam 3
10 This Magic Moment 4
11 John & James 3
12 Don't Bring Me Down 4
13 Good Ol' Days (Live) 3
14 I'm a Man 3
15 A Song for You 4
16 Hush 4

If I could only sing back-up from now on, I'd strongly consider doing it in the Crosbys. Because of their tireless pursuit of musical perfection? Well, not exactly. Perhaps it's the angelic tone color or the exacting pitch accuracy? No. That's definitely not it. It's the fun factor. Secret random words like "Kennedy", "Barishnokov", "I've got a bomb" "Cherry bomb" "Do me" "Take me to bed" "I feel like chicken tonight" and who knows what else fill the back-ups to overflowing. It's a tradition among many collegiate a cappella groups, but the Crosbys are just back-up lyric artists. The album just might be worth it for the "Where's Waldo"-like experience of trying to discover all the little lyric gems the Crosbys have hidden away. Unfortunate Warning: you might want to cross this album off the musically satisfying list because, after the humor, Super Bos disappoints.

This group sounds young. That's being nice. They are really surviving on their boundless energy. A few moments stand out as exceptions, but for the most part, subtlety is forsaken along with a serious attempt at blending or consistent tuning. The soloists are generally just good enough to make the songs work, but not exceptional. Only a few soloists are actually painful to listen to, and these largely because they attempt challenges beyond their abilities.

I wonder had more time had been spent in the studio, if a significantly better product could not have been generated. This album sounds a bit rushed. I hope this creative and, above all, fun group will put more of that energy into musicality.


Tuning / Blend 2
Energy / Intensity 4
Innovation / Creativity 3
Soloists 2
Sound / Production 2
Repeat Listenability 2
Tracks
1 Me & Julio Down by the Schoolyard 3
2 Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing 3
3 Ruby Baby 2
4 Touch of Grey 3
5 On the Street Where You Live 2
6 She's Too Good For Me 2
7 Somethin' Within Me/Mary 2
8 Rosanna 3
9 The Crosby Jam 1
10 This Magic Moment 2
11 John & James 3
12 Don't Bring Me Down 2
13 Good Ol' Days (Live) 3
14 I'm a Man 2
15 A Song for You 3
16 Hush 3

The Binghamton Crosbys are a large (22 members) all-male group. On Super Bos they offer up a range of music, all of which, unfortunately, is both curiously arranged and not quite successfully performed. The arrangers have apparently shot for a complexity in their arrangements (weaving parts in and out, clever backing lyrics instead of nonsense syllables, etc.) which the singers only at times pull off. Thus while the level of expectation on the album is high, the level of achievement is more average.

Tuning problems abound, especially when the arrangement gets complex. Some jazzy chords are done well, some miss; a few easy rock chords fall through the cracks, but most are solid. The soloists consistently fall short of the pitch, especially in higher registers (a large number of the soloists are listed as "baritone"; perhaps solos for second or first tenors would have been better choices). Cacophony is sometimes the result.

Interpretation also is strange: rock songs are slowed, jazzy ballads and standards are sped up. It's as if the group couldn't settle down into each song, missing the groove consistently. Again, soloists are not without blame here as they try to be too soulful for their own good.

Finally (a personal peeve) for a group of so many guys, the vocal percussion has a long way to go. It is only infrequently used, and then quietly and inconsistently. Production may have something to do with this (the entire album sounds muted and the singers distant), but if there is one thing a group of college guys should be able to do with aplomb, it's spit all over each other.

The group has a lot of fun. They have talent and decent energy. They have a long way to go, and this album is unfortunately representative of what must be a very early stage of development.


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Ordering Information

The Binghamton Crosbys
c/o Office of Alumni and Parent Relations
Binghamton University
Binghamton, NY 13901
(607)777-2431 or contact Jim Fowler '96 Assistant Director of Admissions jfowler@binghamton.edu

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