Straight No Chaser shares its influences

Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton among the artists that contribute to cover album




If you go:

What: Straight No Chaser in concert.

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 27.

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

Cost: $38 to $64.50.

Information: 800-273-1530 or

As the title of the latest Straight No Chaser album, "Under The Influence," suggests, its songs are meant to give listeners a window into some of the artists that inspired the 10-member a cappella group.

What the album also shows, according to Straight No Chaser vocalist Don Nottingham, is that the group's tastes aren't as left field as some might assume.

"Our influences are exactly the same influences that you would probably find in just about any other band," Nottingham said in a phone interview. "That's part of what I think makes us interesting to our audiences. Between the 10 of us, we like a lot of different music. So we can bring a lot of those influences to bear on what we sing."

While albums highlighting an artist's influences are nothing new. What helps set "Under The Influence" apart is that several of the artists that originated the songs join Straight No Chaser on vocals.

And this isn't a B-list group of guests, either. They include Stevie Wonder, Dolly Parton, Elton John, Phil Collins, Jason Mraz, Seal and Rob Thomas (of Matchbox Twenty).

"As far as landing some of those names, I just assumed that our management blackmailed them. That's the only explanation I could come up with," Nottingham joked. "We have Stevie Wonder on our album? Come on. That's crazy."

The song selection showcases the diversity of the musical tastes of the group, which also includes Walter Chase, Randy Stine, Jerome Collins, Michael Luginbill, Charlie Mechling, Tyler Trepp, Seggie Isho, Dave Roberts and Steve Morgan.

Parton joins the group on one of her signature hits, "Jolene." Straight No Chaser backs Parton's familiar vocal with a peppy rhythm and even some clever instrumental-type lines that add color to the track. Wonder does "Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I'm Yours)" -- a song Straight No Chaser performed on its own on its 2008 EP, "Six Pack." Here the guys in Straight No Chaser not only add backing vocals, they mimic horns, the song's prominent bass line and sprightly beat. Motown is also represented with a cover of the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back," featuring Sarah Bareilles, while fans of soul get medleys of Ray Charles ("What'd I Say/Hit the Road Jack/Mas Que Nada") and Bill Withers ("Use Me/Ain't No Sunshine").

There's a bit of classic pop/rock with a version of "Against All Odds (Take A Look At Me Now)" that has Collins reprising his vocal, and a rendition of "Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me," which puts the lead vocal of Elton John (who is in perfect form) in the spotlight.

Other songs show the guys in Straight No Chaser are up to date on current music. They seamlessly string together Fun's hits "Some Nights" and "We Are Young," and also perform solid versions of Gavin DeGraw's "Soldier" and Ed Sheeran's "Lego House."

While scheduling issues meant most of the guest artists recorded their vocals separately, Parton and Bareilles came to studios Straight No Chaser was using to record their vocals — a special thrill for the group.

"You can only imagine what it's like to have these folks (like Parton) come in and just knock out a solo to 'Jolene' in one take," Nottingham said. "I think she sang for like 10 minutes."

Along with "Under The Influence" the recording sessions also produced a Christmas EP, "Under The Influence: Holiday Edition." Its eight tunes feature lead vocals by Cee Lo Green, Colbie Caillat and none other than Paul McCartney (on "Wonderful Christmastime.")

The group wanted to do a holiday companion EP to "Under The Influence," Nottingham said, in part because Straight No Chaser is well-known for its Christmas albums.

In fact, it was a You Tube video of a wacky rendition of "The 12 Days Of Christmas" (filmed at a 1998 concert by the original lineup of Straight No Chaser after they had gotten together as students at the University of Indiana) that caught the attention of Craig Kallman, CEO of Atlantic Records and earned the group its record deal with Atlantic.

Thinking Christmas music was the perfect introduction to the group (whose members all sang in Indiana University editions of Straight No Chaser), Kallman and Atlantic had the group debut with the 2008 Christmas album, "Holiday Spirits." A second holiday CD, "Christmas Cheers," followed in 2009, while the group's other releases — the "Six Pack EP" (2008), the full-length "With A Twist" (2010) and the EP, "Six Pack: Volume II" (2011) — featured year-round songs.

The group will mix nonseasonal material with holiday tunes as it tours through the remainder of the year.

"We've got a heavy dose of that new album that's going to be performed," Nottingham said. "And then, of course, once it gets closer to the holidays, we'll pepper in some holiday music because we have a holiday EP coming out. … And there may be some old favorites, some things they wouldn't let us off of the stage unless we sang. So we'll get to do some of the old standbys as well."