HomeRecording Review: “Fresh Aire” by The Dartmouth Aires

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As of the writing of this article, the Dartmouth Aires are in the “final four” groups of “The Sing-Off”, and are the sole surviving single-gendered group out of the initial 16. That’s pretty impressive no matter how you slice it (and even if you disagree with them being there over some previously eliminated groups).  It made me curious, then, as to how they would present themselves in recording, outside of their NBC environs.

After listening to “Fresh Aire”, their most recent recording, I paraphrase a fairly famous quote from a former NFL coach; they are who I thought they were.

What grabbed me about the overall recording in general…and what I liked about it…was that they put on no “aires”, so to speak; they recorded by and large as how the song would be presented live, as opposed to going the heavy effects route.  My personal lean is that I like a cappella recordings to be a good representation of what the group would sound like if I paid a ticket to see them live, and I feel that this recording gave me a good idea of that.

Musically, the performances range from solid to excellent. There’s nothing here that will rewrite what a cappella should be, but I don’t think that was ever the intention. The Aires are here to entertain, and entertain they do.  The gent that has been their primary “front man” for their TSO performances, Michael Odokara-Okigbo, is featured on two of their better tracks, “Used To Love U” and “All The Above”, which I especially enjoyed.  There are moments of “stiffness” in the leads (especially during “Extreme Ways”), but not nearly as many as what you would expect from an “Ivy League” stereotyped group.

The arrangements, all done by members of the group, range from “appropriate” to “well suited for their group”, at times making good use of their size to build an appropriate atmosphere around their soloists. At times. Sometimes, though, there’s a lot of that power block arranging you hear groups do that makes me feel like they could have done more with the arrangement, given their numbers.  The only true misfires came with “Wild Wild Wish” (I feel that would have been better off as a straight “I Wish” cover – the Will Smith material probably doesn’t make much sense to those that haven’t seen the 10 year old movie, and that part of the mash up felt buried beneath the Stevie Wonder stuff.) and “Up The Ladder To The Roof”, which didn’t feel like it fit on this album, and sounded like someone attached a drum track to one of the more well-known Nylons songs that DIDN’T have a drum track.  If they wanted perc, they might have been better off doing a new arrangement off of the Supremes’ original version.  (Speaking of which, it’s nice that they provide the “as performed by” reference, but it’s more important that groups credit the composers of the song, and it’s sad that more groups don’t do it, especially when in most cases it takes 10 seconds to get the information through Wikipedia)

The album production comes from proven names in a cappella (Danny Ozment editing, Ed Boyer mixing, diovoce mastering) and by and large enhances the listening experience without taking over the listening experience.  The “bits” in between the songs generally ranged from cute but overdone (the THX bit, going down the radio dial) to head scratching (A built in encore call on your album?  Really?). The exception comes right before “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and it genuinely made me laugh.

If you’re looking for a cappella music that transcends where the medium is now, though, that’s not who the Aires are. But I get the sense that they’re OK with that.  At the end of the day, so to speak, this album will not disappoint the new Aires fans out there that have come to know the group through TSO, and it stands well on its own as a very high quality a cappella “covers” album. Which is what I think the group wanted all along.


About the author:
Shawn Pearce is a CASA Ambassador for Western Pennsylvania, a former RARB reviewer and a former ICCA producer. He was active in the Penn State University a cappella scene for several years after college, founding two groups and directing two others while there. Today, after spending several years out of the scene raising a family and dealing with life, he's chasing his passion both through his own arranging business (Value Vocals) and through articles such as this. Those with feedback or dissenting opinions can contact him via Twitter, Facebook, or through CASA. Grace and Peace.