Artist of the Year
Winner: Zap Mama
Zap Mama has the best of both worlds: They take their art very seriously and still manage to have a great deal of fun while creating it. It is obvious that leader Marie Dauline has carefully studied a number of musical idioms from around the globe (including the pygmy village where she was born!), yet her music doesn't suffer from being too scholarly or too serious. When performing live, they can exude all of the classical charm of the King's Singers while still delivering the emotional and Vocal power of Sweet Honey in the Rock. More than just a conglomeration of different styles, Zap Mama has created a new sound and new style that sounds both modern and indigenous. There is no musical group out there whose music reflects the concept "Global Village" more accurately than Zap Mama's.
Runner up: Rockapella
Easily the most talked about a cappella group on the Internet's two a cappella newsgroups, Rockapella has inspired a level of devotion and frenzy among their fans. How else can you explain people driving 8 hours each way in the snow to see a show, spending $40 per album to import them from Japan, and circulating a petition with over 5,000 names to be didstributed among record labels demanding a U.S. recording contract for the group. The group is now a quintet, having recently added vocal percussionist and dreamboat Jeff Thacher to the star-studded lineup. They tour the world, have recorded 5 albums overseas, have a sitcom pilot in the works, and are the talk of the town - so why can't these guys get a recording contract here?
Album of the Year:
Winner: Sabsylma - Zap Mama
Second albums are the most difficult for an artist to produce. Following a successful debut album that tapped the best music from the years before the recording contract was secured, expectations are always high, and are often unrealistically high. Zap Mama has managed to follow last year's CARA winning Album of the Year with another collection of songs every bit as inspired as their debut. Sabsylma takes us everywhere from Australia to Morocco, through numerous styles and cultures, and each is served up with relish and delight. Do yourself a favor and listen to this album on headphones with the lights out, and take a trip around the world...
Runner up: Shaman - Toby Twining Music
Just the mention of a "20th Century Classical Composition" is enough to send most people running. But Toby Twining's compositions are from the minimalist camp and are like the soothing work of composers Phillip Glass and Steve Reich. Toby Twining uses the four voices in his ensemble much like a string quartet, and the result is an album of undulating repeated patterns, smooth vocal textures, and shimmering vocal effects. Few words are heard on this album, but you'll never miss 'em. This album is excellent for quiet moods and meditation.
Best Female Vocalist:
Winner: Sheila Chandra
Sheila Chandra's albums are reminiscent of the early vocal work of Bobby McFerrin on his album The Voice: Each track is a testament to the power of the unaccompanied solo voice. Her second album, The Zen Kiss, further declares the strength of her sound, and gives us a chance to hear more of her unbelievable vocal percussion. If you are drawn to the sound of vocalists form the Indian Subcontinent, you'll fall in love with Sheila Chandra.
Runner up tie:
Lisa Bielawa - Toby Twining Music
Margaret Jalkeus - The Real Group
It's easy to forget that Lisa is singing when you hear her voice float above the other three voices on Shaman. Her phrasing, tone, and articulation are so precise that you never wish you were listening to lyrics, as her fluid tone sends your mind wandering with it. Incidentally, just a few years ago, she was the Music director of Yale University's mixed jazz group "Red Hot & Blue"
Margareta's voice is also capable of being transformed into an instrumental sound, as she exhibits the most amazing vocal trumpet that any of us have ever heard. Her tone is clear as a bell, and yet it never suffers for lack of depth. She can be heard throughout the Real Group's spectacular album Varför Får Man Inte Bara Vara Som Man Är?, and each time it's sheer delight.
Best Male Vocalist:
Winner: Mark Kibble - Take 6
Mark's voice has fronted some of Take 6's best numbers, and he's always risen to the occasion. Their latest album Join The Band features mostly instrumental recordings, but it's the a cappella tracks that really shine. Mark's performance on "I've Got Life" may be his best yet.
Runner up Scott Leonard - Rockapella
Scott continues to amaze us all, as he seems to drift higher and higher into his range on each subsequent album without ever hitting the top - or even sounding like he's coming close. And behind all of the vocal power and acumen he displays is always an emotional delivery of the song.
Best Contemporary Song:
Winner: You Don't Know Nothin' - 4 Real
Take 6 founder Mervyn Warren left the group a few years ago, and we all wondered why. Now we know. "You Don't Know Nothin" was written, arranged and produced by Mervyn, and was a big hit on pop stations this past year. "For a while I steered clear of a cappella," Mervyn told us recently, "because I didn't want to be associated only with a cappella." Mervyn, we're glad you've had other successes, and we're glad you're back! (Incidentally, there are no other a cappella songs on the 4 Real's debut album, so you might want to purchase the single rather than the album).
Runner up: I Thank You - Boyz II Men
Boyz II Men has been successful in launching a cappella ballads up the charts, but this is the first time they've ever recorded an up tempo a cappella track. Written and arranged by the group, the song is very catchy, and with a little luck it will be released as a single and work its way up the charts sometime later this year. Until then, you can find it and an a cappella cover of the Beatles song "Yesterday" on their latest album Boyz II Men II.
Best Contemporary Cover:
Winner: Dancing Queen - the Real Group
Many a cappella groups have recorded cover versions of classic tunes, but how many have actually gotten the original soloist to sing the lead? In an inspired move, the Real Group tracked this infectiously jubilant version of Abba's international blockbuster hit with none other than Frida Lyngstad (now Lyngstad-Reuss). It's the only track in English on their latest album, but the other songs are so good you'll never miss not understanding the lyrics.
Runner up: Sailing - The Blenders
"Sailing" is a perfect cover for the aptly named Blenders: their voices are so smooth and their blend so pristine that they call to mind Take 6 throughout their album From The Mouth. Their rendering is lulling and clean, and their voices are bathed in a perfect mix of warmth and reverb. This track will give you the "warm fuzzies"
Best Jazz Song:
Winner: Flight of the Foo-birds: The Real Group
This remake of the Count Basie big band classic will get your toes tappin' and put a song in your step. It's an excellent arrangement and perfect recording in the classic vocal jazz style - no lyrics, just scat syllables, and lots of great solos. Each member of the group steps forward during the course of the song, and it is apparent that there are no weak links in their group - each member is extremely adept and vocally flexible. The Louis Armstrong-esque solo by Anders Edenroth will surely make you smile.
Runner up: The Duke of Dubuque - Street Sounds
Street Sounds has taken this Manhattan Transfer remake of the 30's classic and made it all their own. Street Sounds has a way of taking great arrangements and pushing them over the edge with great phrasing and just enough improvisation to breathe life into every corner of a song.
Best Classical Song:
Winner: Between Stars - Toby Twining Music
Shimmering. Iridescent. Glowing. Gorgeous. Remarkable vocal textures painting a peaceful night sky. Turn off the lights and allow yourself to be consumed in a world of tones and delicately floating vocal lines. Toby Twining Music should compose an a cappella movie soundtrack, or better yet, someone should make a movie based around this album!
Runner up: Agnus Deis - Toby Twining Music
Probably the most traditional piece on Shaman, "Agnus Dei" is still anything but obvious. Crystilline and beautiful, Toby Twining has created a gem of a 20th century choral work, and we anticipate that in a few years many choruses will be performing this work (partially because it's the only song on the album that could be possibly be performed by any other group!).
Best Gospel Song:
Winner: I've Got Life - Take 6
Just when you get all up in arms about Take 6's recording with a band... just when you've waded through half of their disc Join The Band wishing their voices weren't lost behind synthesizers... WHAM! - This song hits you like a bullet train! Possibly their greatest track ever, and certainly their best recording since Mervyn Warren left the group, "I've Got Life" has got everything that Take 6 does best: a great solo, smooth harmonies, a great groove, and a slammin' arrangement of a great song. Whether you're old or young, Christian or not, you'll love this song, and if you'd contemplated falling out of love with Take 6, you'll fall right back in again.
Runner up: My Friend - Take 6
Soulful and delightfully fun, Ray Charles tears up the solo on this wonderful track, and the only drawback is that we're left wanting more. Would someone call those Diet Pepsi "Uh-Huh" Girls and see if we can get Ray to put together his own a cappella project...
Best Folk/Progressive Song:
Winner: Home Africa - Street Sounds
Street Sounds, like Sweet Honey in the Rock, is a group best seen live. Their music is most effectively conveyed when you're there in the room to experience it with them, and their faces and bodies compliment every note with a wonderfully expressive body language. However, "Home Africa" off the group's self titled debut recording is just as powerful in your living room as their voices come alive and the arrangement slowly builds to create a river of voices and polyrhythms.
Runner up: Change - Street Sounds
Possibly the best song performed all weekend at the A Cappella Summit, Street Sounds had the audience on their feet with their almost overwhelmingly powerful performance of this fantastic song. Driven by a syncopated chordal repetition of "chan-ch-chan-ch-change," the song reminds us that things haven't changed as much as we like to believe.
Best Doo-Wop/R&B Song:
Winner: Stamp of Approval - The Acappella Co.
It seems strange to have the two first winners in the Doo-wop/R&B category come off of an album entitled A Cappella Gospel: The Series, but these tunes are so good, and so stylistically correct, that there's no disputing their excellence or appropriateness. Acappella member George Pendergrass and Robert C. Guy have crafted a wonderful song in the doo-wop vocal style.
Runner up: Let Me Show You Me - The Acappella Co.
Yet another great song off the stylistically varied A Cappella Gospel album, this time in the R&B vocal style. This song and album prove that George Pendergrass has joined Keith Lancaster as one of a cappella's major forces as a songwriter, performer, and producer.
Best World Music Song:
Winner: Mr. Brown - Zap Mama
"James goes to Africa..." reads the liner notes of Sabsylma, and I'm sure that the Godfather of Soul himself is proud to take the trip. Imagine funky grooves built up of a wide variety of vocal sounds and vocal percussion; Clicks and rhythmic aspirations join trumpet riffs and a bumpin' bass to make one of the most interesting and, without a doubt, FUNKIEST tracks we've ever heard. These women really can do anything!
Runner up: Mais Qu'est-ce? - Zap Mama
This time we're in France, and after a vocally exhausting duet with a bamboo flute, the group launches into a curious polyrhythm while declaring "What are we going to do now?" (in French, of course). Each of their songs takes us to another emotion, another place and another musical idiom, and this particular location is one of the most pleasing and enjoyable.
Best Humorous Song:
Winner: Don't Worry, Be Happy - The Blenders
Live recordings of funny material are usually accompanied with the disclaimer "Well, you had to be there..." but not so in this case. The Blenders have done a fantastic job of capturing the ebullient energy of one of their live shows, complete with just enough of the audiences reaction to their jokes so that you feel like you're part of the show. Bobby McFerrin's cloying classic is transformed into a frenetic hillbilly two-step, complete with new lyrics: "Ain't got no place to lay my head... Somebody stole my darn pickup bed." Pick up a copy of the Blender's From The Mouth, or catch them live. You'll be glad you did.
Runner up: Secret Santa - Rockapella
Rockapella's fifth Japanese release Rockapella 5 - Out Cold is comprised of about 50% holiday and Christmas songs, and the most charming and clever is "Secret Santa." Bass Barry Carl delivers Sean Altman's acerbically clever lyrics with a sly knowingness: "He zigs & zags so serpentine, quite a feat since he's so darn bovine, If you're good you're smack dab on his route, But if you ain't your Christmas is kaput."
Best Female Collegiate Album:
Winner: Stranded - The UNC Loreleis
Stranded is comprised of twenty tracks, each resonating with the extraordinary talents of a variety of exceptional soloists. They groove on "Chain of Fools," bring it down with a powerful "Save the Best for Last," and perform a dazzling interpretation of Meatloaf's "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad." There are more beautiful ballads on this album than any other female collegiate album in recent memory.
Runner up: Continuum... - The Tufts Jackson Jills
The Jackson Jills deserve their reputation as one of the most ambitious and inventive groups around. Their repertoire is as diverse as Hillary Clinton's hairstyles: from the jazzy vibe of "Orange Colored Sky," to the well-placed discord of "So Much Mine," to the modern funk of Terence Trent D'Arby's "Dance Little Sister", they push the envelope of vocal arranging and performance.
Female Collegiate Best Song:
Winner: Save the Best For Last - The UNC Loreleis
The Loreleis' version of "Save The Best For Last" is a dark and loving interpretation of the Vanessa Williams hit. Rachel Stone's harmonically complex arrangement is a true solo vehicle, and Susan Frankfort's smooth alto glides effortlessly over the dissonant chords behind her.
Runner up: Little Bird - The Tufts Jackson Jills
Employing a wide variety of vocal textures, the Jills handle this Annie Lennox tune with remarkable aplomb. The solid eighth note groove and percussive textures provide a nice counterbalance to Kasey Jeffcoat's dynamic solo.
Best Female Collegiate Arrangement:
Winner: Sweet Love - Yale U. New Blue
Sue Kwok's arrangement is a lush, jazzy translation of the Anita Baker original, and it can be found on the group's album "A Small Blue Thing." Listening to it, you are transported to some smoky blues bar (and you can almost see Dan Akroyd mingling with the crowd). This mood provides a rich setting for the song.
Runner up: Orange Colored Sky - Tufts Jackson Jills
Reminiscent of Manhattan Transfer or Beachfront Property, Music Director Kelly Donohue's interpretation of Nat King Cole's classic builds on a solid rhythmic background with impeccable jazz styling and an inventive use of syllables. It's always a pleasure to hear vocal jazz crafted with such finesse.
Best Female Collegiate Soloist:
Winner: Susan Frankfort - The UNC Loreleis
Whoa, what a voice! A dominant presence on "Stranded," Frankfort lends her sweet soul to "Weak," her deep resonance to "The Last Song" and her smoothness to "Save the Best For Last." This southern diva is a name to look out for.
Runner up: Shawna Wakefield - Tufts Jackson Jills
Somewhat buried in the mix on "I Wish," Wakefield overcomes the obstacle with extraordinary emotion and power. She shows off her smoother side on "Orange Colored Sky." Only a sophomore when this album was made, we look forward to great things from Wakefield.
Mixed Collegiate Best Album:
Winner: Flail - U. Penn off the Beat
An exciting romp through the alternative hits of the past few years, Flail contains a score of fantastic, challenging arrangements and a full spectrum of well employed vocal sounds. The men create the rhythmic backdrops while the women soar above to form powerful textures on the top. Flail is a tour de force of creativity.
Runner up: A Little Crazy - U. of M. Amazin' Blue
The vibrant colors and Keith Haring figures on the cover tell everything you need to know. This is an album that celebrates the joy of singing. From the techno-rock of Seal's "Crazy" to the exquisite coloring of "Kyrie," A Little Crazy vibrates with energy.
Mixed Collegiate Best Song:
Winner: Sleeping Satellite - U. Penn off the Beat
It sneaks up on you with a mellow introduction and then explodes into a hip-grinding groove. Pamela Beecroft shines on the solo (unfortunately her only lead on Flail), and Gabe Rutman, Adam Hellegers and Dan Jurow provide a wicked vocal drum track. Put together, it's a hell of a ride.
Runner up: Soul to Squeeze - U. Penn off the Beat
Exactingly true-to-the-original, the level of detail in Gabe Rutman's arrangement is remarkable. Put together with his dead-ringer imitation of Anthony Kiedis, "Soul to Squeeze" carries all the vitality of the original and adds some ingenuity of its own. The layers work together and build to an exciting crescendo (complete with a musical reference to "Under the Bridge").
Mixed Collegiate Best Arrangement:
Winner: Kyrie - U. Michigan Amazin' Blue
Gregorian Chant. Using whistling to create a rainbow-textured introduction. A pungent rhythmic counterpoint. Jazz textures. Anna Callahan's masterwork has it all. It moves with a fluid grace we seldom seen in such a stylistically metamorphic arrangement.
Runner up: Plush - U. Penn off the Beat
Guitar rock is a style of music that is often translated to collegiate a cappella, but very rarely replicated. This clever arrangement of the Stone Temple Pilots smash is built upon fantastic vocal percussion, and Gabe Rutman created a new vocabulary of syllables for the voices replicating the guitar. From conception through execution, this arrangement ROCKS.
Mixed Collegiate Best Soloist:
Winner: Joanna Fleischman - U. Penn Off the Beat
The best Kate Bush imitator we've ever heard, Fleischman is a vocal powerhouse in her own right. She is hauntingly beautiful on "This Woman's Work," and shows off her impressive strength and versatility on the Indians' "Look Up to the Sky." She will make some lucky record company very happy someday.
Runner up: Elena Melendez - Stanford Talisman
Melendez shines in Nicole Chandler's exciting arrangement of "Up Above My Head," trading licks with the equally impressive Chandler and coming through beautifully. She adds luster to a jazzy version of "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer," and is an integral part of Talisman's unique sound. You can hear her on Talisman's "Tonic Rhythms."
Male Collegiate Best Album:
Winner: What You Want - Stanford Fleet Street Singers
One of the most imaginative albums we have ever heard, What You Want manages to live up to the impeccable recording reputation that Fleet Street attained after last year's CARA sweeping 50-Minute Fun Break. What You Want will make you laugh, it will make you smile, and then it will make you catch your breath in awe of their considerable musical skill. One of the few groups who give a go at writing original songs, they shine on their diverse choice of covers as well.
Runner up: Down Time - The Brown Derbies
There were many excellent male collegiate albums produced in the last year. Some had fantastic soloists, others boasted stellar arrangements, and still others had a great sound and were well engineered. Down Time excels in all of these areas. From the Opening Chords of "In Your Eyes" through the last moments of "Eye of the Tiger," the Derbies shine
Male Collegiate Best Song:
Winner: Ave Maria - Stanford Fleet Street Singers
Franz Biebl's gorgeous choral composition is performed with startling skill and subtlety. The production is impeccable, and the overall effect is breathtaking. Grey Norton's solo obbligato introduction is perfect, and when the group enters, the shimmering production and vocal clarity will give you goosebumps. Easily the most beautiful collegiate track of the year.
Runner up: Hey Yot - Tufts U. Beelzebubs
The Beelzebubs turn again to Pink Floyd's epic The Wall and pick another winner. They capture the bizarre mood of the original with an inventive arrangement and an over-the-top screaming solo by freshman (!) Dave Iscove. Excellent production also helps capture this brilliantly strange magnum-opus from their latest album House (co-released with the Wesleyan Spirits).
Male Collegiate Best Arrangement:
Winner: Hey You - Tufts Beelzebubs
Todd Herzog's hauntingly epic arrangement opens with an effective imitation of the twangy guitar textures, and builds slowly and deliberately with creative echoes, harmonies, and syllabic textures. And when the soloist declares "And the worms ate into his brain..." the musical interlude is complemented by the sound insects swarming. This arrangement is an excellent example of the limitlessness of the human voice.
Runner up: What's Opera, Doc? - Stanford Fleet Street Singers
Flat-out hilarious. If you haven't previously seen the Warner Brother's fantastic condensation of Wagner's Ring Cycle, as performed by Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd, then put down this newsletter, and get thee to a Blockbuster! All seven minutes of the Looney Tunes' finest cartoon are performed with brilliant comic sense. Gerard Cain & Youngmoo Kim's exactingly precise arrangement utilizes unique sounds (i.e. a nose bagpipe) to recreate the textures of a cartoon orchestra, while Bugs and Elmer croon away...
Best Male Collegiate Soloist:
Winner: Kevin Bleyer - Stanford Fleet Street Singers
Kevin's buttery voice oozes all over "Black Coffee," making it one of the finest tracks on a disc full of excellent songs and performances. Kevin's got a future on Broadway with a voice this warm and effortless.
Runner up: Matt Trowbridge - Tufts Beelzebubs
One of the smoothest voices we have ever heard, Trowbridge lends his silky chords to James Taylor's version of "The Water is Wide." His classic balladeer's tone gets to the heart of the song, gently guiding the listener through the story.