Folds a la capella

July 7, 2009

benfoldsacapella

this is exactly what college is like

Not the Same, the first track off of the Ben Folds Greatest Hits/Cover album University A Cappella!, is the exact reason why this is such a good idea. The lead singer is in the right range but he sings with different intent than Folds, and there are plenty of minor rearrangements that demonstrate the wonder that is the human voice.

benfolds66

what an adorable scamp!

Unfortunately, this level of ability is not consistent throughout. Now, this is being advertised as a greatest hits album which I have to disagree with. I give you that you ask the fans of any artist with a large enough discography (especially Folds fans and the Folds discography) you’ll get a wide array of what should be included. But “Magic”? Really? “Boxing”? Even with Folds in the performance it really is not great, though it doesn’t help that I didn’t like the original. And where’s “You To Thank,” or “The Last Polka,” or “Underground”? (Or even better, “Rock this Bitch”?)

Still, it’s a mix of good and bad throughout the album. While the groups chosen are clearly talented, they sometimes take the songs in the wrong direction. Fred Jones Pt. 2 has the wrong person singing the lyrics, for instance, and Selfless, Cold and Composed just feels slow, though it’s saved by a few scatting breakdowns that are awesome.

But as with the opener, there are plenty of great versions as well, often on the virtue of the lead singer. In reality that’s the sell for these songs – like seeing the same performance by two different actors, you get to watch all the possible interpretations inherent to Folds’ superior craftsmanship in lyrical and musical construction. When the student groups took risks is when they succeeded. “Still Fighting It” is majestic when rendered solely in human vocal cords. And “Fair” demonstrates the best parts of a cappella: rearrangements, responses to the lyrics in the ‘musical’ accompaniment, and a brief mash-up with Zak and Sara.

As a concept, the album is a great idea. I feel like all artists should do their greatest hits this way, if not with a cappella versions than someone covering. New fans get introduced to the highlights and old fans are given a reason to invest in songs they otherwise already have. But in practice it comes through uneven. Worth it for the avid Ben Folds fan or a cappella afficianado, but otherwise I’d suggest buying on a track by track basis.

Picks: Not the Same, Still Fighting It, Landed, Evaporated, Fair,

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