Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present the Vanderbilt University Melodores performing Camila Cabello's "Havana."

Concept Albums

Recording Recommendations

In this edition, our focus is on concept albums.

Not so dissimilar from the theme albums I’ve discussed previously in this column, a concept album calls for a group to record an album that navigates a theme or, more often, tells a cohesive story from end to end. From The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, to Green Day’s American Idiot</i> , to My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade, concept albums offer a unique spin on the recording concept such that one track can’t be listened to in isolation without losing some of the narrative thread that binds them all together. Moreover, the concept album affords a group a new layer of creativity, conceiving of a narrative and picking songs with specific designs on filling in the spaces of that tale.

Concept albums can be magnificent artistic statements, but they can also present challenges to a cappella groups. Because most a cappella groups still lean toward covers over original songs, there’s the matter of taking someone else’s music and repurposing to fit your story. In addition, there are choices to be made about not recording a song that your group performs (or could perform) really well because it doesn’t fit the story or> the story itself becoming contrived on account shifting to fit the music.

Groups that embark on concept albums should take their time. If there’s a story, and a set of songs that really leap out as the foundation for the project—say twenty-five-to-fifty percent of the album’s content—it may be worth pursuing, but without either of those fundamental pieces in place, you run the risk of the music following the concept or the concept bending to the music in inorganic ways (again, unless you’re writing original music, in which case you have a lot more leeway).

Like so many aspects of recording, when you think about producing a concept album, it’s worth considering what you have to lose and what you might have to gain. Is this a story your group needs to tell, or is it better left for a later incarnation of your group that does have that story in its blood? Think it over.

When Gender Flips Work

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #192: When Gender Flips Work

There are those times when a group covering a song across gender lines does not do the group or the song any favors. It’s those times when guys default to borderline sexist stereotypes in behaving effeminately as they sing a song originally performed by a female artist. It’s those occasion when a female group’s tinny sound or absence of a  proper low-end may get exposed on a song by a male artist.

But then there are those special occasions when swapping the gender reveals something new. It’s groups like The mid-2000s University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers singing “When She Loved Me,” popularized by Sarah McLachlan to reveal a hitherto unseen vulnerable side of their raucous act. It’s The Ramblers’s sibling Rochester group, Vocal Point, turning Guster’s “What You Wish For” into a sweet pop melody on their album from a similar era, The Swimsuit Issue. These performances change how we see a group and how we hear a song.

Gaga Medley

Tuesday Tubin'

This week we present Northwestern University Purple Haze performing their Gaga Medley.

High School Groups Going Old School

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #191: High School Groups Going Old School

High school groups represent the future of a cappella—youngsters learning the fundamentals of the form, in some cases learning to arrange and choreograph for themselves. While there are plenty of people who weren’t involved in high school a cappella groups who have or will go on to sing with college or even professional groups, there are an increasing number of luminaries who do get their start in their teenage years and carry those lessons through to become leaders on larger stages.

And so, there can be something particularly satisfying about hearing a high school a cappella group take on not the music of their own generation, but of the past. And I’m not only talking about standards and classics—“The Lion Sleeps Tonight” or “My Girl”—but rather forgotten gems that, when covered, honor a tradition help keep the music alive. Consider 2008 Dekalb High School Fly Check singing U2’s “MLK.” The short, soft, pensive song from the mid-1980s is powerful despite never being a radio hit, and it’s a joy to hear it reprised.

I love it!

“Dream On” as performed by Casual Harmony

200 Reasons To Love A Cappella

Reason #190: “Dream On” as performed by Casual Harmony

Forgive me, because I’ve recounted this anecdote before on this blog and in the pages of The A Cappella Book, but it’s an important enough moment in my development as an a cappella fan that it warrants repeating.

In 2005, I was the boyfriend of a woman in an a cappella group—that was the extent to which I was involved in the community. I traveled to watch her group handily win its ICCA quarterfinal and I thought that, for sure, no one would top them at their regional finals (as semifinals were called that year), and they’d punch their ticket for the NYC Finals like they had previously.

The regional final show, however, was stacked. I heard great group after great group, out of which my partner’s group ended up toward the upper-middle of the pack, but did not place.

 This was the night when I saw so much of what a cappella could be, in a wide range of well-executed covers that physically spanned the auditorium, and song selections that spanned languages and cultures.

Out of all of these performances, I remember Casual Harmony the best.

After forming less than a year earlier, and then having to win its way through that afternoon’s semifinals (in a unique tournament structure for that year), the group left everything on the stage, capped with a cover of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”

“Dream On” turned out to be not only technically quite good and sold well from a visual perspective, but also aurally captured an unreal level of emotion, sincerity, and intensity from the whole group, and particularly the soloist. It’s the kind of performance that commanded the full audience’s attention and that inspired cheering midway through. Moreover, it was a moment of perfect synergy between performers and song selection, a group of passionate, hardworking guys putting their all into a song about dreams, meaning every syllable of the dream until your dreams true lyrics.

I love it!

Next Page
Concept Albums
When Gender Flips Work
Gaga Medley
High School Groups Going Old School
“Dream On” as performed by Casual Harmony
Gimme All Your Love
Music Videos
When A Show Starts On Time
Young Volcanoes
Soloists Who Don’t Look Like They’re Performing
Complementary Soloists
The Editing Room Floor
“If You’re Out There” as Performed by The Stereotypes
Feel You (Remix)
Fluid Transitions
Sorry Not Sorry
Requesting Reviews
A Balanced Competition
Might Not Like ME
Such Great Heights
Skinny Love
Cosmic Love
Soliciting Outside Feedback Before The Show
Men of Note