HomeRecording Review: Oregon State University's Outspoken - "Do Not Disturb”

With the recent success of the 2nd season of “The Sing-Off,” groups new and old are coming out of the woodwork to showcase their a cappella chops. One of the groups from the most recent season, On The Rocks (aka OTR), comes to us from the great, no-tax state of Oregon. Well, as it turns out, OTR is not the only college a cappella men’s group rockin’ the great state of Oregon—I’ve only been there once, but I thought it was great. Enter Outspoken, a 15 (or so)-member group of talented singing men from Oregon State University. Their latest CD entitled “Do Not Disturb,” is packed full of songs ranging from Hip Hop to Country with harmonies sure to get the sorority houses giddy with excitement. I have definitely noticed a transition in a cappella from the Ivy League glee clubs like the Footnotes and the Whiffenpoofs to the new “Frata-pella” of today with groups like OTR and Outspoken bringing us songs of today with an a cappella flare.

Overall the CD is well produced, the song choices are pretty good, and the arrangements are both exhilarating and at times leave little to be desired. It is always hard for me to jump into a review and begin to tear down the hours of rehearsal prep, studio time, fundraising, editing time as I have “been there, done that,” if you’ll pardon the expression. But I also understood that I wanted my groups to be the best they could be so I would take the constructive criticism and try to build upon it.

With that being said I must start off by mentioning some standouts: Kenny Lowe Jr. on percussion—I believe there is good reason he is a 3-time ICCA “Best Vocal Percussion” award winner. Nate Kondrat’s country bass would make Josh Turner proud. Kalei Sampson’s soulful solo was spot on. Joshua Seitz’s smooth vocal is reminiscent of a straight-tone singer by the name of Ben Folds. Kyle Gilham’s tenor is fantastic in the stadium ballad “Bend and Break.” The group’s intonation is outstanding as is their use of dynamics and percussion to drive the feeling of their songs. My only question is how does this group sound live without the aid of studio-enhanced acrobatics? Also impressive was the use of quotes of other songs like “Superfreak” in “Lovestoned,” “I’ll Be” quoted in “Shooting Stars” and “Africa” in “Would You Go with Me,” which was clever but I think we’ve heard that one before. Lastly, I would like to give a shout out to the cover designer. The cover is not often mentioned in reviews, but I was impressed with how the designer was able to portray the group’s sense of playfulness in an elegant fashion. An Outspoken branded tie on the doorknob - it doesn’t get any more college than that.

Now although the majority of arrangements were well done, at times some of the arrangements seemed schizophrenic. It was as if I wasn’t sure if I was listening to a pop song or a country song. A little too much crossover for my taste. I say pick a style and go for it; none of this wishy-washy stuff. The playfulness of the arrangements is what impressed me most, and arrangements should be playful when you have 15 voices at your disposal. You just have to be careful with the distribution of the parts. For instance, “Life is a Highway” had a fantastic arrangement, but the solo line would get drowned out with syllables used by the background singers like “chow, chow” and the overbearing octave guitar strums that are so recognizable in that song. “Go the Distance” also suffers from unfortunate syllable choice in the intro—it just didn’t sound like the French Horns I’m used to hearing. I am all for simple, but you must be careful to not be too simple. The arrangement of “Doubting Thomas” was guilty of being too simple, especially with what groups of today are doing with arrangements as apparent on “The Sing-Off.” This may be due in part to song choice and trying to recreate a bluegrass acoustic trio’s song; some songs just don’t lend themselves to being “a cappellafied.” On the contrary, “Fields of Gold” was simple yet elegant. Its elegance truly comes from the use of dynamics, Sting would be proud. The album concludes with a rollicking “Spice Up Your Life” inspired by the Spice Girls and N’Sync. This track is a great way to end the album and showcases the playfulness of Outspoken but maintains that these guys are serious about their music.

The song choices are not all songs that are as well known in the general population, but that is not always a bad thing. I was a little concerned with the flow of songs, as they really didn’t have a connection to one another. I guess I am sort of a theme type of guy. But the songs did all have one thing in common: an outstanding, Outspoken group dedicating years of perfecting and performing songs to entertain. And that they did, I was entertained and many of the songs will find a permanent home on my iPod. I know many of the members on this album have graduated from OSU, but the tradition lives on with the new members through their website and numerous YouTube videos. Who knows? “The Sing-Off” season 3 may see another Oregon group grace its stage.

Song List:
1.    Lovestoned
2.    Would You Go With Me?
3.    Charlene
4.    Fields of Gold
5.    Doubting Thomas
6.    Go The Distance
7.    Bend and Break
8.    Breaking the Habit
9.    Life is a Highway
10.    Forget Myself
11.    Shooting Stars
12.    Spice Up Your Pop


About the author:
José “Chach” Snook grew up in Napa, CA and has performed in 44 states and 13 countries. For 10 years, Chach lived in NYC as a professional singer/actor and appeared in many shows including Forever Plaid and Altar Boyz (pre-Off-Broadway reading). Chach has been singing a cappella since his freshman year of high school and was last seen as a member of the NY-based, jazz a cappella group Pieces of 8. With Pof8 he recorded 2 albums and was featured on United Airlines’ in-flight music. Chach has a Vocal Performance degree from Northern Arizona University and currently teaches choir and theatre in Tucson, AZ where he lives with his wife and 2 children.