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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.
There are a lot of problems with this album. It sounds like
the group has some maturing to do musically. Almost every
track has blend and/or pitch problems. There are sloppy
entrances, sloppy cut offs, and passages sung without
conviction. I have a feeling that the album wasn't engineered
particularly well, but that certainly doesn't account for all
The song selection leaves something to be desired as well. It
really feels overly slow and generally lacks energy. Aside
from some spirited tracks that are genuinely well sung
("You Can Have Him" and "That
Voice Again"), everything else is either too low key or too
plagued with problems to generate any excitement.
There is a consistent inclusion of "studio chat" throughout the
album that, while offering insight into the groups personality,
adds to the sloppy feel of the album. If the actual tracks
were solid, such a peek into the chemistry of the group would
be welcome, but as it is, it feels a bit pretentious and
Although this album is not garnering high praise from me, I
believe that this is not a group without talent. Listening to
the soloists, there are some amazing voices in there. What
they need is some better arrangements, some discipline in their
ensemble work, and a better idea of how to produce an album.
Rating: 4 (4.9)
I don't want to bash anyone, and I got into this reviewing
thing to promote a cappella, but I honestly can't recommend this
album. Their tuning is suspect, and while they have some interesting
and talented soloists, their backgrounds simply don't cut it. On top
of that, this album is mixed very badly. In places it sounds almost
raw, and then they hit you with an "effect" that would have worked if
it had been integrated with the rest of the mix. There are some
questionable level choices that bury some of their best work. There
has to be a better studio in the 5 college area. And let's not even
mention the breaks between songs, where we are treated to "hocking"
and coughing and inside jokes. It sounds like the Smithereens have a
good time doing what they do, and maybe that is enough, but not for me.
Rating: 3 (3.7)
One word sticks in my mind: energy. This whole album could
use more of it. Musically, the group isn't bad; their
intonation could be tighter, but mostly they just need to
infuse a little energy and strength into their music. They
often sound unsure of themselves, usually in their entrances,
which are tentative at best. A little more confidence could
help them to really nail the entrances. They may be a little
rough around the edges, but there is real potential in this
group. The talent could be better showcased with some more
complex arrangements. And just a couple of comments about the
recording: it sounds as if the soprano line consistently
sticks out — could be a mixing problem. Also, the constant
chatter, coughing, and giggling between songs is extremely
Rating: 5 (5.7)
The Smithereens lean toward very simple arrangements (which
isn't necessarily a bad thing) that don't take advantage of their 14
members. On this recording they rarely give suitably spirited
performances. There isn't any real reason to listen to this album
twice except for the hidden track and the
PMS rap (which still makes me laugh every time.) The
Smithereens have the best sense of humor I've heard from any college
group and periodically, usually when they're "sampling" a song in one
of their arrangements, they do give spirited performances. I suspect
they're a better group than this album would lead one to believe.
Rating: 4 (5.8)
These women really like to hear themselves laugh. This is
actually a good album for its genre, but unfortunately I come away
with it going "do they have to have to record themselves laughing
before _every_ song?" instead of thinking about the many neat things
that happen in this album, or even any of the pitch problems. There
aren't too many, and this album is unique among women's a cappella in
that they only have that over-vibratoed blend for the
first song of the album, and for the rest just sing
out and have a good time. They've got a lot of energy and it shows
even in the studio, although it is egregiously applied to all the
in-studio crap they insisted on keeping. There are some good
arrangements in this album — "The Tide is High" and
"That Voice Again" come to mind, and
"Why Should I Cry" is truly memorable. The "made-up"
songs are funny, even on tape for someone who never saw them live,
knows none of the participants and has never gone to Smith. I like
the way they credit their two a cappella covers arrangements to the
original a cappella artist, instead of bothering to call the
transcription their own. The blend is pretty good; the second altos
often sound a little heavy — I don't know how else to describe the
tone. Voices are for the most part good, and for once there isn't
anybody with one of those clear-vibratoey-sore-thumb sopranos. Yet
the album starts off with their laughter, and not even trying I
counted seven instances of pointless studiobabble. To quote Annie
Rating: 7 (6.8)
The ensemble work sounds a bit thin. The scat solos are
fragile, unsure. It feels like it might fall apart at any minute.
The sopranos are up in the stratosphere and it just doesn't feel
comfortable. Starts to feel good during the shout chorus...but ends
Their interpretation of this jazz standard is a very
appropriate choice to lead off the album because it is a perfect
indicator of things to come. To put it mildly, they lack the tonal
consistency of Manhattan Transfer, and while there is some interesting
scatting going on at times during this song, the obvious tuning
problems make the track difficult to enjoy.
This first track is off to a shaky start, but the
soloist is solid and confident. The arrangement gets
monotonous, and the high soprano line gets a little piercing
toward the end of the song.
The brief solos and scat solos are serviceable, but
everything else is on the weak side. The backing vocals are sung
mostly on the unauthoritative syllables "boo baa." When the lead
vocals are sung in unison, which is most of the time, they're too thin
and high. This is particularly true at the end when the arrangement
picks up speed and the vocals become shrill.
The first scat seems really out of tune. The
almost-but-not-quite country solo is out of place with the
classical-jazz vibrato tone of the song. She has a great high chest
voice, the effect of which is ruined by a break into a very wimpy head
voice. some of the scat lines, such as the second of the song, are
really cool. Really high sopranos, that are, for the most part in
tune — I'm not sure how good an idea that was but it's executed
Starts out quite pretty. Occasional tuning problems in the group. The trio
sounds right on. Starts feeling very stagnant after a minute or so and then
develops into something of a dirge. This track just goes on too long. The
soloist is OK, but there's just not that much interest in this song.
A solid performance of a terrifically boring arrangement. The trio on
the chorus does a particularly nice job. This has a pretty nice sound, but
it just doesn't go anywhere. Phyllis Conti does a nice job on the solo, but
being an alto II, she has to sing the power chorus at the end of the song
in a light head voice, and this contributes to the monotony.
Again, this song has a weak start and a lousy entrance. The
Smithereens need to have confidence in themselves and just
nail their entrances to start strong and stay that way. This
song improves as it progresses, as the soloist gains strength,
and the background blend is good.
Well, this is a crying shame. Why? Because the arrangement of this Annie
Lennox tune is right on the mark. They kept it as simple as possible (no
percussion here) and it works. Why is the track a dud in spite of this?
Because the lead vocals, which start off on a good foot, fail to deliver in
the end. There is no reason to do this song if you can't nail the "This is
the book I never read/These are the words I never said section." It's what
the whole song builds too. This performance lacks any of the requisite
Very quiet beginning as contrasted to the previous song
(one is too loud, one is barely audible) The opening chords sound as
if they have a pitch flop in them, although I can't pinpoint it; the
opening duet is good but could use a more alto-heavy mix. Kudos to
the solo for not trying to sound like Annie Lennox — she has a pretty
voice that suits the non-melodic solo well, although she's not too
good with ornaments and flats at the very top of her chest voice. Her
head voice is adequate for the stuff at the end. She sounds like a
better version of Lisa Loeb, or a little like Nancy Griffith. Nice
moving soprano line.
Much better ensemble work. The group blends well and
tunes everything just fine. The soloist has a few percussive 'P's but
that's the engineers fault. The arrangement really makes the second
altos sound isolated, it cries for something else to fill out the
A pretty decent cover of the Mint Juleps' tune, this
is plagued by occasional tuning lapses as well. Andrea Ferretti
delivers a strong solo, but at times the solo-background call and
response don't seem to jibe. For example, Ferretti uses the R & B
pronunciation "EE-zay" and the response comes back "EE-zEE". Still,
this is a pretty good track.
A standard Mint Juleps cover, with a strictly imitative,
and boring, arrangement. Nice, clear voice on the solo,
with good control, and an even, steady alto II line.
This is just a cover of the Mint Juleps' arrangement.
Nothing is intentionally different, but the backing vocals lack the
dynamic range of the original. This is sort of balance out by having
a slightly fuller sound. (If you're familiar with The Mint Juleps'
version of this song, then you've got a good sample of the type of
sparse arrangements that suit the Smithereens best.)
I wanna live E, e-zee. It doesn't get much whiter than
this. Overcoming a shaky start, the solo is by far the best thing
about this song, but the background is really inspirationless, except
for the few occasions on which they get to build a chord. The second
altos sound as though they're reaching for it. I know it's not at the
bottom of their range, at least not the whole thing. But they have a
heavy splat sound — I'm not sure how to fix this except get more
comfortable second altos.
I'm betting this one works a lot better in concert, with
the benefit of an introduction and visual cues. On record it's a bit
confusing. The energy is a welcome change, but the rap just doesn't
hold on it's own merit. It's a hodge podge of the standard a cappella
beat box routine with occasional lines of "popular" songs stuck in
complete with sardonic commentary. I know they're angry about
something, but I'm not sure what. But maybe that's the point.
This is somewhat clever, but suffers from two fundamental problems: 1)
Live comedy does not translate to CDs generally; and 2) they can't rap. The
single most important element in rap is the bassy swing drum beat that lays
the foundation for the song- in this there is sort of a high "doom" sound
going on with no swing. I could see this being very effective in a
performance, but it doesn't work on the album.
This rap medley is probably entertaining in concert, but
just doesn't quite work recorded. It doesn't flow well.
Points for originality and a gutsy attempt.
This novelty item is a rap about, what else, PMS. The human beat box
accompaniment doesn't work, but other than that, there's some good stuff
going on here. The actual lyrics are predictably funny, but the real comedy
gold is in the samples of other songs that are used liberally throughout the
arrangement. This is the first comedy a cappella comedy song I've heard that
was funny not just because of the lyrics, but because of the comic timing of
I really like the Sir Mix-a-lot beginning, and the technotronic part is
neat too. The rest was probably really funny live. The first rapper needs to
either go all-the-way ditzy or more serious. Oh yeah, the drug part is
cool too. Heh-heh.
There's a lot going on in this arrangement, but it still feels somewhat
sparse. It could be because of the wide range covered by the voices. The
sop 1s are very high (and not incredibly accurate) and the alto 2s are quite
low. The result is an uncomfortable blend and an empty middle. This gets
filled out when the trio comes in during the choruses, and the arrangement
starts working. Arrangement problems aside, the soloist does a very nice
This song never quite makes it in tune, and so despite a cool smoky low
solo from Courtney Allison (who sounds a little like Richard Greene of The
Bobs at times), it is hard to enjoy. This is a solid arrangement, and it
has a good soloist and harmonies, but the backing "instrumental" parts are
simply sung off key.
An interesting version of Blondie's song, this one has the
most interesting arrangement so far. The high background
is too chirpy, but the solo is appropriately sultry and
pleasant to listen to. The vocal percussion is good, too,
as it keeps the energy going.
I feel like I'm wading in molasses. I don't know what
that means exactly, but it was the fist thing that ran through my head
as I listened to this lifeless, slowed down Blondie cover. Given, the
original song wasn't hard rock — far from it. The beat made it sound
like a carnival ditty. But this version doesn't have enough energy to
accompany a run down merry-go-round. For a sample of how this should
have sounded, check out the version by Vassar's Measure for Measure.
I don't get the drum intro. At all. The solo has the right idea but could
be cleaned up with a little more definition most places.The top of the
duet tends to slide into tune, and often she doesn't quite get there. Except
for her this is a good song — nice arr.
Much better...a very pretty arrangement that works very
well with the group. The soloist does a very nice job. Still some
microphone problems with the soloist. Simple and haunting...
A pretty solo and their best performance in the background in terms of
tuning, this track suffers from one of the worst mixes I've ever heard. The
backing parts (and even the solo) is buried by a truly annoying "Ding"
sound and some uninspiring hi hat percussion. Both parts would probably be
fine a little further back in the mix, but where they are it makes what
could have been the best track on their album almost intolerable instead.
Since I am not familiar with Sting's version of this song,
I can't compare, but on its own, this isn't bad. The
arrangement is pretty good, and though the soloist has a
nice voice, overall the performance is ho-hum. Very nice
The low and lulling lead vocals are good, but it's hard
to listen to them with the almost perpetual "ch-ch-chh" of the
percussion. They were trying to be subtle, but instead it is clipped,
mechanical, and distracting. Percussion aside, the arrangement
doesn't go anywhere or build up to anything. It just sits on the same
Great beginning, and overall fantastic arrangement. The solo is pretty
good; if she were a little less broadway — it's not too bad, except for
the weird vibrato — she'd be better, but she does a good job. This is a
really terrific arr of a hard song, and it deserves appropriate praise and
overlooking the inevitable pitch problems.
Some OK ensemble work. Occasional pitch problems in the Sop 1s and the
Alto 2s. Pretty faithful to the original. I might be more excited if I
hadn't heard this song thousands of times already.
The King's Singers' arrangement is performed
competently. Well, it kind of breaks down at points, but all in all
it's not so bad. Great second altos! But the rest of the background
floats in and out of tune regularly.
This is a good song, and there is nothing really wrong with
it, but it lacks something — energy, intensity, _something_.
The group needs to get into it a little more, and enjoy
what they are singing, and the soloist just needs a shot in
Does this sound a little flat, or is it just me?
Doesn't the original Beatles song have a great little coda a second or
two after the song ends? Why did they cut it? Why do they base their
performance on the King's Singers' version instead of on the original
White Album version?
Solo is consistently flat. It's tough to ruin a King's Singer's arr, but
although she has a nice tone, the solo's pitch makes this song unpleasant.
Does humor belong in a cappella? Well..yeah..if we all get the joke. There's
some pretty college specific humor in this one. At least, I'd assume it's
funny if you know the school. Maybe not. In any case, the A2s occasionally
disagree on what the bass line really is, and the key change is very jarring.
Other than that, the upper parts blend pretty well and have some good power.
Interesting that this harmonically complex background is pretty much in
tune, while some "easier" stuff early in the album was not. I gather that
this was a skit, and I think some of the humor is lost in the this format.
Still it made me smile.
Finally a song with some energy, some punch! It's
fun. Though the soprano part, which is up in the clouds,
sounds understandably strained, the second altos do a good job
of keeping the bassline humming.
I have to give this one a ten based on the fact that it is probably the best
Wonder Woman cover out there. The actual Wonder Woman theme song simply isn't
a good tune. It's more of a vamp than a melody. And yet everyone seems to be
performing it recently despite the fact that after the nostalgia wears off,
which is about five seconds into it, the fun is over. This version, coming as
it does from Smith College, actually has a reason to exist. They've added a
spoken section and they genuinely seem to have an ax to grind.
This is reasonably funny, and gives the basses a chance to comfortably
shine. The voiceover woman's speaking voice has that a-little-flat sound
I'd attribute to a smoking sorority girl if she didn't go to Smith —
maybe she smokes anyway. The music part is pretty good, too.
Nice...good sound...good arrangment. The soloist is
strong and the group does a nice job selling this one. I'm not
convinced that some of the crunchier chords are tuning quite right,
but they pass very quickly and are hard to pick out. Some sloppy cut
offs here and there.
It used to amaze me that people would pay the
Ultimate A Cappella
Arranging Service to arrange a cover song for them. But when I
hear something like the chorus of this song, I begin to understand.
It's so far above anything else on this album! Deke Sharon's
trademark polyrhythmic sound comes through in a way I would not have
thought the Smithereens capable of. But this arrangement seems
incomplete. The verses start to be not only boring but unpleasantly
dissonant. The chorus is great, but the verses don't seem to match.
Here is one with a full arrangement that the whole
group seems to really get into. The vocal percussion is
especially zealous. Transitions and blend could be smoother,
but not a bad track.
This arrangement, by the ubiquitous Deke Sharon
Jacks, Tufts Beelzebubs), is the most complex one on the album.
Perhaps too complex. The bass tries to hard and sounds a little silly
as a result. Also, the original Peter Gabriel song, is always
evolving and going through tempo changes. A Gabriel song depends a
lot on complex production and this recording can't live up to the
challenge technically. It isn't especially well suited for a cappella
and the Smithereens have a hard time keeping up. There is one nice
long note and fall off (14 seconds) from the lead vocalist.
Bass percussion is a little much — more resonance, less
intrusion needed. The choruses could use a more punch, as could the
solo, although actually she's pretty good. Interesting arr of bridge,
with the "nos" — solo misses one toward the end, but since she's so
good I'll let it slide. The top of her chest voice leaves a little to
be desired — if they'd mixed the long note higher it would have
helped. As it is it sounds like she can't "project" the high stuff.
I miss the lower harmony on the chorus, although their high harmony
A more traditional homophonic a cappella close harmony
arrangement. The arrangement is well written, but the group is not
well suited to it. The blend isn't all there, a few voices always
seem to stick out, and there's ragged tuning throughout. It just
doesn't lock in.
The Smithereens have pleasant voices, but they have
difficulty singing together (either rhythmically or in the sense of
tuning). This pleasant little snippet would be all the better if they
would, say, cut off at the same time.
This is a very pretty choral ballad, though for some
reason it is the only song whose origin and arrangement are
not credited in the liner notes. There are some minor
intonation problems, but I like this one.
Pretty harmonies, and yet, there's nothing that would
ever make me want to listen to this song again. It isn't the
Smithereens' fault, it just isn't a grabbing or moving song.
I guess you have to have a token slow song. This one
isn't particularly well done — not their style.
WOW! Is this the same group? A complete power soloist
backed up by a rock solid group. The arrangement places all of the
voices in a comfortable range which does wonders for the group's
sound. I'm sure the energy and confidence of the soloist helps the
group a lot. The first set of snaps is not together, and the clapping
could be a bit more accurate as well. I take issue with the final
chord, it feels wrong and out of place.
A power solo by Brookes McKenzie is backed by a
simple unison background. McKenzie is over the top on the lead, which
is great, but she is so forceful from the beginning of the song that
she doesn't have anywhere to go with it. Also the last chord is just
Finally a strong soloist, with personality! The whole
group sounds like they are having fun. The energy is high in
this upbeat song, and stays up. The last chord is a little
weird, but otherwise this is a good song.
Dang! The lead vocalist comes galloping into this
number, lasso swinging and big bluesy voice a-wailin'. She does some
particularly nice work adding some raspyness for an extra soulful
effect. The backing vocals provide a strong bass for her to work
with. The last note of the song is slightly off key. (If you listen
carefully, you can hear them apologize afterwards).
This very solo-centric song feels like a song with a lot
of punch live. It recorded decently, but the pitch problems in the
solo stand out a lot more in the recording. She did a good job
keeping her energy in the studio, and I have to say I like her guts.
Ending chord is weird.
A cleverly written little piece that comments upon an
all to familiar situation in the collegiate a cappella world. Sigh.
To be young again...
Sung with a laugh, this "hidden track" is the best
thing on the album. A parody of the one-night stand relationships
between male and female a cappella groups, it's fun to try to guess
who they're singing about...
Original and clever, tells a story that may be
familiar to many a cappella group members.
This song, written by group members, is an absolute
winner. It basically concerns one night stands that happen at after
the concert parties with visiting groups from other schools. I wasn't
in any college groups, but I still loved this song. If you are in a
group, this song is a must hear. It's sung by three voices. The
first voice sings the main vocals solo while the other two cut in with
samples of the songs that the visiting men sung the night before.
(There's a particularly strong quote from "Soul to Soul" that kind of
makes you wish they had done the whole song.)
This is for everyone who's ever lusted after that cute
(and often otherwise not so cute) soloist with the killer voice and
great smile. The laughter at the end ruins it, though I like the
funny noises after that.