Thursday, May 23, 2013

Music Review: With a Twist by Straight No Chaser

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: Fun a cappella versions put a unique twists on familiar songs
Cons: Not a big fan of "You & Me & the Bottle Makes Three"
The Bottom Line:
Hits with unique twist
If you love a cappella
You'll love this great disc

Straight No Chaser Offers Up Familiar Songs with an A Cappella Twist

This last Christmas, I discovered the Christmas music of Straight No Chaser and fell in love with their a cappella sound.  I was going to wait and see what was on this year's release before I decided to buy it, or so I told myself.  When I found out With A Twist was out, I started plotting where I could get it, looking at the tracks only as an afterthought.  I'm not sorry because this is a fun disc.

For those who missed this YouTube stars turned recording artists, Straight No Chaser is a group of 10 guys who formed an a cappella group in college.  They don't write any of their own songs, but put their a cappella twist on classic songs from others.

My favorite song on here is "Tainted Love."  It's got an infectious beat you can't help but tap your foot along with.  Plus, the harmonies of the backup singers really make the song dramatic.  Since there are 10 guys in the group, they've got enough to have some singing backup and some making the rhythm sounds.

The disc actually starts out with "I'm Yours."  This confession of love makes for a bright, opening number.  It's mid-tempo and always brings a smile to my face.  It works a little bit of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from Wizard of Oz into the mix, although that's only about 30 seconds of the song.

They keep things upbeat with "Don't Dream It's Over."  Again, they've got some nice harmonies in addition to the vocal percussions behind the song.

One thing I appreciate about this disc is a variety it offers.  There are several slow songs on here, including a cover of Coldplay's "Fix You."  This track doesn't offer any of the percussion vocals.  Instead, you get lots of humming in the background as the group attempts to capture the original's organ sound.  I'm not familiar with the original, but this one works well for me.

The group borrows from Queen next as they cover "You're My Best Friend."  Obviously, we're back to upbeat.  I really enjoy this tribute to the value of a friendship in marriage, but what I really appreciate about this song is that all 10 of the guys take a turn at the solo here.

I wasn't familiar with "The Living Years" before I got this disc, and I do find the song a little sad since it's about regret about a relationship never resolved before death.  But it's also a great reminder to keep those lines of communication open.

With a name like Straight No Chaser, they've recorded a song about drinking on every disc.  This one is no exception.  "You & Me & the Bottle Makes Three" was recorded live at a concert, and the crowd adds some energy to an already upbeat song.  In fact, this is the most catchy song on the disc.  And guess which one I find myself singing after listening to the disc.  Yep, it's this one.

I was only ever familiar with the chorus to "Joy to the World" thanks to the old Disneyland attraction America Sings.  Not that I've heard the rest of the song, I'm picking up on some other references to the song, especially the opening line.  I must admit I did have to look up the lyrics to this one before I figured out they weren't all supposed to make sense.  This one can get a little chaotic at times as they sing lines a few times and repeat things behind each other.  It works, however.

The group is joined by Barry Manilow on the last track as they cover his song "One Voice."  This is a slow and quiet way to close things out.  It actually starts with just Barry singing, but as he sings about others joining him, the group comes in, allowing the harmonies to build.  It can send chills up your spine it's so beautiful.

As I've said, I wasn't super familiar with the songs here since I listen mainly to Christian music, but I have really been enjoying the disc.  It certainly helps that I love a cappella music.  So if you like some of the songs here or the style, be sure to give With A Twist a try.

CD Length: 37:17
1. I'm Yours/Somewhere Over the Rainbow
2. Tainted Love
3. Don't Dream It's Over
4. Fix You
5. You're My Best Friend
6. The Living Years
7. You & Me & the Bottle Makes Three/Single Ladies
8. Wonderwall
9. Joy to the World
10. Under the Bridge
11. Can't Take My Eyes Off of You
12. One Voice (featuring Barry Manilow)

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