Total time: 47:25, 12 songs
What the hell happened to the Counterparts? You know, the
perfect jazz 40's imitations coed group? The group as a whole
seems to have thrown that entire idea out the window.
Basically they went from being an excellent and relatively
unique group to one of the 8 million coed groups that does
mostly pop songs. Sure there are some jazz songs on this cd,
but they're far less interesting and well chosen - instead of
the real obscurities and cool tracks, they're relatively
generic. Furthermore, the old-timey intonation that they had
had down pat has been completely scrapped - this group has to
keep that flat top-40 sound in their syllables, as if to remind
us that they're still cool. The competition for audiences at
Penn must have been too much for them. The last thing the a
cappella world needs is another pop/grunge/80's coed group
that loves mucking about with studio effects. It's not that
they're bad - actually, they're above average (except for the
relatively abysmal percussion), and for the most part they're
probably more on as far as pitch and blend is concerned (as
well as being better recorded/engineered), but they've lost
the soul of the old group. There are some quite good
tracks on this cd, but the majority of them should have been
left to other, more generic-by-nature groups.
Rating: 7 (6.0)
The tracks that stick out in my mind from this album are the
groovy and funky tunes, such as "Rock With
You" and "Damn (I Wish I Was Your Lover)"
- this genre is a strength of the Counterparts. A notable
feature of this album is the frequent use of non-vocal sound
effects such as bells and rain, and the occasional appearance
of guitar and piano (once each). Though they don't always add
much to the song, they give this album a unique flavor.
Rating: 5 (5.8)
Lots of good things come from the University of
Pennsylvania: My girlfriend,
The other thing that distinguishes this smart, coed group is
their total lack of fear of using instruments. Two of the best
tracks, "Hot Romance" and "As Time
Goes By" have a guitar and a piano respectively. Normally
I hate it when a cappella groups do that sort of thing
(usually it's gratuitous percussion), but the album still has a
clean, spare, a cappella feel to it despite the briefly used
instruments. The Counterparts also like sampling from other
CDs, which I like in principle, but it doesn't work in
practice. It actually undercuts their version of
"Damn! (I Wish I Was Your Lover)" which is
otherwise pretty superlative. Overall, despite a few minor
mistakes in judgment and two dud tracks, this album is
Rating: 8 (7.3)
A pretty good album overall. I suspect this group spends quite
a bit of time in the rehearsal room as well as in the studio.
For my liking, there was too much "outside sampling". It got
past the point of being an accent to the music and began to
command the listener's attention. Tuning is good throughout
the album, and dynamics seem to be consistently well done. The
lead vocals were generally good, but consistently mixed just a
hair too low. Not an album I would run out and buy, but a
decent collegiate recording nonetheless.
Rating: 7 (6.5)
Let me start out by getting my biggest complaint out of the way - almost all the songs on this recording are medium to slow. If you like to listen to slow songs for an hour straight, you'd probably love this disc. Personally, I'm not much of a fan of slow songs, and I like a lack of variety even less.
That said, the group generally sounds pretty decent, with only occasional pitch and blend problems. The ensemble does a good job with the rhythmic aspects of their arrangements, so even some slower songs have a solid pulse. Soloists are consistently average and have the tendency to be lost in the mix.
I liked the fact that the group was brave enough to try
some original arrangements of jazz tunes. The arrangements are
adequate, but I got the impression that the arrangers don't
really have much of a jazz background. Harmonies tend to be
mostly modal, without much traditional voice leading, so the
chords sound nice, but there isn't much direction to them; I
generally didn't get the feeling of tension and release,
dissonance going to consonance.
Rating: 6 (5.5)
Of all the (excessively many) versions of this song
that I've heard, this has to be one of the weirder ones
- it's as if the song is being played on an acoustic
guitar in block chords. It could have been incredible,
if it were just a little more convincing. They don't go
all the way with it, which makes it seem like they were
trying for the typical layered effect but couldn't pull
it off. The "climactic" bridge comes off oddly, with
unsuccessfully syncopated percussion (which is weak
throughout) and a switch to the female soloist, who is
better than the (wimpy) male one.
Nice tempo and a nice feel overall. Good use of dynamics.
Good arrangement, good solo and nice duet.
What an unpromising start to an album. The lead
male vocalist is just plain timid in his approach to the
material. The first tempo change is totally flubbed.
Crickets, dogs barking, and thunder. These are the
sampled sounds which open this Sting tune. Brilliantly
arranged, produced and engineered and mixed. Background
vocals are great perfect in tuning and mix. Both the
male and female lead vocals are well done, perhaps mixed
a little low.
Although the group loses the groove a bit in one
spot, the rhythms are nice and crisp for a slow tune.
There's a sound in there that I think is supposed to be
a bass drum, but it sounds more like someone coughing.
I don't quite know what to make of this song. The
rap intro is tolerable, but it doesn't particularly
interest me. The rest of the song is okay, but it would
be a lot better if the percussion weren't so lame - it
reminds me of the Zumbyes version, which has some
interesting things going on, but the song as a whole
doesn't rock (ha, ha) the way that they so obviously
want it to. The soloist is pretty good, although I
don't like the way she says "all the night".
There are gaps where everyone seems to be breathing
together. Other than that, this is a very funky track
with great percussion. Nice intro and key change.
Aaaah! That's more like it! A nice, smart
arrangement, briskly sung. The layered intro with its
light rap section is a real ear opener. Overall, a
Okay. Not bad. The lead vocalist is acceptable,
but, comparing to track 1 this track
left me expecting more. The key change helped peak my
interest toward a nice smooth ending.
A fairly mellow solo over a relaxed hip-hop beat,
along with some rap over the intro, make for a complex,
interesting texture. The group gets a fairly soulful
sound which is only marred by some intrusive high
soprano parts. I don't know if I liked the switch to
major at the ending.
Jazz standard that's a little too standard
for the Counterparts, I think - in that why regress to
doing more overdone songs? It's not a bad version,
although the solo is unremarkable, and the arrangement
doesn't grab one's attention, either. They do have a
slight tendency to be harsh on the loud parts, but not
nearly as much as most groups, who would, of course,
butcher the song. But that's not saying much, really.
This is a good song choice, but it drags. This
version is very heavy all the way through. The
background is unsteady at times, and entrances and
cutoffs are rough.
Question: How many female jazz singers does it take to sing "My Funny Valentine"? Answer: ALL of them!
But seriously folks, this track is a dud. The overall
pace is sluggish to the max. The group scores points
for trying something different and giving this song to a
guy, but it doesn't really work in practice. There's a
lot of great songs about looks not being what's
important ("Picture Perfect," "Quiet Sensation"), but
something just sounds wrong when you turn the tables and
have this song sung to a woman. "Your looks are
laughable, unphotographable." The feminist in me find
it almost rude. (Speaking of which, it sounds
suspiciously like the group is singing "Don't change
YOUR hair for me." Does that make the song petty, or
This 'legato supreme' rendition is taken at less
than 60 beats per minute. Hmmm, a little too slow for
the third song on any album. Other than that, the piece
is well tuned, sung, and produced. Nice dynamic climax
near the end of the recording.
Probably the slowest and most gloomy rendition I've
heard of this song. I'm not sure why it's so solemn and
dirge-like - the lyrics are at the very least ironic, if
not somewhat humorous, but the group sings them like
they're a requiem. Some of the harmonies are a bit odd
- the fully diminished chords and the suspension at the
end sound more like corny halloween music than jazz
standard. In some spots, the soloist is singing the
same words as the backgrounds, but in a different rhythm
- it could work, but they don't sell it well enough to
make it sound intentional.
An original comedy number, this is mildly amusing.
It is also, however, not strictly a cappella, as it
has guitar accompaniment. It works perfectly well for
what it's intended to be - obviously the audience liked
it. I think this one should have been the secret hidden
(or 'bonus') track on the cd, though, so that we
wouldn't have to listen to it every time.
It should be noted that this Counterparts original
is not a cappella, but is accompanied by guitar. That
said, it's funny, and it's a live recording, which is
appropriate, since the reactions add to the song.
Warning, I'm going to rant for a bit on this one. I think any group attempting a novelty song should give this track a listen. So many college groups fall flat on their face when they try comedy because
Now take a look at this song. It's an original tune
about hot romance and hot wings. Yep. Hot wings. Sure,
it's basically a sex joke, but it isn't about briefly
amusing innuendo. What makes it funny is the
passionate, deadly serious performance. It's never
treated as a novelty song. They sing lines like "Forget
the blue cheese--I'm feeling DANGEROUS" with such
conviction, such abandon, that you get hooked in. In
fact, I can't get this damn song out of my head. Listen
to the live audience in the background. When they cheer
out in response to the more passionate lines, they can
tell it's a joke, but their still responding on a gut
level, the same way they might yell at a Melissa
Ethridge concert. The Counterparts try to have it both
ways on this one, and they pull it off.
A live recording which includes a guitar. A novelty
(comedy) piece about "Hot Romance and Hot Wings". I'm
sure this song goes over very well during the live
shows, but I don't think it translates well to recorded
product. The alto soloist has some serious tuning
This duet between two voices (with guitar) is
basically a one-joke novelty number that isn't even
funny the first time around. It's recorded live, and
the overly enthusiastic crowd (I would have to assume
the people laughing every four bars, whether there's
something funny there or not, are friends or relatives
of the group) only made it more obvious how humorous the
The most interesting pop song on the album, mostly
because it has a good arrangement and is not a
disgustingly overplayed (or over-covered) song. The
song also lends itself to a cappella quite nicely -
there are some interesting chords in there. I love the
chiming women in the beginning (even though they're on
that most dangerous of syllables, "bum"), but they get a
little brassy on the chorus. The solo is nice, with a
Sade tone, but the percussion continues to suck rocks.
The single alto muttering in the way background bugged
me at first, but she grew on me.
Very nice percussion on this groovy track. Nice
solo. Sopranos could use some tuning as well as blend.
This track has also been lingering in my head. It's
only real downside is that the solo need more MUSCLE.
Fortunately the song, like a well played game of Pac
Man, gets a power pill in all the right spots when some
of the other women harmonize with the soloist on the
lead vocal line.
Great arrangement, intricate background vocals back
a nice voice on the lead singer. Vocal percussion is
fairly well done. Some really nice chord progressions.
The song starts out sounding kind of annoying, with
high bell tones in the sopranos, but it gets better when
the bass line and vocal percussion come in. The high
unison soprano parts are abrasive (it doesn't help that
they're not in tune). Another tune with a slow groove
that locks in well.
This is the kind of song that would have been too
common for the old Counterparts to have done. That
said, this is a far from terrible version of the song.
Nice crunchy chords, a decent male soloist, and the
requisite lush background about sums it up. Not
particularly original, however, which for this group is
almost a crime.
The opening chords are soft and pretty, but then the
background gets choppy, which is accentuated by
synchronized breathing and dissonance. I like the
Just like the great "Blue Moon" controversy, there
are two schools of thought on how to perform this song:
Slow and drawn out or wickedly up tempo. The
Counterparts fall into the former camp. The lead
soloist is breathy (but not as breathy as, say, Peter
Gabriel). The arrangement has lots of slurs and swells,
which work particularly well on the first "hush".
Totally different from the killer version by Extempo,
but still a good track.
This is one of those Gershwin tunes that I think is
overdone. I dreaded this song going into it, but the
arrangement changed my mind quickly. Interesting
background arrangment, unfortunately, slightly untuneful
at times. The lead vocalist sang very well, the slurs
were especially interesting.
One of the better (and more original) arrangements
on the disc features some cool falling off of and
scooping up to chords. Unfortunately, the performance
is a letdown - very stilted (and we get yet another
tempo that crawls along).
I can't stand the Valley Girl intonation
the sopranos have on this song ("ba doo dee" as opposed
to "ba doo dwee"), but aside from that and the soloist
(who's inconsistent), this is a good rendition of the
song, even compared to the version on
Straight Ahead. For
one thing, their pitch is less shaky, and overall the
background sounds fuller. They also enunciate so that
you can actually understand the (rather strange) words.
On this track, the soloist really works into her own
groove and is quite enjoyable to listen to. She gets a
bit lost in the loud background though. Kudos to the
group for getting the snaps together.
Strait up vocal jazz with a nice snapped beat. The
disc actually has one of those stickers that tell you
what the singles are, and this is one of them. A very
nice quote from "Fever" (which should give you a good
idea of the overall mood of the song).
Well sung lead vocal, unfortunately mixed too low.
Rhythm suffers at times but overall tuning is
respectable. Arrangement is quite interesting employing
several "jazz" chords coupled with good background
On this Manhattan Transfer number, all the basics
are in place (blend, pitch, etc.), but the group just
doesn't seem to have much of a handle on the swing
style. The "scat" syllables in the backgrounds are
clumsy, and the group doesn't relax enough to really
make the tune swing.
Yet another effect, this one is imitating a scratchy
record, complete with slightly tinny sound, which goes
on too long and then doesn't flow well enough into the
full version. The soloist sounds better there than on
the regular part, though. What is that swishing noise
in the background? I hope it's not intended to be
percussion. There's nothing particularly wrong with
this song - I just find it terribly cheesy. They sing
it well enough, but need to watch their cutoffs.
This track, again, is not entirely a cappella, but
the "old record" gimmick works with this song, as does
the smooth voice of the soloist. Again, the background
drowns him out... loud does not necessarily equal
The lead is taken by the vocal percussionist
(relax-there's none of that on this cut) and he's
surprisingly good. Surprising not just because he
probably spends his time spitting rhythmically, but
because he has a refreshing, decidedly breathy voice.
One of the more interesting male vocalists I've heard
recently. The track starts off with piano
accompaniment. They've engineered in to sound faint and
scratchy, like an old recording. It then fades into
modern production quality (sound and an a cappella
arrangement) till the very end where it jumps back to
the aged effect. A cheap trick, but a good one. And
it's perfectly suited to the material.
This song drags. It opens with some sort of an old
vinyl recording which recurs throughout the song. A
fairly unique idea, but it just didn't work for me.
A cool "old time" sounding intro starts this one
off, complete with tinny sound and vinyl record noise.
Otherwise, it sounds pretty similar to the other jazz
numbers on the disc.
Practically the exact same as the previous song,
minus the cute scratchy record effect and plus a female
solo, who actually does a much better job. She sounds a
little bit like Bjork, actually, but that shouldn't make
a difference on a song like this. Plus the background
has a new twist - some actual dynamics! Possibly the
best Jazz (tm) song on this album. I like the female
trio but the male one falls a little bit short. The
snapping also works for me - lazy but on beat.
A rough start for the background, and it sounds like
the soloist is singing above her comfortable range.
When not too high, she is great. Nice ending.
This doesn't stick in my head the way the some of
other songs do, so every time I hear it, it's almost
like the first time. (Am I going senile?) The song has
some nice musical surprises--the arrangement builds in
such a way that you're not expecting it when it boost
the energy level up another notch. The strong vocalist
sound a lot like Sinead O'conor.
Can this be the same soloist from "Hot
Romance"?! Alto Thais Stiklorius redeems herself on
this track with a much better sung lead than
track 4. A nice background recording
with some decent tuning, dynamics, and well mixed.
I have always liked this song, and this version is
no exception. I would have liked some bluesier, more
adventurous harmonies (Is it just me, or is this song
just begging for a key change?), but there are some nice
spots in here, especially the parts that are doubled in
octaves (and some unisons). The finger snaps are some
of the worst I have ever heard - on first listening, I
thought I was hearing a nasty glitch in the recording.
The background (complete with fairly random sound
effects - a music box here, a train there) overpowers
the soloist on this song, even though it's obvious that
she's singing as loudly as she can - she's just way (too
far) back in the mix. In fact, she sounds like she's
trying a little too hard - she doesn't really do it for
me, although of course no one can be as annoying as
Sophie B. Hawkins. The percussion, again, is much too
obvious (and badly recorded) to work on a song like
this. Also I don't like all the stopping and starting.
This song really grew on me. The choruses are
strong and groovy, even if the verses are a bit
muffled. And the sound effects are unnecessary.
Nonetheless, the arrangement is good and I just like it.
Damn! I'm always amazed at how well the lead
vocalist pulls this off. There is such conviction in
her voice. You believe every last "Damn!" of it.
Every "Shucks" is both charming and charged with
emotion. The track isn't flawless though. The lead
vocals take a couple of measures to warm up. Until they
do, they're barely there at all. Also, the song samples
a bit of a music box from the original Sophie B. Hawkins
song. It isn't really necessary (or particularly
effective) when it opens the track, and it seriously
undermines the song when they cut back to it at the end.
It comes in under the lead vocalist singing the last
line solo. It would have been very powerful to have
just let her loan voice contrast with the rest of the
groups explosive energetic performance. The music box
distracts from that. But still, a winner. I like
listening to this track back to back with the
Spur of the Moment version of As I Lay Me Down
(which is also by Sophie B. Hawkins.)
By now, I seem to be getting a little tired of all
of the outside sampling done on this CD. The credits
indicate a total of at least three tunes that having
outside sampling included. My favorite Sophie B.
Hawkins tune, done okay. Lead vocal mixed too low.
There is a very high A-flat "feedback-like" voice or
keyboard that really gets annoying after the first
minute or so.
The "music box" effect that serves as the intro (no,
it's not a vocal thing, it's a synth) is very cheesy and
fake sounding. The arrangement has some nice effects
involving things fading out, then coming back in - parts
almost sound like a fake ending. Effective use of
dynamics really help move the tune along.
Even though I tried to overcome my personal feelings
towards this song (difficult though that may be), I'm
still not particularly enthralled by this version. The
arrangement is at once oversimplified and cheesy, with
unnecessary background words and random choral segments;
the solo is nasal and uninteresting, and altogether they
make the song sound like Cheap Trick or something, what
with the snapping, which on a song like this is the
aural equivalent of swaying lighters.
At times, this song is dominated by the overbearing
background. However, when they are not belting, it is
a pretty song. Variations in dynamics are useful, but
are overdone here.
The lead vocalist from track 1 is
given a chance to redeem himself and he puts the chance
to good use. Nothing spectacular, but a solid
performance by the group.
The only Chris DeBurgh tune I am familiar with.
Chord progressions are basically exactly like the
original, thankfully however, the lead is not bad and
doesn't seem to be trying to mimic DeBurgh.
Some sloppy releases and individuals otherwise
sticking out. I was never all that excited about the
original version of this song, and this rendition
doesn't really improve on it.
Why this song out of all of them is not listed is a
mystery to me, as it has more energy and pop sensibility
than half the other tracks on this cd - not to mention
the best male soloist on the album and by far
the best song choice. I even like the arrangement -
simple but works well; and the usual unconvincing
percussion is minimized by being far back in the sound
because it's a live recording. I'd have liked to have
seen the credits for this track, too.
This one comes after a long pause in
track 11. I don't know why they
didn't put it in as a regular track, nor do I know why
they didn't sing this one in the studio. A very nice
cover of the Sting song with a soulful introduction.
They picked a song off the beaten track, put their own
musical stamp on it, and performed it well to boot.
What more could you want?
Wow, it's the best song on the album, and they
didn't even put it in the list of songs. The group
finally shows what they're capable of (in a live
recording, no less), with a high-energy, soulful
performance (especially compared to the songs leading up
to it). Hopefully next time around the group will
feature this aspect of their repertoire more.