HomeRecording Review: UGA Noteworthy's "That's What She Said"

This month, I've decided to continue my mission to discover the sounds of an all-girl group by taking a look at the nominees of the CARAs. I chose UGA's Noteworthy as my group and their record, "That's What She Said" because of their album title. Aside from being one of the best one liners to ever be used on The Office, my own personal friends have had an intervention for me to stop using that particular joke. So, once I saw the title, I knew I had to get it. It was destiny.

So, without further ado, let's dive in to the 14-track album by University of Georgia's female a cappella group, Noteworthy, titled “That's What She Said”.  Each song will be rated with the following criteria on a scale of 1 to 5 for each category, with 5 being the best.

1. Playback-worthiness
2. Arranging
3. Soloist

In addition, if I can find a version of the song online done by the original artist, I'll give it a listen as well and determine if the group made it their own or better.

Track 1: Sweet Escape/Gwen Stefani

1. 5 - I am not a fan of the original song because the arrangement is rather boring and montonous.  However, hearing it done a cappella by an all-girl group made this one shine. The groove on this song is awesome and an excellent choice as the first track to the album. Definitely worth an encore.

2. 5 - From the lush harmonies in the introduction to the precise syllables in the background vocals, the arranging on this is top notch. I never got bored focusing on the background vocals as the arrangers kept things interesting with syllables that really accented parts of the songs and a wide range of dynamics. The background vocals that sing the harmonies and echoes of the words in the solo sound absolutely gorgeous. Oh, and you alto IIs...way to man up! I have no idea if you all used an octavizer or not but there was plenty of "thump" coming from my subwoofer.

3. 5 - The soloist's voice was pleasant and it lured me in for the entirety of the song. I think it fit the song almost better than Gwen's voice for this particular version. The VP on this is also very, very good.

Noteworthy definitely made this song their own and made it sound better as an a cappella song.

Track 2: Let It Be/The Beatles

1. 4 – I have to admit that this song is a wise choice to cover to show the group’s versatility in making an iconic song their own original. I had never heard this song covered in a choral type of style and at first I was not sure how to react. Obviously these girls are superbly talented and sound gorgeous doing this rendition, but it's a Beatles song that can almost never be outdone in its original form. Nevertheless, their interpretation of this song is beautiful at the minimum.

2. 5 – Dynamics! The swells in the arrangement and the cathedral hall like sound really elicits goosebumps on the ear drums. It almost makes you want to goto church to listen to this song sung by the angels aka Noteworthy. The blend is just simply incredible on this track. The parts coalesce together seamlessly and the cascading lines are just fantastic.

3. 5 - The soloist sings this song with the proper spirit and also the reverence that the 'spiritual' version of this arrangement calls for.  To describe her voice as angelic wouldn't be too much of a hyperbole in this case.

Track 3: Straight Up/Paula Abdul

1. 5 – When you perform a song by an icon, you better deliver the goods. Sure, it’s fun for the group to sing and will make the audience feel nostalgic, but it had better be damn good or be done in a totally original way to stick out. Otherwise, the listeners will listen once and be nostalgic for 3 minutes and then go right back to the original. Honestly, I would never have the original song playing on my stereo, but this version had me nodding and bobbing my head like I was at a hip hop show. Well done!

2. 5 – Noteworthy seems to have a talent for making original songs sound much much better done a cappella. That is not an easy feat. The harmonizations of the background singers with the soloist are excellent. The vocal percussion on this one is really top notch. I would be very impressed if it sounded this good live aka without recording techniques and effects added on. The syllables are nice and simple which really lets the soloist to come through.

3. 5 - Paula Abdul was not really known for her singing in my opinion. Kind of like J. Lo and Britney. That is not the case on this cover. The soloist here really sings, I mean SINGS this song, especially at the end. The soul that is missing in Paula's voice really comes through via the soloist and adds that extra special sauce that perfects this recipe.

Track 4: Move On / Original by Maggie Smith

1. 5 – When I first heard this song without looking at the cd booklet, I immediately tried to figure out which artist originally performed this song because it was that good. Finding out that this was an original written by Maggie Smith of Noteworthy was the cherry on top. Vocal bands set themselves apart from other vocal bands with not just originals, but, ahem pardon the pun, NOTEWORTHY originals. I can name two current music stars that did collegiate a cappella and penned their own songs, John Legend (UPenn) and Sara Bareilles (UCLA). Kudos to you Maggie. I hope you keep writing and singing.

2. 5 – One of my favorite phrases to use in my reviews is 'hauntingly beautiful audioscape'. This arrangement is precisely that. It kind of reminded me of a hybrid between a slow Evanescence song and a Fine Frenzy song. Airy background with a swelling wave of different sounds flooding my mind. Just pulchritudinous.

3. 5 – Maggie knew what she was doing when she wrote and performed this song. Many songwriters such as myself, need someone to be their instrument when it comes to their songs for a variety of different reasons. However, in this case Maggie's voice is perfect for her own song. She sings the lyrics with the conviction that only the author of those words can 100% identify with and the effect is sublime.

This just may be my favorite track on this album yet.

Track 5: All Good Things (Come to an End)/Nelly Furtado

1. 5 – This is another track where the ladies of Noteworthy got right into the swing and jive feel of this song. When a song gets my head to bob and my feet to tap in line with the rhythm, it’s a clear winner.

2. 4 – The arrangement on this song is good but sounds empty with the backing vocals drowning in the "oohs". I'm not sure if that was the intent as the more interesting parts could've really added to the color of this song. I have to give mad props to the whistler. It's rare to hear a whistle so clear and pristine in quality. I wish the song had built up a lot more at the end where the soloist is doing her freestyling.

3. 5 - The soloist's voice is definitely made for a song such as this, and it’s another song where I prefer the soloist’s voice to the original artist. I really like what she did at the closing minute of the song. She just sounds perfectly jaded for the subject matter.

Track 6: Crazy / Gnarls Barkeley

1. 4 – Noteworthy does a good job on this song, but it doesn't necessarily separate itself from the other versions that I've heard of this song.

2. 3 – The arrangement repeats itself over and over. The one part that was neat was the consecutive bell chimes near the very end. But all in all, not very inspiring.

3. 4 – The soloist does her job but did not blow me away. Again, the style of the song makes it that way but since it has such a simple melody, I think the soloist could have played around with it more and taken some risks.

Track 7: Fools in Love /Inara George

1. 4 - This is a song that I hadn't really heard before so it was a welcome exercise to listen to this version first and then listen to the original. The soloists are twins. However, the versions of the song are completely different as the original uses guitar pluckings and the a cappella versions sounds more like a piano version. I have to say that I'm preferential to the original version as it had more dramatic stylings.

2. 5 - The arrangement was really cool with lots of patterns that definitely kept the song moving forward and the instrumental solos were really neat to hear. The syllables were super precise and very well thought out.

3. 5 - The soloist sounds very similar to Inara and also Rhianna. How neat is that? To describe her voice in one word: Smoldering. She sings in a way that makes you want to eat warm brownies on a cold winter day.

Track 8: Apologize / OneRepublic

1. 5 – I've always wanted to hear an all-girl version of this song. I'm not sure why, but I did. And this version satisfies like a snickers bar. Albeit it's a really short song.

2. 3 - This arrangement was very repetitive and a bit too top-heavy. I think the sound could've filled out a lot more with more volume from the alto IIs.

3. 4 – The soloist delivers on this song but would've been spectacular if she had really gone for the high notes when she sang "it's too late". Otherwise she has a fantastic voice for this song.

Track 9: A Praise Chorus / Jimmy Eat World

1. 5 - I was curious and also sort of skeptical to see if an all girl group could make a Jimmy song sound good a cappella. I have to say that this version rocks out! Definitely worth several playbacks.

2. 5 - The really cool intro and the dynamics in this song sets itself apart. Each part in the arrangement comes out clearly and sounds like a lot of fun to sing as well. The background parts definitely put their stamp to make it their own.

3. 4 – The soloist gives a solid effort but I didn't hear the 'happy angst' in the performance that would've put this song over the top.

Track 10: Before He Cheats / Carrie Underwood

1. 4 -- Unless your version of the song is drastically different from the original, stick with the tempo of the original song. This was taken a few notches slower than the original and I think it takes away from its overall power over the listener.

2. 5 – This is a really cool arrangement with the vocal percussion nicely mixed in with the backing vocals. It was really great to see the spectrum of dynamics on display as most of this song is on full blast.

3. 5 – The soloist blew me away. This is what a powerhouse performance is supposed to sound like! Carrie Underwood would've appreciated a performance of this. She belted out the vocals with perfect pitch, phrasing, and emotional conviction to match the lyrics.

Track 11: Fidelity /Regina Specktor

1. 4 -- This song seems to be an a cappella group favorite this year. This version was good, but I preferred the version I heard from UPenn's Dischord.

2. 5 – This is a really cool arrangement with the vocal percussion nicely mixed in with the backing vocals. I could really hear the alto IIs in this version but also the sop 1s plucking away at the violin strings. Very nicely done.

3. 5 – The soloist's voice is made for songs such as these. It's just sounds really lovely with this melody and really shines within the arrangement.

Track 12: My Lovin' /En Vogue

1. 5 -- Way to go! Pulling off this song with enough sass and the right vibe is not an easy feat. I felt like I was listening to the original. Hotness!

2. 5 – As I just said, I felt like I was listening to the original but what pushed this over the top was the 'What a man' mash-up thrown in. Kudos for interjecting another En Vogue hit into this arrangement. The last part of the arrangement is just awesome to hear, everyone in unison (in terms of lyrics) and harmonizing.

3. 5 – Yet another powerhouse performance from another soloist in this talented group. I have the same praise for this soloist as the one who sang the Carrie Underwood song. She definitely has my respect and then some after this performance.

Track 13: Somebody to Love/Queen

1. 5 -- I like groups that take risks in performing songs by iconic bands. I love groups that can actually pull it off. I almost think "Glee" could have gotten their inspiration of their version by listening to Noteworthy's.

2. 5 – This is a superb arrangement. Lots of fun sing along parts for the background vocals and just over-the-top enough to suit the grandeur style of Queen.

3. 5 – Yet another powerhouse performance from another soloist in this talented group. What's in the water down at UGA? My ears are just being spoiled track after track. Goodness, that note she held out was simply legend-wait for it-dary!

Track 14: Are You That Somebdoy/Aaliyah

1. 5 -- I'm glad to hear yet another good RnB song with a dance groove performed really well. Even sped up it still worked for me and had me wanting to choreo some break dance moves to go along with the soundtrack. Nice.

2. 5 – The first half of this song is pretty repetitive and empty but that is addressed in the latter half with lots of interesting harmonies and phrasings of lyrics worked into the background vocals. I was definitely singing along on some of these parts.

3. 5 – The soloist sounds like the second of Aaliyah (R.I.P). I came away very impressed and nostalgic at the same time. Keep it up!

Overall score: 8.5 stars out of 10

This is an excellent effort by Noteworthy. There were so many tracks on here where I was just blown away by the talent of the soloists and the arrangements were lots of fun to listen to and sing along with. This one is a keeper and I'm not sure if my ears will be this spoiled again. The only question I have about this group, is what do they sound like live and not in a recording studio where everything can be perfected with multiple takes, auto-tune, effects, and etc.? However, I'm reviewing the album product, and I have to say it's the best that I have heard so far.

Three words: More than satisfying (that's what she said...)

Noteworthy on Facebook

-Joe Kang

About the author:
Joe Kang is a multi-faceted musician with over 20 years of experience in violin, guitar, bass guitar, songwriting, and vocal performance. He learned to play the violin at the age of 8 and still continues to play today utilizing it in melodic improvisations on his original songs and for freelancing purposes for other artists. He picked up another string instrument a few years down the road. He loves playing his Taylor CE guitar whenever he can. Furthermore, he has a true passion for singing and songwriting. He began doing both as hobbies during his college years at Duke. His original song, Eternal Sunshine (inspired by the movie) was chosen to be the first track on Quickstar Productions's Chill Out, East Coast Edition, Vol. 5. When he's not performing as a solo artist, he performs regularly with Euphonism, a local, award-winning co-ed DC acapella group, and serves as an adjunct faculty (violinist) for a local band, Black Max.

Comments

Love the review style

Joe, thanks for your thorough and thoughtful review here. I really enjoy reading your three-pronged critique of every song. I'm sure that it truly helps those groups who receive the review to hone in on exactly what they're doing well and what they need to improve for future albums.

And that's the whole point, right? :)

Matt Emery CASA Director of Communications Three-time Recipient of RARB "Post of the Year" Title

Thanks for the review!

Hi! I'm Maggie Smith from UGA Noteworthy and I wanted to thank you for the fine critique- I am graduated now as of this May, and my debut solo album comes out on Dec 17th 2009! I'd love for you to give it a listen if you get the chance, Joe! You can go to www.iamnotmaggie.blogspot.com to stay updated and find me on facebook. Thanks again, a cappella has been a huge blessing in my life and I love staying plugged into this awesome community of crazy talented people :) 

Maggie Smith
iamnotmaggie@gmail.com

@ Matt - Thanks! I've enjoyed

@ Matt - Thanks! I've enjoyed it so much, being able to first off really enjoy great music and then get to share my opinion about it. Now that I have been to SoJam, I think I may be able to provide more valuable input for the groups from this point on.  I'll be reviewing Duke's Out of the Blue next. I look forward to seeing you in person at our show on Sunday. 

@ Maggie - Wow! Congrats on your album! I cannot wait to hear it. I want an autographed copy. :) Thank YOU for creating beautiful music and taking the time to read my review. I wish you the best. 

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