REVIEW: The renowned men's ensemble delivered selections from a wide catalog, impeccably presented.
Over the past three years, Cantus has evolved a strong formula for its annual Covers pops concerts. Covers IV did not stray far from the pattern -- and that's a good thing. Once again, the male vocal ensemble's singers brought their impeccable song stylings to a diverse repertoire of contemporary music.
From the opening number, "Listen to the Music," popularized by the Doobie Brothers, the men demonstrated their consummate skill at arrangements, creating a strong variety of effects, by blending complex harmonies with individual voices. Each member of Cantus is a bona fide soloist, but together they create a warm, burnished sound.
They covered the broadest cultural spectrum, from classic country (Johnny Cash's "Ring of Fire") and 1960s pop (The Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'") to the Caribbean sound of Harry Nilsson's "Coconut" and the Latin rhythms of Pink Martini's "Una Notte a Napoli."
They can handle a straight-up love song (The Beatles' "Something"), as well as love with a funkier edge (R&B legend Solomon Burke's "Cry to Me"). There were classic show tunes (Jerome Kern's "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes") and new American folk (HEM's "Leave Me Here"). They can really rock out when it's called for, as in Steve Winwood and the Spencer Davis Group's "Gimme Some Lovin'."
Throughout, they successfully walked the fine line between honoring the styles of the originals and still making the songs their own. They were never reverential, but always respectful, often giving the music a surprising new perspective.
For the fourth year, they were joined by a great band: Lee Blaske on keyboard, Mark Ilaug on guitar, and David Hagedorn and Rikki Davenport on percussion.
Still, it wouldn't be a Cantus concert without an a cappella set. They gave a spare, plaintive feel to Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and a rich, bluesy dimension to the Jackson 5's "Who's Lovin' You."
One significant glitch on opening night was with the sound mixing. Too often, the band drowned out the voices. At times, the soloist was even overwhelmed by the backup singers.
The members of Cantus are accomplished showmen. They created just the right amount of humorous and informative patter between songs, giving the concert a relaxed feel. It was like an evening of music making with old friends.
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