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Cd Review

Not every Folds song fits the mold

By Adam Conner-Simons
Globe Correspondent / April 26, 2009
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"University A Cappella," a compilation of college groups covering Ben Folds tunes, is not as arbitrary as it sounds. The soaring melodies and piano arpeggios of Folds compositions such as "Brick" and "The Luckiest" make the music ideal for a cappella. The singer's material is tackled competently and faithfully throughout, resulting in a collection of tracks that are pleasant if not particularly earth-shattering (an admittedly tall task for a musical genre that lacks subwoofers). It's only when the groups take chances that the arrangements transcend the originals: The digitally tweaked harmonies on Voices in Your Head's "Magic" give the song a hypnotic electro-pop sheen, while the Sacramento State Jazz Singers' sultry rendition of "Selfless, Cold and Composed" bounces along gracefully thanks to a crisp walking-bass vocal and some impressive scat-singing. Folds adds two a cappella covers of his own, including the surprisingly propulsive "Effington," but for the most part he's content to let the students take center stage. It's a fun listen for Folds fans, even if it's not quite the cultural tipping point that the a cappella community might have hoped for. Indeed, while it could convert a hardened instrument snob or two, "University A Cappella" mostly comes off as preaching to the choir.

ADAM CONNER-SIMONS