Straight No Chaser opens up another 'Six Pack'

Vocal group puts its unique a cappella spin on pop songs

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The title of the latest release from the a cappella group Straight No Chaser — “Six Pack: Vol. II” — immediately reveals two things.

As the “Volume II” suggests, it follows a 2008 EP called “Six Pack” that, like the new release, includes six songs. And while Straight No Chaser vocalist Randy Stine said a full-length CD would have been nice, a busy schedule caused the group to think in terms of a “Six Pack” sequel.

“We were constantly hearing from fans, ‘When’s another one coming out?’ ” Stine said in a recent phone interview. “We wanted to get something out there new for the fans after they had been so patiently waiting.”

If you go

What: Straight No Chaser, in concert.

Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway Ave., Portland.

When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 27.

Cost: $37.55-$59.32.

Information: 503-248-4335 or http://pcpa.com.

So the solution was to go the “Six Pack” route, which Stine said ended up working well. And, to the group’s surprise, “Six Pack: Vol. II” turned out to also mirror the first Six Pack EP in a couple of ways. First off, like the first “Six Pack,” the second EP includes two fan favorites Straight No Chaser has been performing throughout the years (Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” and a mashup of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Bell Biv Devoe’s “Poison”), a couple of songs the group added to its set this past summer (The Temptations’ “Get Ready” and Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On,”) and a pair of songs that are new to the group’s show (Weezer’s “Buddy Holly” and the medley of the Plain White T’s “Rhythm of Love” and Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling in Love”).

“It (the first “Six Pack” EP) was a good mix of different songs, different genres, different decades, and that’s what this is as well,” Stiles said of the new release. In other words, Straight No Chaser is giving its audience more of what has attracted fans to the group in the first place. And why not? This 10-member all-vocal ensemble has become one of music’s more unusual success stories.

Today’s Straight No Chaser has its roots in an a cappella group of the same name at University of Indiana in Bloomington. Several of the singers in the group today were in the inaugural edition of Straight No Chaser at that university. They fully expected graduation would mean the last of their a cappella days together. But then, a decision by the University of Indiana to have a 10-year reunion of the original Straight No Chaser in 2006 helped changed that. To mark the occasion, Stine posted a video on You Tube of a 1998 concert that included the vocal group’s wacky rendition of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

To everyone’s surprise, the video went viral. By December 2007, views of the video had reached 7 million. One of those who tuned in was Craig Kallman, CEO of Atlantic Records, who called Stine to discuss a record deal.Former members of University of Indiana’s Straight No Chaser were soon meeting with Atlantic and signing a record deal. Because of the success of the “12 Days of Christmas” video, Atlantic had Straight No Chaser debut with a Christmas album, “Holiday Spirits,” in 2008. The CD featured the group’s vocally inventive versions of Christmas classics such as “The Christmas Song,” “Carol of the Bells” and, of course, “The 12 Days of Christmas.”

Straight No Chaser was now off and running, and in fall 2009, the group released a holiday sequel, “Christmas Cheers.” Sandwiched between those CDs was the “Six Pack EP,” which served a something of a teaser for the first full-length pop CD, “With a Twist,” which arrived in 2010.

Now “Six Pack: Volume II” figures to further establish that Straight No Chaser’s main priority is not Christmas music, but rather recasting pop songs into its own unique style of a cappella, which in addition to layered vocals often features bass lines and beats created vocally by Tyler Trepp, Seggie Isho and Dave Roberts, with occasional contributions from Stine and Walter Chase. The group’s other five members are Ryan Ahlwardt, Jerome Collins, Michael Luginbill, Charlie Mechling and Don Nottingham.

Straight No Chaser is now on a fall tour that runs through Dec. 23. On its latest tour, fans can expect to see Straight No Chaser perform songs from across its career. The group has also been at work on a new full-length CD, but it is technically still touring behind “Six Pack: Volume II.”

“We’ve got the classic songs that we’ve always done that people kind of expect and we always want to make sure we play what they are hoping to hear,” Stine said. “And once the season rolls around, after that we’ll star to mix in more of the Christmas music as well.”