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A vocal phenomenon

Straight No Chaser has been known to get a few double takes when audiences hear a bass line and rhythms, but see only singers on stage. "It's just the 10 of us, 10 mikes, that's it," vocalist (what else?) Walter Chase says. "Even on the album, what might sound like a drum machine, that's all vocal percussion that has been engineered.

"That stems from our main vocal percussion guys, Tyler Trepp, Seggie Isho, Dave Roberts, myself ... (and) Randy Stine," Chase says.

The vocally produced rhythm sounds are among the facets of Straight No Chaser that make the group unique. That much is apparent on the group's latest CD, "With A Twist," in which SNC plies its vocal talents to a diverse set of a dozen covers.

A version of Crowded House's song "Don't Dream It's Over" captures SNC's full range of sound. The group also builds to a sound on the 1960s nugget "Tainted Love," which was made famous in the '80s by synth-pop group Soft Cell.

One of the CDs highlights comes when the group combines Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" with "Somewhere Over The Rainbow," playfully mixing lyrics and melodies from the two songs. But on a few songs, such as Coldplay's "Fix You" or Oasis' "Wonderwall," it feels as if the vocal arrangements could be more imaginative and Straight No Chaser could have taken a few more risks in reworking certain songs. But there's no disputing the vocal talents of the group members or the magic they create during the best moments of "With A Twist."

For most of the past 15 years, the only Straight No Chaser that existed was one made up of college students at the University of Indiana in Bloomington.

Six of the 10 members of today's vocal group were in the inaugural edition of the group that formed at the Big 10 school a decade and a half ago.

When graduation came for the original vocalists, they went their separate ways, never expecting that Straight No Chaser to be a part of their lives again.

That changed when the University of Indiana decided to have a reunion of the original Straight No Chaser in 2006. To help mark the occasion, SNC's Randy Stine posted a video on YouTube 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 seven million. One of those who tuned in was Craig Kallman, CEO of Atlantic Records, who called Stine to discuss a record deal.

"Randy thought it was a joke, had to Google him (Kallman) online," Chase says. "But it really was him. A couple of weeks later, the entire group is at Atlantic Records speaking with Craig and the higher ups at Atlantic, and they were telling us that they wanted us to do a five-album record deal with them."

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.

Straight No Chaser was off and running, and last year the group released a holiday sequel, "Christmas Cheers," which included a mix of new tracks and songs from "Holiday Spirits."

The success of the Christmas material forced Straight No Chaser to postpone its plans to make a full CD of pop material. The group released an EP, "Six Pack," last year, but only now has the long-planned "With A Twist," arrived in stores.

A cappella group Straight No Chaser began for the fun of it as a college band - Photo courtesy of Britt Festivals