Ben Folds

University A Cappella!

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Despite Ben Folds' protests to the contrary, University A Cappella! is a total novelty, its 16 songs containing nary an instrument and many a harmonized voice. Some may view the move as a gimmick, but there's something truly...well, novel about Folds' work with these young ensembles, all of whom re-create the songwriter's acerbic pop/rock with voices alone. While the world of collegiate a cappella isn't exactly a macrocosm of the music business, it does mirror the industry's recording trends, with more and more ensembles adopting the same digitally tuned, Pro Tools-weaned approach that achieves perfection at the expense of the human element. Folds serves as producer on the bulk of these songs, however, and he captures the group's renditions with virtually no studio wizardry, allowing some errors to remain in the final mix for realistic effect. Those familiar with the top dogs of college a cappella may recognize some names here, particularly the perennially solid Loreleis from UNC, but University A Cappella! gives ample room to ensembles that rarely occupy the spotlight. There's not a whiff of the Yale Whiffenpoofs nor a toot from Tufts' Beelzebubs; instead, listeners are treated to a solid version of "Fair" by Eau Claire's six-person Fifth Element, a winsome "Evaporated" by a high-school choir from Massachusetts, and a sadly middling "Brick" (whose intro sounds more like a church hymn than a '90s ballad) by the Ohio University Leading Tones. The performances are hit-or-miss -- and many of them are trumped by Folds' own pair of songs -- but the originality remains fairly consistent, yielding an album that should delight a cappella enthusiasts and, at the very least, interest the average Folds fan.

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