‘Two Sides of the Zumbyes’
by Jim Steinman '69
"Two Sides of the Zumbyes" is the best album yet produced by Amherst's top pop "a capella" singing group. It is broad in its choice of material, excellently sung, cleanly and pleasantly recorded, smoothly if unimaginately adapted to the demands of a recording studio, and nicely packaged.
For me, the album stands far above all the other Zumbye record efforts to a large extent because it contains what I consider to be easily the most beautiful performance they've ever offered: an amazingly haunting, subtle, and shimmering arrangement of Leonard Cohen's classic "Suzanne" as arranged by Jere Mead and "soloed" by Roger Tilles. It is a cliche but certainly true to say that this song alone is worth the price of the whole record. The song reveals how much imaginative and fascinating work this group is capable of, and makes it doubly disappointing that they try to experiment so rarely. Mead's weaving, complex, chordal backgrounds to the main melodic line of the song provides a strong base to this piece against which Roger Tilles' poignant, quiet singing contrasts perfectly. Tilles' work is superb; he really seems to be acting the lyrics not just exhibiting them. The voice seems constantly in danger of evaporating in its own breath. Tilles also seems to be just a bit flat for much of the first verse, and somehow that fits the song beautifully.
Most of the rest of the record consists of the same cotton candy ditties the Zumbyes have specialized in through the years. You get the feeling listening to the record that the Zumbyes constantly have their voices in their pockets. Beer music for the House of Walsh. In this vein are "Kansas City," "In this Blessed Old World," "Senior Song," "Lord Jeffrey Amherst," "Jungletown," and "When I Fall in Love."
There are a few other exceptions to this traditional line besides "Suzanne." "Turtle Dove" was arranged by Vaughan Williams, which is certainly worth something, and it's richly sung by Don Stolper. "California Dreaming" is sung with vitality and ease by Steve Collins but I thought the arrangement might have moved better. "A Quiet Girl" features another refreshing arrangement by Jere Mead, and is really nice. And Larry Ragland does a good Johnny Mathis imitation, but then again so does Johnny Mathis. Anyway, he's got what is known as a "top-notch professional pop style" and his work on "Misty" and "When I Fall in Love" is only marred by dull backgrounds.
The recording quality of the master tapes in many places is poorly reproduced by a very cheap pressing job. Volume level is often too low, and the general tone is too thin and lacking sound contrasts. But, all in all, a first-rate showcase for a perennially popular group.
ZUMBYE TRYOUT The Amherst Zumbyes, singing group, will hold tryouts for new members Tuesday night in Pond Dormitory Basement from 9 to 11 p.m.
Source: Amherst Student archives