The Yale Whiffenpoofs - The Best Whiffenpoofs Ever
2010, The Whiffenpoofs Of Yale University, Inc.
When you think of college acapella groups, The Yale Whiffenpoofs should be the first group that jumps to mind. Intellectual arguments turn to fisticuffs in the Ivy League when debating who get there first, but there's no argument that the Whiffenpoofs have been the most enduring of the bunch. Still clad in the tux and tales outfits that have been their trademark since the dawn of the 20th century, The Whiffenpoofs are as much a part of Yale culture as beanies and secret societies. The group raised their national stature a few notches higher this past December with their appearances on NBC's The Sing Off!, but The Whiffenpoofs were known around the world long before Ben Folds ever dreamt up his TV show. In 2010, The Whiffenpoofs released their latest album, The Best Whiffenpoofs Ever, a 17-song collection that mixes tradition and imagination in equal measure.
The Best Whiffenpoofs Ever opens with "Nature Boy", in a great arrangement that's a bit more upbeat than you might be used to hearing. The reading offered here gives the classic tune a dramatic, spy-thriller flare that's amusing. "Haven't Met You Yet" features a nice, easy-going vocal line that fits nicely into the harmonic basked of the arrangement. "Rainbow Connection" is sweet and lyric, with a rolling, wave-like feel in the harmonies. "Midnight Train To Georgia" has the 'IT' factor in the lead vocal line, contrasted with exceedingly smooth backing vocals.
"Down By The Salley Gardens" dips deep into the Whiffenpoofs repertoire a William Butler Yeats derivative of the song "The Rambling Boys Of Pleasure". The lead vocal is solid, but the vocal arrangement is painted in ethereal pastels in a quasi-baroque setting. "Too Darn Hot" is done as a snappy jazz number that's highly entertaining, and probably more so when seen live. The Whiffenpoofs take on Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell on "If I Could Build My Whole World Around You". The lead vocal here is a refreshingly clear tenor and resonates in the clean, open arrangement. "Leavin' On A Jet Plane" is well constructed, building up vocal ladders into a pyramid of angelic harmonies. The mellow lead vocal line here is a nice touch that simply adds to the magic. Next up, Kurt Weill gets the Whiffenpoof treatment in "September Song", a reverential reading that's striking in its beauty.
The absolute highlight of the album, however, is a tune written by former Whiffenpoof Jonathan Coulton (Yale '93). "Re: Your Brains" is brilliantly constructed and full of wicked humor as it deconstructs a classic movie zombie tale in eight part harmony. You need to hear this tune even if you've never heard Coulton's original. Don't be surprised if some savvy Broadway producer doesn't latch onto this tune and build a musical around it. "When The Saints Go Marchin' In" shows real moxie. Opening with a bass solo is unusual and appealing, but the vocalist, who really isn't bad, just doesn't have the presence to carry this. The arrangement is solid and the overall performance excellent. The scat breakdown after the first verse is entertaining. The Whiffenpoofs even pull some Gospel sounds out of the process, evolving into a Take-6 like coda. The whole enterprise eventually resolves into an MGM-end theme style at the close.
The Whiffenpoofs step back in time with their proverbial theme "The Whiffenpoof Song". The arrangement is beautiful, but there is the power and force of a charismatic history behind the song that is palpable. It's a compelling listen. The album closes with a spirited rendition of the classic gospel tune "Operator". The Take-6 sound comes back here in small measure, but there's also a showy aspect of the rendition that reminds one of old-time radio. The song is tight, well-arrangement and perfectly executed.
The Whiffenpoofs as a historical organization have probably forgotten more about acapella singing than many of the newer groups today even know. The Best Whiffenpoofs Ever is probably a subject open for debate amongst alumni of the group, but there's no doubt that the current crop of The Yale Whiffenpoofs live up to the name measure for measure.
Rating: 4 Stars (Out of 5)