Ben Folds Presents: University a Cappella!
Ben Folds & Various Artists
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With all the electronic wizardry available these days, hearing the human voice in its purest, unadulterated form can be a revelatory experience. Ben Folds has always written highly melodic material that’s centered on his pop instincts and his spastic piano bounce. But here his songs are brought to life by pure vocal ensembles that emphasize both his strong lead lines and the intricacies layered underneath. With music programs across the country suffering budgetary cutbacks, it’s encouraging to find projects with both commercial potential and the ability to inspire others to become involved. Ben Folds recruited these various groups — from The Spartones of Greensboro, NC to The Sacramento State Jazz Singers to The University of Rochester Midnight Ramblers — and recorded them with six area mics. Each group brings a sweet, participatory experience, turning Folds’ pop into songs that could’ve survived the street corners of doo-wop from a culture long past. Hearing Folds’ “Brick” recreated solely through vocal accompaniment is ear-opening and Folds himself joins in with instrument free versions of “Effington” and “Boxing.” Fun throughout.
What's with the A Cappella Snobs?
I guess some people didn't understand Ben's intent. Ben knew full well that they weren't hitting every note perfectly, and it wasn't being recorded in a pristine environment. If you don't like A Cappella or if you don't like the arangements, then that's great, but leave some of this nearly pious stuff at the door. Maybe a few quotes from Ben will help... (from CNN) "I mean these guys, they'd just do a live take and they just don't know that the pros don't do it that way. I mean, professional singers are a nightmare. You've gotta tune every syllable, they have to do it 10,000 times. These guys just did it." "When you start messing with it and putting everyone on separate tracks you've lost the event and you've gained some sense of maybe perfection, but when it comes to the human voice, even-tempered piano tuning sounds incorrect to me. I think that people have a natural tuning mechanism." Peace!
Real a Cappella - A welcome addition to both my Ben Folds and my collegiate a cappella collections.
Collegiate a cappella sits at an interesting intersection with this album. Fans new to the genre who've been listening to podcasts like Joey C's Acappella U and collections from BOCA (Best of Collegiate A Cappella) have been treated to an a cappella sound that, while amazing to listen to, represents a digitohuman sound that in many cases could never be repeated live. Autotuning, doubling bass parts, super-complex filters and post-mixing really explore what a cappella can be, but sometimes leans away from what collegiate a cappella is - human beings making music based on a shared understanding of starting pitch, tempo and the energy of the crowd they're singing for. This album is done much more in the spirit of live performances ... what you hear is what got sung (largely). Posers who claim the ability to sing with perfect pitch will quibble with some of what they hear here. People who love listening to music and singing either publicly in a group or privately in their car will find a lot to love here. Whenever an established artist "wanders" into a non-traditional form to re-examine his work, there's always a chance that it comes off as self-indulgent musical diddling. Folds avoids this pitfall handily, turning out an album that explores the relationship between Folds' own voice and the thick, chewy piano work and chord progressions that keep his music eternally interesting and floating well above frat-boy sing-alongs. The Sacramento State Jazz Singers' cover of "Selfless, Cold & Composed", for example, finds complexity in that Folds chestnut that force the listener to re-evaluate the song completely. All of this is to say that the 16 tracks captured here give the listener a glimpse beyond the mixing-board perfection that studio production so often strips the life out of music. A welcome addition to both my Ben Folds and my collegiate a cappella collections.
Awesome idea, Folds!
I've always been a fan of a cappella groups (think Andy Bernard - Here Comes Treble), so when Folds announced he was putting together an album of a cappella versions of his songs, I was ecstatic. Take a listen to "Time" and "Magic" and you'll be hooked.
Born: September 12, 1966 in Winston-Salem, NC
Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s
Top Albums and Songs by Ben Folds
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