After the success of last season's "Covers: A Pop Concert," it's not surprising that the male vocal ensemble Cantus would present "Covers II." This year's concert was every bit as much fun as last year's and, in one significant respect, represented a major improvement.
This was straightforward, no-gimmicks musicmaking. Once again, the classical ensemble easily adopted a pop sensibility and took pop ditties, from the B-52s' "Roam" to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons' "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You," as seriously as any of the other music that they perform.
But they demonstrated with "If" by Jon McLemore, a parody of a hillbilly country song, that they don't take themselves too seriously.
Whether performing Tears for Fears' "Mad World" or Alison Krauss' "Baby Now That I've Found You," they sang in the kind of close harmony arrangements that capture the soul of Cantus, while still honoring the originals. Giving Cat Stevens' "Wild World" a reggae twist was particularly nice.
Guest artitsts, multi-instrumentalist Lee Blaske and percussionist David Hagedorn, returned from last year and added great variety to the aural landscape. They were joined by tabla artist Rikki Davenport and Mark Ilaug on sitar.
Chick Corea's "Sea Journey," an instrumental for keyboard and xylophone, was one of the highlights of the evening. It was smooth jazz that was in keeping with the ensemble's smooth style.
There were some repeats from last year that were good to hear again, including the spirited "Donde Estas, Yolanda?" and a version of "Unravel" that continues to out-Björk Björk.
But the group is most famous for its a cappella singing, and those arrangements provided some of the most satisfying moments of the evening, especially "Wanting Memories," by Sweet Honey and the Rock's Ysaye M. Barnwell.
It is inevitable in this kind of program that there would be some missteps. For example, their overly dense and tortured rendition of Joni Mitchell's "Both Sides Now" obscured the beautiful simplicity of the original.
But a major improvement this year was the change of venue from the Southern Theatre to the Ritz Theatre. The acoustics of the Ritz were a significant improvement that heightened the experience immensely.
After this enjoyable evening, it can only be hoped that plans for "Covers III" are already underway.
William Randall Beard is a Minneapolis writer.