Artists of the Year
Winner: Vocal Sampling
Runner up: Rockapella
Album of the Year:
Winner: Out There - Vox One
In a year of extremely strong nominees for best album, Vox One's little-publicized "Out There" takes first place because it has everything. Exceptional songwriting, glowing arrangements, magnificent solo performances and top-rate production all combine to make this the sleeper album of 1995. Somehow Vox One manages to combine elements of pop, rock, blues and jazz without compromising the exacting demands of any of the styles. The resulting blend is infectious and definitive, proving "Out There" to be one of the best contemporary a cappella albums ever.
Runner up: Una Forma Mas - Vocal Sampling
Exploring the history of Cuban music in a mere 42 minutes, "Una Forma Mas" is a bold exploration of a culture's music that pushes the a cappella envelope in a truly original direction. This powerhouse sextet has woven tapestries of vocal percussion and instruments in a vibrant celebration of the human voice, and has also created one of the most danceable vocal albums in memory.
Best Female Vocalist:
Winner: Margareta Jalkeus - Real Group
How's this for a hypothesis: was The Real Group's Margareta an instrument in a past life? She had to have been - only that would give someone the incredible ability to transform a human voice into an Best trumpet the way she does. And her solo work on "Unreal" is every bit is sensational.
Runner up: Jodi Jenkins - Vox One
The last time Vox One's talented Jodi appeared in the CARAs, we wrote: "Jodi has got one of those voices that sounds more resonant than anyone else her age, and yet still maintains a bright, youthful quality. She almost has too pleasant a voice to sing jazz, as her tone is so gorgeous it would be hard to imagine it it conveying pain. Almost. Ella Fitzgerald has made a 50-year career without relying on pathos. There are plenty of people singing the blues, but Jodi has a long career ahead of her singing and making us smile." Yep. Still works.
Best Male Vocalist:
Winner: Sean Altman - Rockapella
Sean seemed to take a step back from the limelight when Rockapella replaced Steve Keyes a few years ago, letting newcomer Scott Leonard be the group's lead singer of sorts. Thankfully, Sean's bright tenor can be heard much more now, wryly delivering many of his clever, catchy compositions.
Runner up: Tom Baskett - Vox One
Tom is a vocal chamelion - he's one of the few great a cappella basses who doesn't sound like a bass when he's singing lead. Instead he has an unencumbered, soaring tenor timbre that at times reminds one of Bobby McFerrin's seamless range. Unfortunately, Tom has left Vox One since the recording of this album.
Best Contemporary Song:
Winner: "You Win" - Accidentals
A hush fell over the crowd at the last Harmony Sweepstakes National Finals as the Accidentals began the first measures of "You Win." It was chosen Best Song that night, too. The style of the song is undefinable - somewhere between American Civil War folk song and Peter Gabriel-esque world music ballad lives "You Win." It is haunting and poignant when heard recorded in the studio from the group's self-titled debut album, but for the real magic, listen to the chilling live recording from last year's sweeps.
Runner up: "Whisper When I Speak" - Vox One
It doesn't really matter what style Vox One is singing or writing; they'll do it wonderfully. "Whisper When I Speak" is a beautiful ballad about a wedding, with wide appeal and yet uniquely Vox One. It's easy to imagine this being that traditional "first dance" at weddings everywhere for years to come.
Best Contemporary Cover:
Winner: "Shambala" - Rockapella
Rockapella has spent the last few years breaking the impression they primarily perform cover material. They may have developed an exciting new sound and an entire repertoire of original songs well on their way to being classics themselves, but they can't escape the fact that they're still one of the world's best a cappella cover bands. "Shambala" is finger-snapping, rocka-popappella fun. Surely Three Dog Night is very proud (if not jealous).
Runner up: "Come Together" - Real Group
"Come Together" is one of those songs a lot of a cappella groups do, not realizing others had the same idea. It's been covered many times, almost always evoking a sense of "Wow. What a great idea." This one stands up to and surpasses the rest. It's just faithful enough to the original to satisfy the purists, and innovative enough to satisfy the pioneers.
Best Jazz Song:
"Searching For You" - Vox One
Wayne Shorter's moody epic "Searching For You" is a tune most jazz a cappella groups would find daunting, if not unapproachable. But Vox One embraces the spirit of the song. With the help of Paul Stiller's original lyrics, the group crafts a captivating seven-minute journey into the heart of hard bop and dissonant, cantankerous jazz.
"What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life" - Real Group
When Gene Puerling was commissioned by the Real Group to arrange "What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life," little did he know his work would be sung in two languages. The English version is the definitive one, as each lyric blends perfectly with the complex harmonic phrasing that has made Puerling so well-known. This track is another classic that will live alongside "London By Night" and "A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square."
Best Classical Song:
Winner: "Es Ist Ein Ros Entsprungen" - Chanticleer
In the biggest sweep of this year's voting, Chanticleer walked away with nearly 80 percent of the votes. Why? Chanticleer is one of the finest music ensembles in the U.S., and they infuse everything they sing with a definitive precision. As one voter remarked "I never thought this song held any charm, after years of hearing standard performances. Chanticleer brought so much emotion to the recording, I was shocked."
Runner up: "In Just Spring" - Accidentals
The Accidentals continue to create music without centering around any one style. "In Just Spring," one of the most successful tracks off their debut CD, is an original contemporary classical choral work, based on a poem by e.e. cummings. Complete with sound effects, the recording is yet another testament to the group's versatility and innovation.
Best Gospel/Contemporary Christian Song:
Winner: "When You're There" - Acappella
Winning a CARA is a comfortable and familiar niche for Keith Lancaster. In 1994, Acappella's "Only Truth" won the CARA for Best Signed Professional Song. It's not really clear where the group found the time to record this album amidst Acappella's busy touring schedule, but it's a very good thing they did. Otherwise we'd have lost out on the pleasure of this song.
Runner up: "Blessed Are" - Extempo
Hailing originally from Brigham Young University in Utah, with a membership of five Mormons thanking Jesus in the liner notes, it's not a big surprise there was at least one gospel/contemporary Christian song on Extempo's Channel 32. Since the rest of the CD was mind-bogglingly well-done, a beautiful credit to any group and doubly so for a first effort, "Blessed Are" is, not surprisingly, as well executed as the rest.
Best Folk/Progressive Song:
Winner: "I've Been Waiting" - Jezebelle
Jezebelle recently signed to a major label, and we were anticipating a media blitz. Unfortunately, Discovery Records hasn't known what to do with their soulful, folky quartet, so new fans have had to discover the group's charms by word of mouth. "I've Been Waiting" is a Voicestra-esque vocal chant, with warm improvisatory lines and deep resonant emotion. Pick up a copy of their album and discover their talent, then tell a friend.
Runner up: "We Are" - Sweet Honey In The Rock
Sweet Honey In The Rock can't stop winning CARAs. The power of their devotion to a cappella and to change is matched only by the strength of their songs and performances. "We Are" is yet another song for the history books.
Best Doo-Wop/R&B Song:
Winner: "That Which You Love" - Vox One
Vox One, known as a jazz group, has taken the doo-wop/R&B category. How's that for versatile? Then again, they could be reciting a phone book and it would still have that unique Vox One taste to it that makes them so popular. "That Which You Love" shows off each of the voices and talents that combine to make Vox One such a strong group.
Runner up: "Only You" - Knudsen Brothers
The Knudsen Brothers have been the darlings of the Harmony Sweepstakes crowd for years on the strength of their live performances, natural charm, and flawless blend. This cover of the Platters' "Only You" was recorded live, complete with inter-group banter, and captures all of the energy and fun that is a Knudsen brothers concert.
Best Foreign Language Song:
Winner: "Una Forma Mas" - Vocal Sampling
The title track from Vocal Sampling's debut is one of the catchiest tunes on an album full of catchy tunes. It's also one of the most infectious. You'll be incapable of sitting still within seconds of the album's beginning. Your toes will tap. Your hips will sway. Your head will nod in time... The music highlights the incredible variety of sounds Vocal Sampling is capable of producing.
Runner up: "Viva La Mamma" - Neri Per Caso
Neri Per Caso is a phenomenon in Italy, having sold countless albums and living with the kind of pop idol reputation reserved for groups like Boyz II Men or New Kids on the Block. This tune shows these Italian dreamboats have a clever side as well. The group has a lot of fun with this one. From the opening game-show-theme hook through the "Don't Worry Be Happy" yodels that pepper the verses to the final Louis Armstrongesque "Oh Yeah," Viva La Mamma is a joyously clever and infectious ride.
Best Humorous Song:
Winner: "Rudiana" - Accidentals
Only the Accidentals would win a spring Harmony Sweepstakes with a Christmas song. And only the Accidentals would come up with a blend of Rudolph the Red Nosed Raindeer and Beethoven, and make it so rib-huggingly hysterical that an entire audience and a group of judges at a May competition don't bat an eyelash.
Runner up: "Kill Your Television" - Bobs
Leave it to the Bobs to write a song that has no lyrics other than bumper-sticker slogans. "Kill Your Television" is very clever, extremely funny and a little bit strange, not unlike the Bobs themselves. Play this tune for a friend and see how long it takes her to figure out the lyrical device between fits of laughter.
Female Collegiate Best Album:
Terpsichore - B.U. Terpsichore
When compared to most of the schools that have groups releasing albums, Boston University is a relative newcomer. But you can't tell from listening to Terpsichore; from "Cornflake Girl" through "Leader of the Band," their album sounds like a group with a 50-year tradition.
Full Circle - Duke Out Of The Blue
Duke Out Of The Blue is no stranger to the CARAs, with work on their album "Legacy" winning Best Album, Best Arrangement, Best Soloist & Runner up Best Song in 1994. "Full Circle" is even stronger, with arrangements, solos, and production that meets and surpasses their excellent past albums.
Female Collegiate Best Song:
Winner: "Mercy Street" - Duke Out Of The Blue
It's usually the male collegiate groups that go for the difficult, moody synthesizer-based epics by artists like Peter Gabriel and Pink Floyd. Out of the Blue took a gamble and scored big with "Mercy Street." Every bit as effective as the Beelzebubs' CARA winning performance of the song last year, Out of the Blue makes it their own with a pulsing iridescent arrangement, rich with reverb.
Runner up: "Come To My Window" - Duke Out Of The Blue
Any of a number of songs off of "Full Circle" could have been nominated for CARAs, but "Come To My Window" made the final cut. With a tight arrangement by Carolyn King and Keira McGoverns emotive solo, the group offers a modern rock smash that would make Melissa Ethridge proud.
Female Collegiate Best Arrangement:
Winner: "Synchronicity" - Skidmore Accents
"Synchronicity slams." Arranged by Skidmore Bandersnatcher's alum Jon Ryan, the tune is reproduced in all of the multirhythnmic flair of the original. The Accents, no stranger to Jon's handiwork, deliver the tune with plenty of pizazz.
Runner up: "Mercy Street" - Duke Out Of The Blue
"Mercy Street" is clearly one of the best female a cappella tracks of the last decade, and it's due in no small part to the deft craftmanship of veteran OOTB arranger and alum Liz Ford. Liz is one of the arrangers in the group that has explored and pushed the boundaries of complexity and timbre for female voices, and "Mercy Street" is her finest work yet.
Female Collegiate Best Soloist:
Winner: Lori Paladino - B.U. Terpsichore
Lori has the kind of voice that grabs you from the moment it starts. Althought she has a fairly simple, clear sound, there's something in her tone that keeps you transfixed. It's reminiscent of the great folk singers, who deliver a song not so much from the stylings prevelant in today's pop music, but rather with the purity of emotive expression.
Runner up: Cindy Burks - Duke Out Of The Blue
For whatever reason, all-female a cappella rarely gives women a chance to sing low, contemplative solos, but this year the two best solos come from introspective songs by Peter Gabriel. Cindy brings all of the requisite depth to Mercy Street without losing any of the smooth resonance of her beautiful voice.
Mixed Collegiate Best Album:
Winner: Toolbox - Penn Off The Beat
"Toolbox" is one of the best collegiate albums ever recorded. Cutting edge arrangements of exciting current and classic songs, fantastic production and a hard-to-believe stable of soloists push this group up into the highest echelons of collegiate recording legacies.
Runner up: Midnight Comes - Princeton Katzenjammers
Many recordings by the more traditional Ivy League a cappella groups are at a disadvantage when it comes to making an innovative recording, since many of the songs and arrangements are repeated on every album. The Katzenjammers rise above with "Midnight Comes," breathing new life and emotion into some superb jazz and close harmony standards.
Mixed Collegiate Best Song:
Winner: Voices Carry - Penn Off The Beat
Arranged by Gabe Rutman, and sung by Julie Mahan, another of Off The Beat's top notch soloists, what was a fairly forgettable 80's song by'Til Tuesday becomes a chestnut - if not a classic - on an album of very definitive tracks. Something just clicks here, and all of the elements combine to be even greater than the sum of its considerable parts.
Runner up: "Round Midnight" - Princeton Katzenjammers
This epic version of the haunting Thelonious Monk tune opens appropriately with a chain of dissonant chords that slowly give way to the melody, sung in a low baritone: "It begins to tell..." The rest of the song unravels with the same poetic and declarative power, making "Round Midnight" one of the finest vocal jazz tracks ever recorded by a collegiate group.
Mixed Collegiate Best Arrangement:
"Round Midnight" - Princeton Katzenjammers
Many college a cappella groups have attempted to crack Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight," only to get caught up in the technical complexity of the chord progression and melody. The Katzenjammers' "Round Midnight" (arranged and sung by Rick Hoffenberg), gets beyond that admirably.
"Ya Gotta Be" - Penn Off The Beat
Des'ree's "Ya Gotta Be" was one of the freshest singles on the pop charts last year. With its lilting Caribbean groove and glowing vocal, however, it seemed to be out of reach of most collegiate a cappella. Off The Beat does this song to a T, teaming the group's studio savvy with the arranging skills of veteran Gabe Rutman and the golden pipes of Joanna Fleischmann.
Mixed Collegiate Best Soloist:
Winner: Joanna Fleischmann - Penn Off The Beat
Every once in a while a world class solo voice finds its way into a collegiate a cappella group. Joanna has one of these voices. Her performances of "Possession" and "Ya Gotta Be" on "Toolbox," as well as her fantastic solos on their previous album "Where's The Band?" prove she's definitely ready for prime time. Must be why she won the CARA in this category last year, too.
Runner up: Michelle Smith - Princeton Katzenjammers
Most of the solo voices in the more traditional collegiate a cappella groups have a choral precision, and classically trained placement. Michelle's voice is every bit as precise as those of her groupmates, but it has an added dimension of depth, color, and soul that makes "Do The Walls Come Down" one of the best tracks on their album.
Male Collegiate Best Album:
Stickability - Pennsylvania Six-5000
Penn Six is a group best known for their bawdy humor and raucous shows, but "Stickability" proves them to also be masters of the recorded medium. Although not technically perfect all of the time, the album glistens with energy, dynamic performances, fun songs, and hilarious lyrics. After hearing Penn Six's recent albums, Off The Beat's innovative releases and even the first recording by the Penny Loafers, one is prompted to ask "Just what do they put in the water down there at Penn?"
Unplugged - U. of Illinois Other Guys
Previously somewhat isolated from the general collegiate a cappella scene, the Other Guys have made quite a splash in the past year with "Unplugged" and their victory in the regionals of the National Championship of Collegiate A Cappella. The Other Guys have only eight members, but you can't tell from their full sound and solid arrangements. Unplugged is closer in style to traditional choral idioms than many collegiate groups, yet rather than being staid, the album is clean, clear, and very satisfying.
Male Collegiate Best Song:
Winner: I Ran - Pennsylvania Six-5000
It's the rare collegiate track that receives repeated airplay on a major metropolitan radio station, but Penn Six's hilarious lyrics to the Flock of Seagulls' classic made the difference. Sure, they kept the title the same, but all of the rest of the lyrics are about O.J. Simpson's pre-verdict dilemma. After last year's CARA winning "Conrad Bain," these guys have proven themselves as the kings of collegiate a cappella send-ups.
Runner up: "New Age Girl" - Pennsylvania Six-5000
Although "New Age Girl" isn't a parody, the original lyrics are funny and quirky enough to fit the Penn Six mold. Be careful while listening in public: you just might find yourself whipped up into the energy and start dancing and singing along with complete abandon.
Male Collegiate Best Arrangement:
Winner: Blood Of Eden - Tufts Beelzebubs
Although the Bubs' performances on their latest release "Gilding!" are not always quite up to snuff with many of their past albums, the quality of the arrangements and the complexity of the production remain top drawer. "Blood Of Eden" is the finest arrangement on the album, delivering multilayered vocal timbres that weave to form a sonic fabric every bit as chilling as the Peter Gabriel original.
Runner up: "Shock The Monkey" - B.U. Dear Abbeys
Gabe Rutman, Off The Beat's chief arranger and music director, struck gold when he put pen to paper to arrange "Shock The Monkey." Although the Dear Abbeys are a bit overwhelmed by the difficult percussive rhythms, their delivery is still electrifying.
Male Collegiate Best Soloist:
Winner: Andy Tejada - Wheaton Gentlemen Callers
Sung entirely in Spanish, the Gentlemen Callers' version of Jon Secada's Angel is beautiful. Its success is due in no small part to the hypnotisingly rich solo voice of Andy Tejada.
Runner up: Scott Ciscon - U. of Illinois Other Guys
It's always a gamble when you arrange a song to have a different flavor than the original, especially when you're making an R&B ballad into a more traditional choral work. Scott's smooth, floating baritone transforms an otherwise straight arrangement into a sonorous mood piece.