album reviews

Straight No Chaser
Under the Influence
Atlantic (2013)

Kindred spirits: Rockapella, Beach Boys, Cartoon Johnny.

A cappella music is gaining in popularity these days, with the movie "Pitch Perfect" and the television show "The Sing-Off". And Straight No Chaser is right in the thick of it. The all-male group was formed in 1996 by students at Indiana University and in 2008, thanks to one of its YouTube videos, was revived and signed to a major label.

"Under the Influence" is the new incarnation's second album of pop covers, and guest singers appear throughout. Jason Mraz sounds particularly soulful with SNC's harmonies behind him on "I Won't Give Up", and 10 singers backing Rob Thomas on "This Is How a Heart Breaks" gives the song even more urgency. Although the guest vocalists don't always succeed—the album starts with a mediocre cover of "I Want You Back" featuring Sara Bareilles—the all-vocal versions of "Kiss From a Rose" with Seal and "Jolene" with Dolly Parton give a welcome twist to those established songs.

Straight No Chaser also sings several songs on its own, picking covers that transition beautifully to all-vocal arrangements. The lush harmonies add a rumbling depth to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" and embrace the singalong catchiness of Fun.'s "Some Nights" and "We Are Young".

For longtime fans of a cappella music, there's nothing cutting edge about "Under the Influence". Still, the group's warm tone and energetic delivery make these pop covers a fun listen.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post: 28 June 2013.
.: Under the Influence on