For its third-annual pop concert, "Covers III," the male vocal ensemble Cantus takes a wide variety of songs, creates unique and diverse arrangements and performs them with proficiency and style.
It is not unusual for such formulas to grow stale upon repetition, but not so with the nine creative minds of Cantus. (The men do all their own arrangements.) This was their strongest Covers concert yet.
They made great use of their trademark a cappella style, from "Shadow on the Wall," by singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile,that was gentle in its simplicity, to a rousing rendition of the Beatles' "You Can't Do That."
There were also plenty of examples of thrilling close-harmony singing. Whether it was ABBA's "Take a Chance" or Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," they reveled in the different vocal textures they were capable of creating.
Their performance of "Superstition" honored Steve Wonder's original, but still made it uniquely their own.
For much of the concert, they were ably accompanied by keyboardist Lee Blaske and percussionist David Hagedorn, aided by the original sounds of tabla artist Rikki Davenport and Mark Ilaug on the sitar.
The nine voices are each of solo quality and they traded off the melody lines throughout. The most effective solos were bass Chris Foss giving Johnny Cash a run for his money in "Ring of Fire" and Aaron Humble's sweet tenor making the most of The Platters' "The Great Pretender."
The program was not all serious. "Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps," a Doris Day cha-cha number, was given the full camp treatment, but unlike a tendency in past years to go overboard, this was more restrained, not spoiling the original.
"Most Beautiful Girl in the Room," by New Zealand comedy duo Flight Of The Conchords, is a parody of a love ballad that was sung tongue-in-cheek, with real wit.
But in songs like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Love the One You're With," they just cut loose, their full-out singing demonstrating what real power there is in nine voices.
The men of Cantus are gaining in visibility. They will be Minnesota Public Radio artists in residence next year. And they are presenting a rare four-concert schedule in the Twin Cities next season. It will be good to hear more of this masterful ensemble.
William Randall Beard writes regularly about theater and music.