Saturday, June 1, 2013

Music Review: Under the Influence by Straight No Chaser

Stars: 5 out of 5
Pros: More great a cappella music to enjoy for years to come
Cons: The group takes a back seat to their guests most of the time
The Bottom Line:
Classic songs redone
With singers who made them great
Creating new fans

Straight No Chaser is Under the Influence of a Few Friends

It’s been a couple of years since Straight No Chaser’s last release, so I had to snap up Under the Influence as soon as I could.  This disc is a little different since the a cappella group is joined on eight of the eleven tracks by other vocalists.  The result is still fun.

The names that Straight No Chaser got to join them are very impressive.  You’ve got the likes of Phil Collins, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, and Dolly Parton.  It’s hard to argue with names like that.

And all of these guest singers take the lead on an a cappella version of one of their classic songs.  Heck, even I recognized some of the songs on this disc, and I usually stick to Christian music.  That means there are a variety of styles offered here from the R+B of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” to the rock of “Jolene.”

Yes, I did say that the Dolly Parton song was rock.  Not being too familiar with Dolly’s music, it arrangement was a bit of a surprise to me, but it absolutely works.  Anyone (like me) who is afraid to hear these guys go country, don’t give it a second thought.  This song is great.

Another standout to me is “Kiss from a Rose."  For this song, Seal joins the group.  The song is hauntingly beautiful.

The exception to the rule I stated earlier is the opening track.  Sara Bareilles joins the group for a cover of "I Want You Back."  As you'd expect, they cover this Jackson 5 song with all the energy and fun of the original.  It's a great way to start things out.

I was also struck by just how few words there really are in "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)."  Obviously, I'd never listened to it that closely before.  Still like the song, however, and the version here will certainly make you tap your toes.

If I had one complaint about this disc, it is the fact that I miss the usual playfulness and back and forth the guys exhibit in their arrangements.  Here, they provide the background vocals and percussion for their guest vocalist.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think the harmonies are still wonderful, and I’m really enjoying the disc.  It’s just one thing I’ve noted as I listened to it.

That makes the three tracks where the guys are on their own stand out as favorites.  And of those, the best is the disc closer, “Hallelujah.”  The harmonies on this one are tight and the musical references in the lyrics are brilliant.  I really get a kick out of it.

Of the other two tracks, "Rolling in the Deep" provides a great chance for them to display their impressive harmonies.  This is classic Straight No Chaser, and that's a good thing.  And the medley of "Some Nights/We Are Young" is fun because of the change on tempo they do part way through.  It's a subtle change as they change songs, but they handle it so well.

Fans of a cappella music will really enjoy Under the Influence.  Straight No Chasers many fans will enjoy getting new music from the group.  And the impressive list of guest stars might get a few new people to give them a chance.

CD Length: 36:37
1. I Want You Back (Featuring Sara Bareilles)
2. Rolling in the Deep
3. Against All Odds (Take a Look at Me Now) (Featuring Phil Collins)
4. Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours) (Featuring Stevie Wonder)
5. Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me (Elton John)
6. Some Nights/We Are Young
7. I Won't Give Up (Featuring Jason Mraz)
8. This is How a Heart Breaks (Featuring Rob Thomas)
9. Kiss from a Rose (featuring Seal)
10. Jolene (Featuring Dolly Parton)
11. Hallelujah

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