HomeRecording Review: Straight No Chaser's “Six Pack”

A little over a year ago, a friend sent me an email with a YouTube link to the Straight No Chaser’s video of the 12 Days of Christmas. A very clever arrangement, but nothing special over any other good male collegiate group I had heard before. Then, while I was driving home from work one day during the Holiday season, I heard the same 12 Days of Christmas on one of my local radio stations in Tucson, AZ. Suddenly, SNC was getting radio play and helping to inch a cappella a little closer to mainstream. I began to sit up and listen as I heard they were signed by Atlantic to record a new Holiday album. This being some 10 years later from their college days and just about all the members were returning to reunite and live the dream that so many of us “a cafellas” have dreamt. When I was asked if I wanted to review their latest album “Six Pack,” I readily agreed.

“Six Pack” is a clever title for this new 6-song album. What I liked most about the album was the variety of songs they chose to include; from taking on the contemporaries like Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” and Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” to a couple of throwbacks like “You Send Me” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” which is a song that has also been given new life from the hit Broadway show “Jersey Boys.” Unfortunately the cleverness of the album title only allowed for 6 tracks leaving the audience wanting more—perhaps that was the intention.

I never much cared for Winehouse’s “Rehab” but found the SNC version quite enjoyable. The soloists for all the songs on the album were well chosen and I especially enjoyed Jerome Collins’ soulful sound for “Rehab.” Also notable was the group’s ability to recreate the sounds of the horn band from the original. The use of octaves and brassy voice quality helped the piece to come alive. At first glance, I winced at the fact that “Rehab” was the opening track, but it made for a nice opener.

The second track was a fusion of Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” and the well known Iz Kamakawio’ole version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” These two songs were fused together beautifully in Dan Ponce’s arrangement. Michael Lugnibill’s voice is reminiscent of Mraz, and the background vocals go back and forth between sweet “oo’s” and “doo’s” and hints of gospel chorus with great harmony and echoing effects. I wasn’t impressed with the bass part – it seemed as if it wasn’t quite locking in. It may have been better to have one person sing the bass part and not have it doubled. Also the song could have used some vocal percussion, which I think would have given it a little oomph. But this mini-medley will be a crowd pleaser for sure. 

The Script’s “The Man Who Can’t Be Moved” is the next track in which SNC again manages to capture the essence of the Irish band’s original version. The opening sequence of Walter Chase’s arrangement could potentially be disastrous, with the rhythmic timing needed to pull off the staggered entrances of each part, but the boys do not disappoint and there is a fullness and a lushness about the backgrounds of this song that provide the perfect pad for Lugnibill’s expressive vocal.

Another seamless synthesis of two songs can be found in Stevie Wonder’s “Sign, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours” and “I Was Made to Love Her.” So seamless, in fact, that I did not realize until second listen that the track was comprised of two songs. This high-energy song(s) provide for a nice contrast on the album from the two previous tracks. This track had me tapping the steering wheel of my car as I zoomed down the motorway and is sure to inspire some dancing feet.

The last two tracks on the album are a couple of throwbacks with “You Send Me” made popular by Sam Cooke and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons’ “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” “You Send Me” is nothing special, but is very reminiscent of old school a cappella/doo wop and helps to add variety to the album. The percussion in “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” is what I was missing in “I’m Yours” and we see a return of the horn section from “Rehab.” SNC’s update of this song not only manages to preserve the integrity of the original but gives a modern spin to this familiar ballad. My only criticism would be that the “Ba dap’s” were cut short before each “I need you baby…” It was missed because for so many of us that know this song, that is the part we like to sing along to as it is such a great build up to the chorus. Collins again showcases vocal stylings that would make Frankie Valli proud.

This album was a good move for SNC and is much improved in terms of variety from their “Holiday Spirits” album, where the majority of the songs had a very similar sound. Overall, I was impressed with the group’s intonation, rhythmic precision, and choice of songs to cover. But I was most impressed by the in-house arrangements and how the 10 voices were utilized in each track. There is a definite repeat listen-ability to “Six Pack” and I look forward to hearing more from this reborn, up-and-coming group.

http://www.sncmusic.com/

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.