One Shot - best of studio and live performance!
This is a really good, strong album, certainly a must for fans of Straight No Chaser (SNC), but a nice introduction for those who've never listened to them before too!
First of all, you do not have to be a diehard a cappella fan to enjoy Straight No Chaser. I am simply a fan of music that has strong vocals and good harmonies, and these guys deliver exactly that.
In terms of theme, One Shot tells the story of how SNC got their start at Indiana University, graduated, went on to regular 9-to-5 jobs (some of them), then became YouTube sensations, and scored a record deal with Atlantic Records. This story provides the framework that guided song choices for the album. There are short interludes of anecdotes and chatter among the guys to fill in details. It's a good concept album for these guys, but the songs themselves are great, even if you want to leave out the interludes and just listen to the music.
If you're a fan of their concerts (and if you've never been to see them, go do that, right away), then this album is a good pick, because, more than any album before, this one delivers on the energy and camaraderie of their shows, with the interludes and a couple of live cuts (“Papa's Got a Brand New Bag” and “I've Been Everywhere”).
Between the stories and the songs, every single one of the guys is well represented on the album. Normally, Mike Luginbill and Jerome Collins handle the majority of lead vocals on the albums with occasional appearances from Steve Morgan, Tyler Trepp, and Walter Chase (the other tenors). Musically, this works quite well for them, but there has always been a gap between the group’s recorded music and the live experience. On the one hand, in concert, the guys have to sing the songs with just 9 vocals live; on the other, their stage show is so energetic and so much more than singing the songs - these guys are full-on showmen – singing, dancing, comedy, and simply spontaneous interaction between the guys – every single one of them. Between the interludes and the live cuts here, this album captures a lot of that for those of us who are fans of their shows. For me, this album is the best possible combination of a studio album and a live album. In general with SNC, lead vocals on songs and social media posts provide more of certain voices in the group than others; on One Shot I hear ALL of the guys’ voices.
The songs cover a number of decades, from the 60s to the present day. I am pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly the songs from different eras work together.
One Shot opens with “Motown Philly/This Is How We Do It” with Jerome Collins ably delivering the lead vocals. It’s a great mash-up to begin the story – high energy, big sound, with songs that are meaningful to guys who were inspired by the boy bands of the 90s. While it’s not a personal favorite for me (the 90s Boy Band sound was not my thing, and the production is tad overdone for my taste), it’s a good opener for this concept album. I love the arrangement for “When a Man Loves a Woman”, which takes the style of the song back about a decade from Percy Sledge’s original, with Collins delivering impassioned lead vocals. “No Roots” was new to me, but an instant favorite, with Steve Morgan supplying another tight arrangement and Collins again on the lead vocals. The group very wisely made “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” a live cut (capturing Jerome’s playfulness and sounding especially sharp with just 9 vocals).
We've got a bass solo (from Charlie Mechling) on "I've Been Everywhere", and being a live cut, it captures Charlie's much-loved stage patter. "Working for the Weekend" has Steve Morgan and Tyler Trepp sharing lead vocals. Both are very powerful tenors, and the arrangement is pure fun! (Whoever thought up the ‘weekday’ BGVs beginning at 1:29 is a genius!) "The Boys Are Back in Town" (which they've performed before live) and "We're an American Band" are two other high-energy arrangements that suit Walter Chase's vocals really well. These two cuts have a bit of a Pitch Perfect vibe to them, with lots of classic a cappella sounds. Not surprisingly, Walter Chase arranged all three of these. Chase is a gifted arranger who seems to be able to create big sounds with great attention to detail and always with a twist added that is all SNC. He sees the potential in songs and takes them in new directions that often surprise me and always win me over.
"Livin' la Vida Loca" showcases an all-too-rare Seggie Isho baritone lead (with an assist from tenor Mike Luginbill), but it's yet another example of how these 9 guys can pack a lot of vocals and intensity into one song. I’ve seen a video of them doing this one live and I was blown away by the energy of it. Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” is arranged by Luginbill and Trepp. It’s a tight arrangement (nod to Trepp), and Mike Luginbill is stellar on the vocals. Imagine Dragon’s “Whatever It Takes”, arranged by Chase with lead vocals from Luginbill, is another highlight from the collection. (Seriously, it’s a strong album, but this is a stand-out.) Once again, Chase has the vision to see what the song could be, not only how it could deliver part of their story but how extraordinary Mike could be on the lead (he who has the gift of being able to deliver lots of words quickly yet meaningfully).
“Homeward Bound,” “Changes,” and “Our House” fill out the story line. Morgan arranged the old Simon and Garfunkel classic with great harmonies that make me wonder what took them so long to think of it. Luginbill arranged the other two, and sings lead vocals on all three, doing a wonderful job re-interpreting the songs as he always does. I’ve always thought “Our House” is a strange song, being more of a showcase for the harmonies of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, originally, than a story they could honestly tell. From that standpoint, the song is better suited to SNC, and their harmonies on the song are glorious. “Changes” has been a favorite for years and years, and SNC’s cover is solid!