Album review: 'University A Cappella,' by Various Artists & Ben Folds

Patrick Varine

Beginning in 1909 with the Yale Whiffenpoofs -- not a joke -- collegiate a cappella groups are a longstanding institution in universities across America.

Ben Folds? Well, he might not quite be an institution, but his snarky piano pop is pretty much omnipresent in dorm rooms from coast to coast, and it' s no surprise that some of the country's most talented a cappella groups have covered his songs.

What IS a surprise is that Folds has gathered more than a dozen of the best and recorded one of the most unique cover albums ever.

On "University A Cappella," Voices in Your Head (University of Chicago) takes a relatively straight-ahead approach on the strident "Magic," and a human beatbox provides Motown-style mouth percussion for "You Don't Know Me," covered by the University of Georgia's With Someone Else's Money.

The Midnight Ramblers (University of Rochester) sound like a massive barbershop quartet on "Army" -- one of two songs that earn the album its parental-advisory sticker, probably the only a cappella album to ever have one -- and Mosaic Whispers (Washington University in St. Louis) will have you choking back tears during their rendition of Folds' look back at youth, "Still Fighting It."

It's a one-trick pony, for sure, but what a neat trick.

Hear samples from "University A Cappella" at Amazon.com.

Sussex Countian