“Chameleon” features high caliber a cappella

Chameleon a cappella ensemble, "Chameleon" Available for sale at Conkey´s, Heid Music, and Union Station.
Jerald Podair, Professor of History

Chameleon a cappella ensemble, “Chameleon” Available for sale at Conkey´s, Heid Music, and Union Station.

A cappella singing is the musical equivalent of a high-wire act; the performers work unprotected, with nothing between them and the ground. As such, it is the ultimate high-risk/high reward medium, with equal potential for soaring success and abject disaster. “Chameleon,” a 5-part male a cappella group formed at Lawrence in 1999 under the direction of David Heyer (‘02), has produced a CD that, happily, exemplifies the best this musical form has to offer.

The selections on “Chameleon” range from the whimsical to the serious, without missing a step along the way. The opening selection, “Since You’ve Been Gone,” a typically quirky Weird Al Yankovic offering, sets the tone for the CD as a whole. Crisply phrased and elegantly harmonized (if, indeed, anything associated with Yankovic can be characterized as “elegant”), it evokes Rodgers and Hart’s “I Wish I were in Love Again” through its wry appreciation of romance’s pains and pleasures.

The group also makes the most of the Disney cookie-cutter “Kiss the Girl,” infusing it with a sharp, calypso-style rhythm that significantly improves on the original.

From there it’s on to traditional standards (“Hard Times Come Again No More,” “Loch Lomond,” “Aura Lee,” “Ave Maria”), performed with dignity and depth, and modern pop (a faithful rendition of Billy Joel’s street corner classic, “The Longest Time”).

A nice surprise is the theme from the dusty western “Rawhide,” which the group pulls off without succumbing to the temptations of camp.

The CD ends as it began, with an ode to lost love, although of a different variety: a moving version of another Billy Joel tune, “Lullaby.” The elegiac tone here is a far cry from that of “Since You’ve Been Gone,” an illustration of both the range of emotion that love inspires and the ability of “Chameleon” to express them convincingly.

Full of great ensemble work and wonderful solos—notably Bryan McLeod on “Loch Lomond” and Ali Losik on “Since You’ve Been Gone”—”Chameleon” is a delight, a high-wire act that succeeds admirably.

Chameleon” is available at Conkey’s, Heid’s, and Union station, and from davidheyer@hotmail.com.