Jewish Music Blog

May 5, 2006

AKA Pella Premium Blend – Review

Filed under: Reviews — jewishmusic @ 12:19 am

This year there were only two new acapella releases, and AKA Pella Premium Blend is certainly the most interesting of the two. Just to clarify – the group is named AKA Pella and the album is called Premium Blend, which goes along with the coffee theme. The jacket design is certainly unique, but I found the layout to be slightly clumsy. This is not a result of design, which was very well done by Chanan Baer, but seems to be a result of the plethora of ideas which the designer kind of had to patch together.

A quick overview of the album – almost all of the songs have non-Jewish music influences: Everything from Michael Jackson and Bryan Adams to Joseph and Technicolor Dreamcoat. Although this concept was used by Lev Tahor, AKA Pella takes this to a whole new level by using some actual non-Jewish tunes, such as Simon and Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair on song 2 Dror and Van Halen’s Right Now on song 9 Asher Boro. The sound of the album is very smooth, and is mixed excellently. Many of the songs use vocals to take the place of the instruments, and the vocal percussion sounds excellent.

This album only has one original tune, song 10 Raninu by Elchonon Majeski, and the rest are described on the jacket as “your favorite songs”. I think this was another interesting choice – many of these are actually not so well known, so characterizing them as favorite songs may be a little misleading. When I think of favorite Jewish songs, I think of over-played songs such as Yeedle’s Atah Bonim and Shalsheles’ Esa Einai. Perhaps they meant your favorite non-Jewish songs. Regardless, I think the song choices were excellent for this group. All of the tunes are solid, singable songs, and they are pleasant to listen to. Just a quick rundown of the non-Jewish influences: Song 1 uses Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama, Song 2 uses Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair, Song 3 uses the theme to Gilligan’s Island, Song 4 is Close Every Door from Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, Song 5 is based on Michael Jackson’s Will You Be There (thanks anonymoose), the intro and outro to Song 6 sounds like it came from extra-Jewish sources, Song 9 is Van Halen’s Right Now composed by David Roth, and the intro to Song 10 is Bryan Adams’ Everything I Do.

The songs were arranged primarily by John Clark and Ed Boyer of and Mike Boxer, with CD Eichler being the idea man. Although CD is listed in the album as the main arranger, I know CD personally, and although he is a musical person, he’s not a musician, and therefore there is absolutely no way he could have arranged bass lines, rhythm sections and chords in general. What must have happened is that CD gave Clark and Boyer the original albums with the songs, they wrote a preliminary arrangement, and then CD gave his input, and it was finally tweaked appropriately. I don’t mean to minimize CD’s role at all – the entire album was his idea and he implemented the idea excellently. I just want to give due credit to the arrangers.

The arrangements themselves usually use incorporate bass and drums, with rhythmic vocals taking the place of standard chord rhythm instruments such as guitar or keyboard. In song 1 and 9, Clark uses vocal guitar, which is basically vocals with distortion, which produces an interesting effect. There is very little choir-type harmonies, which generally utilize close three-part harmonies. Lev Tahor balanced the two while AKA Pella seems to have mostly phased out the kumsitz style. The background vocals in general are creatively swamped in effects, to the point that they sometimes sound like string lines such as in Raninu song 10. There are often vocal arpeggios which I highly doubt were actually sung. What most probably happened was that cb-productions sampled different vocals, or they used their own pre-recorded vocals samples, and then played these arpeggios from a keyboard. The arrangement to song 9, Asher-Boro-otherwise-known-as-Right-Now, is almost an exact copy, if not taken directly, from the Binghamton Crosby’s version of the same song. Listening to the end of this file confirms this. Clark and Boyer use panning very creatively, especially in Menucha V’Simcha. All in all, these arrangements are more in line with secular, college type acapella and it is refreshing to hear them in Jewish music.

Because of the complexity of the arrangements and their replacement of the roles of instruments, and because of the quality of the vocal percussion, as well as the methods of recording the background vocals, this album sounds almost as good as music, which some may not wish to listen to during sefirah and the 3 weeks.

There are 8 vocalists, and while none of them are professional singers, they do a nice job overall. Most of them are flooded in auto-tune and various other effects to make them sound larger than life. The music also sounds very gentle sometimes, even gentle enough to fall asleep to. Having said that, the vocalists do infuse energy into the songs when needed, and the vocals are tasteful and lack common annoyances prone to unprofessional vocalists.

There seems to have been some debate as to how much of the background vocals were actually sung by the main vocalists. The background harmonies are by no means simple, and given the relatively low production time (7 months) and the daunting task of learning and recording all those lines, it is more likely that most of them were sung by John Clark and Ed Boyer, who are credited on the album jacket as “additional vocals”. Also, Mike Boxer sang almost all of the background vocals on the track he arranged, track 7 Piah Pascha, and that leads me to believe that a similar pattern was followed for the rest of the tracks. Using additional vocalists on an album is by no means a new idea, but using it on an acapella album is. Part of the uniqueness of acapella music is that the talent of the vocalists went into every aspect of the music, and that isn’t apparent on this album. This album is more like a standard instrumental album in which the musicians play all of the music and the vocalists sing over that, but instead of musicians we have Clark and Boyer’s vocal tracks.


AKA Pella is a welcome addition to Jewish acapella, and is arranged and mixed beautifully. It may even sound too good for sefirah and the 3 weeks, which are supposed to be times of mourning. The album also draws heavily on non-Jewish music, which may not appeal to some, but it still manages to maintain its Jewish character.




  1. Nice review, I’ll definitely check it out.

    Comment by Daniel Goldman — May 5, 2006 @ 9:00 am

  2. An excellent review!

    Comment by GCohn — May 5, 2006 @ 11:48 am

  3. Hey aryeh,
    Nice review. The album is definetedly refreshing and creative. I would like to ask you which singer you liked most – personally, I think the one in track 6 was the best.
    I also felt this album is somewhat similar to six13 in terms of harmonization. i think a.k.a.pella is better but all tracks in six13 were original and they surely had a harder time producing it.

    Comment by rk — May 7, 2006 @ 8:56 pm

  4. rk-

    Funny you ask about the singers – I was actually thinking of writing an extra paragraph devoted to the singers, but I decided the review was long enough.

    The singer on Track 6 is Avi Stewart, and he’s no doubt the most professional of the bunch. If I had to pick, I’d probably go with him too, just because his singing is very tasteful.

    Comment by keyboardguy — May 7, 2006 @ 9:25 pm

  5. I love the Dror Yikra song, I can’t stop listening to it.

    Comment by Daniel Goldman — May 8, 2006 @ 12:22 pm

  6. I think you may want to see this video clip made especially for akapella premium blend… – pretty funny!

    Comment by Anonymous — May 8, 2006 @ 11:01 pm

  7. daniel-

    dror yikra AKA scarborough fair – the arrangement is very similar.

    Comment by keyboardguy — May 8, 2006 @ 11:26 pm

  8. The MJ song is Will You Be There from the Free Willy soundtrack.

    Comment by Anonymoose — May 9, 2006 @ 10:25 pm

  9. i don’t understand why anyone would be raving about or critiquing ripped off tunes with engineered vocals & hebrew words.

    where’s the originality, folks. it’s a fun listen, but really… are we being honest with ourselves saying this is anything new or amazing? it’s fun. enjoy.

    Comment by the last word — May 10, 2006 @ 2:05 pm

  10. I heard that Scarborough fair is an old Chassidishe niggun.

    Comment by AlanLaz — May 18, 2006 @ 12:18 pm

  11. my uncle always says “those who can, do. those who can’t, critique.” I don’t agree with my uncle though. your knowledge of music is superb! why don’t you put out an album?
    while I understand your musical knowledge supports your critique of music, but on what canons is your review of advertising based on? i thought the video was a success in an advertisement’s forum.–>

    Comment by eric burnes — May 23, 2006 @ 11:34 am

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