Recording Reviews

All titles in the Primarily A Cappella catalog are reviewed in one of the following categories. If you know the group name but not the category, see our listing of groups.

the Contemporary Pop

Mens CDs - Rockin', rollin', soulful and sounding terrific; take a little pop, color it with doo-wop, add a jazzy taste, throw in rock, some R&B, maybe a little rap or country - we've got contemporary a cappella by some of the finest men's groups on the planet. Some of the amazing albums listed below have radio-ready work that will fool even the most discerning ear into asking "that's a cappella?!" Others have a more traditional, organic sound. Some have original work, others the covers we all know & love. But they have a few things in common - great voices, great arrangements, and a fun, appealing sound.

Womens CDs - The "contemporary" umbrella is a wide one, encompassing Rock, Pop, R&B, Soul, plus those styles that simply defy description. Most a cappella fans, when they think of contemporary a cappella, think of men's groups. Well, those fans might well be wrong, because there are some kickin' women's groups out there that have to be heard to be believed! Singing both covers and originals, these women from around the world know how to rock out, deliver sultry tones, and generally put on an auditory show that is most definitely worth the listen.

Mixed CDs - Men's groups have their advantages. Women's groups have theirs, too. But the great thing about mixed groups is that they combine the best of both words, and have their own unique beauty. Rocking, jazzy, soulful, they've got it all, and like most contemporary groups, they cross genres, dabbling, exploring and offering multiple sounds and styles in each fun package. This is your opportunity to hear some of the most innovative and exciting versions of favorites, and charming and appealing originals. Don't miss this chance!

the Vocal Jazz

Contemporary Jazz CDs - The only thing better than sitting in a small, intimate club, listening to a smooth vocal jazz group deliver powerful music is taking that group's music away with you, sticking it into the CD player, and enjoying it in the privacy of your own home. With sounds so warm you can wrap yourselves in them like a comfy afghan, whether you're a fan of male groups, female groups or those who have the best of both worlds ˆ male and female voices - you'll find at least one group whose music you want to take home and cuddle up to here.

Vintage Jazz CDs - It's just not cool to like your parents' music, right? Well, actually, yes, it really is. At least it is if the kind of stuff your parents tried to introduce you to is anything like these terrific vintage vocal harmony groups! The groups you'll find here are the ones who inspired the groups who inspired the ones we love today. Making their music between the Depression and the '50s, these are the greats who made modern, popular harmony, well, popular. This is the music of the golden age of harmony!

the Barbershop

Men's Quartet CDs - Four men singing barbershopˆ it's the quintessential image, what for the general public is frequently the mental picture called up when they hear the word a cappella. That's what happens when tens of thousands of people practice their art for three-quarters of a century. But whether it's a chorus or a quartet, the ringing sounds, those locked-in chords, of men's barbershop have earned the right to be that quintessential image by being evocative, thrilling and exhilarating ˆ some of these tags will send goose bumps down your arms! Whether contestable arrangements or stretching the boundaries of barbershop, these groups will not disappoint.

Men's Choruses CDs - It's just not cool to like your parents' music, right? Well, actually, yes, it really is. At least it is if the kind of stuff your parents tried to introduce you to is anything like these terrific vintage vocal harmony groups! The groups you'll find here are the ones who inspired the groups who inspired the ones we love today. Making their music between the Depression and the '50s, these are the greats who made modern, popular harmony, well, popular. This is the music of the golden age of harmony!

Sweet Adelines CDs - The women may not have been singing barbershop as long as the men, but they've definitely made the art form their own. They push the limits, they ring the chords, they deliver tags that hang in the air so long you'd think they've grown wings. Barbershop may have its roots in American music, but there are terrific Sweet Adelines quartets and choruses all over the world, and we carry many of their albums. If you haven't discovered women's barbershop yet, what are you waiting for?

Mixed Barbershop CDs - In a genre that has been split along gender lines for most of a century, who'd have expected mixed barbershop to be successful? Well, whoever didn't, should have. The great thing about mixed barbershop quartets is that they combine the best of the single-gender groups, and build on them. Mixed barbershop is on its way - you'll definitely want to get on the train now!

the Religious

Contemporary Christian CDs - Expressing Christian faith in music is an idea that goes back millennia, but contemporary Christian music is one of those art forms that is, if not uniquely American, certainly recognizably so. For nearly a century, singers have been performing and recording celebratory expressions of their faith in a modern fashion, usually in English, frequently in popular musical styles. Contemporary Christian music brings religious music to the general public in a totally new way, and makes it just plain fun. If you don’t believe us, take a listen to some of these terrific groups!

Gospel CDs - An art form that has its origins in African-American music, including the call-and-response singing between preacher and congregation in churches, today gospel music is much loved by music fans of all backgrounds and religions around America. One of the most celebratory music forms, nothing expresses joy in a subject the way gospel music does. Some of the incredibly talented groups whose work we carry have been delivering their jubilant music for more than half a century. If you want to hear music that delivers love and happiness, this is the place for you!

Spirituals CD - Spirituals are the Southern sacred "folk" songs created and first sung by African Americans during slavery. Their original composers are unknown, and they have assumed a position of collective ownership by the whole community. They lend themselves easily to communal singing. A formal concert tradition has evolved from the original spirituals, with solo and choral arrangements based on original slave melodies, employed for performance by amateur and professional artists.

Southern Gospel - Southern gospel music, also sometimes referred to as “classic gospel,” has been around since the 1950s, though since the 1980s there has been a revival in its well-deserved popularity. The style is an enticing mix of Sacred Harp and bluegrass, and has the best of both worlds. So it’s no surprise that some of the best Christian artists of recent decades have recorded these stellar albums in a Southern Gospel style. You know some of the groups, you know some of the songs – this is your chance to explore, and enjoy, the rest of them.

the Choral

Mens Choral CDs - Men’s choral music spans the centuries, and well-sung choral music brings a lush joy to the ear, whether it is sacred or secular, plainsong, vocal chamber music, chant, madrigals, folk songs or even the music of U2! Many strong composers have written for the male ensemble over the centuries, and choirs today are singing the work of talents as diverse as Rutter and Henry VIII. Men’s ensembles around the world – and we carry recordings from such diverse nations as Estonia, Finland, Canada and Russia, to name just a few – deliver glorious, powerful work.

Womens Choral CDs - Chants, rounds, liturgical work, secular or sacred, folk from around the world - the one constant is the beauty of their harmony. Women’s choirs today disprove, over and over, the out-of-date myth that only men’s voices can deliver choral music with any true authenticity. Some of the ensembles we carry sing work written for the male voice, some music written for women’s voices – some even sing music originally written as instrumental. Whatever they’re singing, they all do it with passion and a purity of sound that will please even the most discerning of choral music fans.

Mixed Choir CDs - A good mixed choral ensemble has the strengths of both male voice and female voice groups – and the mixed choral ensembles we carry are very good. With repertoires that run most of the way through the last 10 centuries, performing the works of some of the best choral composers throughout the ages, you’ll lose yourself in the sonorous, frequently haunting beauty of these international-caliber mixed-voice choirs from Denmark, the UK, Argentina, Cuba and Armenia and elsewhere, including a number of college-based choirs from right here in the U.S.

Early Music - The very definition of music, and particularly, a cappella, has changed throughout the centuries. Here, with these groups, you can hear what a cappella sounded like in the days when it really was written to be performed in the chapel. Whether women’s groups from the U.S. or Norway, men’s ensembles from the UK or mixed-voice ones from Belgium or America, there are talented groups around the planet who are bringing new life to centuries-old music, exploring history and making it come alive to fans everywhere. If you like a cappella, you should know where it comes from – and with these groups, you’ll learn exactly that.

the Childrens Choirs

Mixed Choir CDs - Nothing sounds quite like the pure, bell-like tones of a children’s choir. Their bright, clear voices soar through the music, and the talents these kids display is both inspiring and encouraging. Some of the children’s choirs we carry are some of the best-known choral groups on the planet, no matter their ages, and you’ve heard them in movies, TV commercials and on CNN. They sing in English, Japanese, Latin – even Cherokee!

Boys Choirs CDs - For centuries, boy's choirs have been singing sacred & secular music and their sound was considered the most pure and desirable imaginable. Boy's choirs today are still singing, but with a wider range of repertoire than ever before. Hymns, chant, classical & contemporary, gospel and folk we offer here a selection of some of the top boyschoirs from around the world.

Girls Choirs CDS - Denmark, Canada, Sweden, Norway, and across the U.S., from San Francisco to Washington, DC girl's choirs are singing beautiful music everywhere. And they're singing it all - from contemporary classical, jazz, to Americana, sacred and folk. The talents of these children and their directors are inspirational; every choral music library should have a selection of treble choir titles and these are some of the best.

Children Choirs Christmas CDs - Children love Christmas, and not just because of the presents. Christmas has pageantry, it has good food, and it’s got good, fun music that they love to sing. What could be better for them? If you enjoy the sound of children’s voices singing Christmas music – and who wouldn’t enjoy the pure magic of that sound? – we’ve got a number of treats for you here!

the A Cappella From Around the World

Africa - African music is one of the first types that come to mind when you think of world music, especially in a cappella. Whether Gospel, Freedom songs or love songs, all of it is celebratory; African choirs and groups have an ability to convey joy and happiness that is unique and beautiful. If you like Ladysmith Black Mambazo, you'll love listening to these albums. Some of the groups here were inspired by Ladysmith, while others served as inspiration FOR Ladysmith!

Ireland - Folk is a term often used to describe musical styles that are indigenous to an area, a culture or a country. While the Celts settled in much of Western Europe, not just Ireland, the Irish are, more than most, identified with Celtic music. Much of the folk music coming out of Ireland is in the old troubadour style of story-telling. Familiarize yourself with what music sounded like in a world where it served as story-telling entertainment before Hollywood and widespread literacy. It may be sung in English or Gaelic, but you don't have to understand the words to get the feeling; it's the kind of magnetic music that gets your toes and hearts moving.

Bulgaria - The rich, musical history of Bulgaria has a tradition of heartfelt, passionate vocal music, and what better way to express it than in a choral ensemble? For a small nation that doesn't appear on the world stage often, Bulgaria is rich in what counts the most - the arts. Both their traditional cultural music and that which celebrates their Christian faiths appears in the repertoire of Bulgaria's amazing choirs. You've heard of them, you know you have. Now why not actually hear them?

Russia - Not surprisingly for one of the largest countries on the planet, Russia has a wide and diverse spectrum of music, including a broad range of a cappella styles & genres, ranging from exquisite Jazz to spectacular sacred pieces, performed by children's ensembles and adult groups both - with each recording you'll explore and discover a different facet of a centuries-old, beautiful culture that is little explored in the West.

Latin America - Most Latin American countries have strongly Christian ties, and as is common in Christian countries, there are some beautiful liturgical pieces written locally. But it's not all religious music - there are waltzes from Peru, tangos from Argentina, Cuban salsa, folk music from Venezuela, even a processional hymn sung in the Incan language Quechua! Whether the ensemble is a local or a foreign group singing the music of Latin America, it's all great stuff.

South Seas - If you’re like most people, you probably think of the “South Seas” in terms of warm beaches and great spots to vacation. You should know, though, that there is much, much more to this region of the globe – including some amazing vocal music. We’ve got music from one of the most southern of the inhabited places on the planet here! Here you can explore the chants and hymns from indigenous peoples whose music developed long before they were discovered by Europeans, and long before their musical traditions were influenced by the Church music of the day. It’s a fascinating journey through cultures little-known to Western audiences, and for a music fan, it’s a must-listen!

the Doo Wop

A Cappella - Doo-wop: a distinctly American musical form that flourished in the 1950's, emerging from urban centers such as New York and Chicago. It's vital statistics? Groups comprised of four to five members, bass/baritone/tenor (or a first and second tenor) and lead, singing in three or four part harmony; frequent use of falsetto; predominance of "nonsense syllables"; dynamic bass parts; instrumentation subservient to vocals or nonexistent; simple but heavy backbeats and lyrical themes that espouse love and longing for "the one." It's pedigree? The vocal harmony groups of the 1940's, such as the Ink Spots and the Mills Bros., rhythm and blues, which incorporated elements of jazz and swing; country and gospel. Each of these individual cells would develop into the matrix called rock and roll, of which doo-wop is considered a part.

Christmas- It's just not cool to like your parents' music, right? Well, actually, yes, it really is. At least it is if the kind of stuff your parents tried to introduce you to is anything like these terrific vintage vocal harmony groups! The groups you'll find here are the ones who inspired the groups who inspired the ones we love today. Making their music between the Depression and the '50s, these are the greats who made modern, popular harmony, well, popular. This is the music of the golden age of harmony!

the Christmas

Jazz - Christmas music is a genre of its own, but one of the great things about holiday tunes is that they can be sung in almost any style and genre, too. You've heard many of these classics before, you've probably even sung most of them, but you've never heard or sung them like this! And that's not even going into the beauty of the holiday originals some of these terrific groups have written. Whether you choose to explore the work of a group you're not familiar with, or revisit a group you already know that you love, you'll find some luscious sounds with which to wrap yourself in a holiday spirit here.

Contemporary - Yeah, OK, so most Christmas music is reserved for one particular time of the year. But Contemporary Christmas music has a seasonless quality that makes it great in December, and terrific fun in June, too. Even timeless classics get a contemporary, rockin' edge from these groups, and the originals are modern songs that happen to be about that happiest time of the year. If you're a fan of contemporary a cappella, you won't go wrong with the albums we carry here, even if holiday music isn't your thing.

Doo Wop - The great thing about doo-wop is that is transcends subject matter. That streetcorner sound, wrapped around some of the most loved holiday classics of all time - would could be more appealing? Whether you're a fan of Christmas music, or a fan of doo-wop, or - best of both worlds - smart enough to love 'em both, these albums will warm you up and getting you singing.

Choral - In a genre that has been split along gender lines for most of a century, who'd have expected mixed barbershop to be successful? Well, whoever didn't, should have. The great thing about mixed barbershop quartets is that they combine the best of the single-gender groups, and build on them. Mixed barbershop is on its way - you'll definitely want to get on the train now!

Barbershop - Come on, admit it. You love that barbershop sound. There's nothing like a locked chord and a hanging-in-the-air tag to make the air ring. Add in Christmas music and you've got everything you need. Many internationals-winning choruses and quartets have gone on to put out holiday CDs, and we don't need to tell you what combining a group that's taken home the gold with holiday music sounds like = spectacular! And we even have songbooks that allow you to sing the holiday classics in that barbershop style yourself!

Christian - Christmas music is some of the most evocative out there - who can hear "Away in a Manger" or "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" without flashing back to that happy holiday season? The albums we carry contain the traditional carols of centuries past, more modern carols we all grew up with, and in many cases, original works sure to be added to many a family's annual caroling sing-a-long. Some of the groups interpret the works and make them uniquely their own, others perform more traditional versions, but one thing you can rely on is the spirit and talent with which the music is sung!

Vintage - Nope. As it turns out, popular groups recording holiday albums really is not just a modern trend. Whether it's the movie & music stars of the '40s and '50s, or the family on which one of the most popular holiday movies of all time was based, these golden age Christmas recordings (and modern recordings in the golden age style) are not just celebrations of the Christmas holiday season, but they evoke an earlier, more simple time. For cozy, comforting December music, these familiar groups and their great recordings are where you want to go.

Early Music - Christmas, as a holiday, goes back nearly two millennium. Music has changed over the time, but the idea of celebrating with music hasn’t. Much of our favorite Christmas music date back to the Middle Ages or even earlier, and the best way to experience them is in the work of those groups dedicated to preserving centuries-old music – Tudor polyphony, medieval chant, medieval carols, renaissance motets, plainchant or more.

World - You knew that Christmas is celebrated in many countries, but did you know how much Holiday music comes out of those countries? You do now. Whether the groups are singing the Holiday music well-known around the planet, or the lovely music indigenous to one particular country, the music is wonderful and the message is communicated in any language. Some of these songs are indicative of centuries-old traditions that predate the birth of America; take the chance and explore a beautiful-sounding history!

the Speciality

Black Vocal Groups - Combining the early R&B sound with gospel and jazz, some of the pioneering Black vocal groups got their start as early as the Depression era. No matter how long ago they started, they still have a message and a song that can inspire singers today. If you're a fan of vocal harmony, are inspired by R&B, or love the origins of modern gospel, you can't go wrong here. This is some of the most inspiring and enchanting music of the first half of the 20th century!

Collegiate - With the boom of the last decade, literally hundreds of a cappella groups of every shape and size perform on American college campuses. Many groups record CDs, but few are consistently commercial quality.We carry just a few of the best known collegiate groups, along with some fine compilations.

Patriotic - For a new country, America has a lot of old music that most Americans grew up hearing and loving. Many of these songs go back decades, some even a century or two. They exude patriotic Americana. They’re the backbone of the 4th of July parades. And some of these performances are so beautiful, they’ll bring tears to your eyes. Whether it’s the Boys’ Choir of Harlem singing their passionate response to 9/11, or Disney’s Voices of Liberty singing about being back home in Indiana, these recordings will make you proud to be an American – even if you’re not one!

Kids - Yes, there is more to music for kids than annoying purple dinosaurs! Some of it the songs are fun, other tunes are educational. Some of the albums have music that is heartwarming, others have music from around the globe, and still others have the lullabies to put your very littlest ones to sleep. It’s music for them to grow up with, covering all ages from toddler to the pre-boy-band age group, and if you’ve dreamed of forming that family a cappella group, this is a way to indoctrinate them into the love of a cappella from a very young age.

Compilations - You know what’s great about compilations? You’re getting a package with anywhere from eight to 20 groups, allowing you to sample the wares of many. Sometimes it’s hard to know, just from an album review, whether you’ll like a group’s work. With a compilation, you can see if you like them and a number of others all at once. Whether it’s a live recording of a cappella competitions in the U.S. or Canada, decades of Gospel groups, national collections of folk from around Europe and Africa, or even a collection of old-style streetcorner harmony – use this as a chance to prove that “strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.”

Sea Chanties - For more than 400 years, the sailors of the seas sang sea chanties while they worked – the chanties kept the repetitive tasks from getting boring, and helped them keep their movements synchronized. While the best known sea chanties are sung in English, other cultural groups had shipboard work songs, and we’ve got some of them here.  These albums are collections of stirring music that celebrates a way of life long gone – they evoke a memory both historical and musical, and even if you don’t come from a seafaring background, you’ll find the chanties irresistible!

Shape Note - Sacred Harp singing is the largest surviving branch of traditional American Shape Note Singing. "Sacred Harp" refers to The Sacred Harp, a book first published in 1844 and continuously updated since. Along with other hymn books from the era, its repertoire of 550 4-part a cappella hymns, odes, and anthems is part of the foundation of a vibrant oral tradition handed down since Colonial times and still practiced at hundreds of annual singing meetings, conventions, and local singing groups throughout the country,.

Madrigals - Madrigal, in music, secular composition for two or more voices, introduced in Italy in the 14th century and revived in a different form during the 16th century, at which time it also became popular with English, French, German, and Spanish composers. The word madrigal is thought to have been derived from mandriali (a short pastoral poem) or from matricale (a rustic song or poem in the mother tongue), or perhaps madriale (a hymn to the Virgin Mary).

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