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Don't Tell Me You Do (2004 Edition)

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Album Review

At the time, Todd Rundgren's A Cappella was hailed as revolutionary, but few musicians followed his precedent of creating a pop album entirely with his voice. Coincidentally, a few years after A Cappella's release in 1985, there was an a cappella revival, largely led by the success of Bobby McFerrin. Somewhere between these two extremes — electronically altered voices for Rundgren and McFerrin the purist — lay Rockapella, who were arguably the most popular a cappella group of the '90s. They formed in the mid-'80s, but their career really took off after their exposure on Spike Lee's PBS documentary Do It A Cappella and their five-year stint as the house band on Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?. All this led to records in Japan, plus a couple of self-released albums, but they didn't get a widely distributed deal until 1999, when they released Don't Tell Me You Do on J-Bird, the Internet record label. Even though the distribution for Don't Tell Me You Do was still limited, it was certainly easier for most audiences to purchase than any of their other releases, and Rockapella must have known this as they were recording the album, since it is a diverse but unabashedly pop album. No Rundgren weirdness here, even if there's studio trickery that gives the illusion that a full band is playing when it's just voices and appendages making the music. That's not an easy thing to pull off and it's especially difficult to make a record that relies on such a sleight of hand while still delivering good music — which is exactly what Rockapella does. They've made a varied pop album — complete with ballads, uptempo numbers and midtempo jams — where the overall sound and song are more important than the individual parts. What makes the record especially impressive is that they wrote all but three of the songs on the record, and the songs are solid pop tunes with nicely understated doo wop and soul influences. Don't Tell Me You Do certainly isn't an average a cappella album, since Rockapella is determined to sound modern and isn't afraid of utilizing the full capabilities of the studio, much in the way Rundgren did in 1985. But that's why it's a success — it's a deceptively clever and unabashedly sunny album that takes chances while staying cheerfully accessible. Neat trick to pull off, when you think about it. [The initial pressings of Don't Tell Me You Do — about 25,000 discs — contained Rockapella's Folger's commercial as an unlisted bonus track.]


Formed: 1986 in New York, New York

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

Rockapella successfully modernized the art of a cappella performing, texturing their rich, five-part vocals with elements of rock, jazz, R&B, and doo wop. The group was formed during the mid-'80s by Brown University students Sean Altman (tenor) and Elliott Kerman (baritone), who met while members of the school's male a cappella ensemble the High Jinks. They soon formed a spin-off street corner group dubbed the Lunchtime Specials, gradually evolving into Rockapella -- although other members came and...
Full bio
Don't Tell Me You Do (2004 Edition), Rockapella
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