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The OneUps Volume 1 :: Review by Chris

The OneUps Volume 1 Album Title: The OneUps Volume 1
Record Label: OneUp Studios
Catalog No.: OUS-004
Release Date: June 28, 2005
Purchase: Buy at OneUp Studios


A band's first album is generally what makes or breaks them, and many bands sadly end up failing. The reasons for this are complex, but lack of publicity, poor music and performance, and lack of originality are the three major reasons. Thankfully, such reasons for failure should not be the bane of The OneUps. Indeed, publicity is not a problem, as OneUp Studios already has a fairly dedicated group of fans, after releasing several highly successful fan-arranged albums, including Xenogears Light | An Arranged Album and Time & Space: A Tribute to Yasunori Mitsuda. In addition, there is certainly a demand for such a band, as there is no band other than The OneUps that specialises in jazz and other types arrangements of a wide variety of video game music available. While there are some people out there who still doubt fan-arrangers capabilities, as several albums have gone to show, fan-arranged albums are not inferior to most official ones, but merely different. Most importantly, however, the quality of the music and performance of The OneUps Volume 1 is nothing short of outstanding. It is this fact that I will address throughout the review.

With that said, let me introduce you to the performers. First and foremost is Anthony Lofton, the leading star, who is the tenor and soprano saxophonist for the majority of the album. As a fairly proficient saxophonist myself, it takes a lot for me to be left in awe of another performer, but Anthony had that effect on me. His jazz ability is phenomenal, with his solos not only being immensely technically accurate, but also original, varied, and extremely passionate. He was an excellent choice to lead the album and, in many ways, is the heart and soul of the band. Violinist Greg Kennedy is another amazing soloist throughout the album and quite a few tracks display his talent. Though he appears to have already picked up a legion of fans after his work on Xenogears Light | An Arranged Album, this album shows off his virtuosic flair even more prominently. William Reyes and Tim Yarbrough are While the other musicians take a more supportive role, each stands out in some way, with Jared Dunn proving to be consistently excellent on the drums, Tim Yarbrough and William Reyes being strong on various forms of guitar, and Mustin proving his versatility on keyboards, bari sax, percussion, and other instruments.

The track listings incorporate arrangements of from a wide variety of games, and though Zelda and Mario arrangements feature most prominently, arrangements from hit games such as Katamari Damacy, Chrono Trigger, and Donkey Kong Country also feature. Most of the original melodies are very well-known and the track listings should ensure it is a wonderful haven for gamers and soundtrack collectors alike. As you've probably guessed, the arrangements themselves are principally jazz-oriented, though a wide variety of other genres appear, varying from Rock to Bluegrass all the way to Funk. Often, such diversity is added when a member of the band creates a solo arrangement himself, and there are several solo arrangements in addition to the ones created by the band as a whole. This supports the diverse track listings, though stylistic consistency is maintained to an extent, which ensures the album forms a cohesive whole. In fact, with one exception, there isn't a single track on the album that feels misplaced or interruptive. All the arrangements take a new and creative approach by often transforming the styles of the original altogether, and this gives the album its own unique flair. Still, a happy medium is maintained between being expansive and making the original unrecognisable; though the styles sometimes change, the original melodies are often left untouched.

Track-by-Track Reviews

1) ToeJam & Earl - ToeJam Jammin'

The album starts with a funk arrangement of one of the most memorable Sega themes ever created. Mustin begins the track with the bass guitar, playing a classic riff, and William Reyes and Tim Yarbrough come in soon after, playing the electric nylon string guitar and electric guitar respectively. Though a simple introduction, this is the intention, in order for the melody to have room for expansion later on through some real jammin'. Indeed, the track really starts moving when Anthony Lofton and his tenor saxophone join in. At first, he has a small input, but by the 1:30 mark he is giving the track a soloist, passionate, and awe-inspiring performance, playing virtuosic jazzy passages with flair and never relenting. The best part of the track comes at the 3:00 mark, when Mustin comes in and improvises on the electric piano, later joined by Anthony Lofton, who makes this passage even more remarkable. Despite the absence of any guitar solos and violin passages, it still feels very fulfilling; boasting an excellent performance, some inspired arranging, and plenty of development, this track is certainly a wonderful introduction to the The OneUp's work. (10/10)

2) Super Mario Kart - Koopa Beach

Despite all his talents, Anthony Lofton doesn't appear to be an accomplished alto saxophonist, since guest performer Nathan McLeod was employed as the alto saxophonist for this track and one other later on the album. Like Anthony, he is a strong performer, giving all the melodies he plays character and life; this really shows up with his interpretation of the "Koopa Beach" melody, since he manages to express them in a way that sounds cheeky, laid-back, and beautiful all at the same time. Together with Jared Dunn on the egg shakers, maracas, and bongos, and Mustin on the guiro, Nathan manages to successfully paint a distinct picture of the tropical island from Super Mario Kart. Despite the dominance of the alto saxophone, Anthony Lofton gets his soprano sax out a little later on to play an absolutely incredible solo and William Reyes also makes some fine contributions by stretching his nylon string guitar melody to its limits through some excellent improvisation. While Greg Kennedy's violin passages and guest performer Matthew Bridges' bass guitar accompaniment are not as prominent as the three soloists' contributions, both performers add to the flavour of the track and it is good to see Greg introduced at last. This is yet another great track, and each performer is flawless once more; with two superb tracks out of two, the album looks set to be a success. (9/10)

3) Mario Paint - Monkeys

As I briefly discussed in the overview, several arrangements on the album were written by only one person and this is the first of these, coming straight from the heart of Mustin. He plays no less than four instruments here — the melodica, piano, guiro, and bass guitar — and though the melodica is the dominant throughout, the other instruments are all effectively utilised and are an apt demonstration of Mustin's ability to play almost any instrument well! Though it's fairly rare to see a melodica be utilised these days, since this track seems to be inspired by Jamaican music, it seems entirely appropriate and gives the track a novel timbre. As well as featuring Mustin prominently, this track also sees Greg Kennedy's first solo at the 2:20 mark, which demonstrates Greg's true ability for the first time. Though fans of emotional or action-packed arrangements may find this one a little dull, for those who like light arrangements done in an unusual style, it is sure to satisfy. (9/10)

4) Super Mario Sunshine - Isle Delfino

Tim Yarbrough gets the chance to truly shine for the first time with his nifty arrangement of Koji Kondo's "Isle Delfino." Tim is responsible for the acoustic steel string guitar performance throughout the track, and his performance is both technically accurate and filled with character. These guitar lines certainly have a certain brightness and punch to them, and this is further emphasised with Tim's enjoyable solo about a minute in. A series of other solos are placed between the sections where the nylon guitar leads, including a solo from Greg Kennedy on the violin, as well as several of Mustin's melodica solos. These solos are not only well-performed, but add to the original nature of the arrangement, since neither instrument would be expected to feature on a piece led by an acoustic steel string guitar. Greg Kennedy, William Reyes, and Mustin also have a supplementary role, playing the mandolin, nylon string guitar, and bass guitar respectively, and each makes a contribution to driving the arrangement and giving it more zest. This piece is certainly a worthy addition and Tim Tarbrough ought to be very proud of his creation. (9/10)

5) Earthworm Jim - Andy Asteroids

The sole Bluegrass track on the album wasn't a disappointment, despite being a Tommy Tallarico piece originally, and Greg Kennedy is the primary reason for this. He truly shines on the fiddle, demonstrating his flair by playing immensely difficult passages with unsurpassable technical accuracy, while retaining a buoyant and energetic feel throughout. The arrangement's fast-paced tempo, vast range, and endless demanding runs are no match for Greg and his unfaltering persistence throughout the track is nothing short of inspirational. Greg is supported by William Reyes on nylon guitar, Matthew Bridges on bass guitar, and Jared Dunn on drums; while each has a strictly supportive role throughout the arrangement, they collectively do a fine job of retaining the arrangement's pace and cheeky character. Though it will rank unfavourably by individuals who despise all country music, for those people who enjoy a catchy melody combined by with a superb performance, it should be a source of endless joy. Kudos to you, Greg. (10/10)

6) Chrono Trigger - Schala

"Schala" is the only arrangement of a Square album to be featured, which is quite a surprise, as OneUp Studios have mostly arranged Square themes in the past; still, it's hardly a problem, as most of the other music featured is well-known nonetheless. Actually, what I just said isn't strictly true, as there is a Final Fantasy V track hidden somewhere on the album, but you'll just have to find that yourself. Anyway, this arrangement is the best I have heard of "Schala," and, though this might not sound much of a statement, when you're a webmaster at Square Enix Music Online, it actually means a lot! Mustin opens the track with the memorable glockenspiel melody from the original and Greg Kennedy soon joins in and plays part of the main melody on the violin in an extremely sensitive way. Though the violin sadly takes a backseat in the passage that follows, Anthony Lofton fills in the hole effectively by playing the rest of the melody in his trademark rich, relaxing, and semi-improvised soprano saxophone style. His solo develops naturally, and is continually filled with emotion and original touches, showing once more that Anthony is not only a great technical performer, but is also completely in-touch with all the subtle emotions his source material presents. The only disappointment with this one is the end; while a fade-out is effective to a certain extent, it seems a little sudden and something more definite might have brought the arrangement to a better conclusion. Still, it's a warm addition to the album and any Chrono Trigger fan ought to seriously consider the album with such a substantial arrangement of one of the game's most memorable themes being featured. (9/10)

7) Axelay - City Lights

This is guest arranger Posu Yan's only arrangement on the album and succeeds in being a strong addition to the album. The track begins with a Matthew Bridges' quirky bass guitar line, soon joined by Jared Dunn's drum beats. These instruments are used to provide a steady beat and set a slow and relaxing pace immediately. After about a minute, Anthony Lofton comes in on the soprano saxophone and plays a cool jazz melody that immediately relaxes your mind due to its rich nature and Anthony's performance. Soon after the first iteration of the melody, William Reyes' acoustic guitar comes in and takes the solo line for a while, playing in a subdued and calming style. Soon after, however, Anthony Lofton returns, playing an emotional improvised passage, which effectively brings the arrangement to its end. Posu Yan, Anthony Lofton, and William Reyes all really stand out for their efforts here, since the trio successfully allowed the arrangement to be relaxing and also stand up in its own right against tracks with a similar atmosphere. Though there is little to criticise, the track suffers somewhat from a repetitive drum beat and an underdeveloped bass guitar line, hence the not-so-perfect score. (8/10)

8) Katamari Damacy - Katamaritaino

Katamari Damacy has to be one of the most memorable scores to be released over the last year and Mustin's arrangement here should satisfy both the hardcore fans of its soundtrack and those that are completely unfamiliar with it. It's one of the few tracks to feature the entire band, giving it a special touch, and, consequently, the diversity of the timbres to be heard in this one is greater than any other; admittedly, however, this is largely because of Mustin and Jared Dunn, who play nine instruments between them! The melody mostly alternates between Anthony Lofton on his two saxophones and singer Rebekah Wood, a guest performer for this track and the only vocalist (and female, for that matter) to be featured on the album. Needless to say, Anthony does this track a lot of favours and enhances an already wonderful arrangement, while Rebekah Wood's vocals fit in perfectly with the laid-back feel of the rest of the track and are a suitable addition, since the Katamari Damacy Original Soundtrack principally featured light vocals. The rhythm section doesn't have much to do, but effectively creates a Samba feel, and Greg Kennedy also features quite prominently and demonstrates his delightful violin work once more. In summary, this is a great half-way intermission that effectively demonstrates the overall style of the album wonderfully, shows everyone that Mustin is the King of fan arrangement, and features a melody that is simply unforgettable. (10/10)

9) Super Mario 64 - Koopa's Theme

Remember that I said there was one arrangement that was one exception to the rule of all arrangements fitting the album? Well, unfortunately, the arrangement of "Koopa's Theme" is it. Suddenly placing a heavy metal arrangement after a series of light jazz arrangements simply ends up sounding odd and the arrangement significantly undermines the overall feel of the album. As a stand-alone arrangement, it is pretty good, and expands effectively on the original in order to fit the genre well. Particularly notable additions include the emphasis on the amplified and distorted guitars, the virtuosic and wonderfully executed lead guitar solos from William Reyes in the arrangement's latter half, and the aggressive, driving rhythms from Mustin's bass guitar and rhythm guitars that run throughout. The correspondence between Mustin and William Reyes is particularly well-executed, while Jared Dunn's supporting role on the drums is also very effective. Still, though the solos add a lot to the track, the arrangement does feel repetitive, as the bass riff and main melody all repeat far too many times to allow this track to sound interesting after several listens. Though this track boasts an excellence performance and will surely please most rockers out there, it is the most disappointing on the album, since the arrangement is a little weak and the style itself is inappropriate for this particular album. (7/10)

10) Bomberman - Bomberman

This track demonstrates one of the elements of The OneUp's music that makes it them unique: unusual instrumental contrasts. It opens with a electric nylon string guitar riff from William Reyes, which feels very quirky thanks to its distinct articulation and rhythmical qualities. The track's eccentricity increases with the subsequent additions of Mustin's overdriven bass guitar riff and Greg Kennedy's light-hearted violin solo. By the 0:35 mark, the textures become even thicker and the timbres become more unusual with the addition of Anthony Lofton's tenor saxophone melody, Jared Dunn's drum beats, and Mustin's piano accompaniment. While Anthony's tenor saxophone passage make the greatest overall impression, Tim Varbrough's overdriven electric guitar solo is undoubtedly a classic solo that makes a wonderful track even better. As one of the few tracks where every single band member performs, this track is an outstanding one, both for its diversity and excellent execution. (10/10)

11) Zelda II: The Adventure of Link - Town Medley

This arrangement is an unusual addition to the album for several reasons. First, it is the only solo performance, being an acoustic guitar piece that was both arranged and performed by William Reyes. Second, it actually integrates several themes from Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, not just one, though the themes are blended together in a way that means each theme fluidly flows into one another. As well, it is the slowest developing piece on the album, and takes a long time to develop from the frequently repeated main melody. Furthermore, it is also the most subtle arrangement on the album, as its intricacy is often hidden by its apparent simplicity; its actually a very complex arrangement, not just harmonically, but in terms of the emotions it creates and is ideal for representing peaceful, cosy, and serene town. If you're a fan of fast-paced, action-packed arrangements, you'll probably find this arrangement to be one of the less effectual additions; however, if you're a fan of relaxing unplugged arrangements, this arrangement will surely be a pleasing. It is certainly the subtle gem of the album and the piece that demonstrates William Reyes' enormous talent most aptly. (9/10)

12) The Legend of Zelda - Bossa De Link

Since the Zelda main theme has been arranged many times in its long history, arranging it here might seem a poor move. However, it actually proves to be one of the best additions, since it affirmatively demonstrates that The OneUps can give any track their individual touch, even if it has been arranged 20-30 times already. This is principally due to two people — William Reyes, the solo arranger of this track (indeed, he seems to be keen on making awesome Zelda arrangements) and Nathan McLeod, the guest alto saxophonist. The absence of Anthony Lofton here is a welcome gift, since Nathan's style is extremely different to Anthony's, though just as admirable; despite my huge respect for Anthony, any more of his solos on one album might have been overkill and this track effectively avoid this. Nathan's performance accustoms to the Bossa Nova style wonderful, sounding light, fluent, and free throughout, and his sometimes flamboyant improvisation gives the track an energetic edge, particularly when he is employing the growling technique. Still, while the track features the alto saxophone predominantly from its straightforward introduction all the way to its decorative end, it would sound empty were it not for William Reyes, Mustin, and Jared Dunn, who play the nylon string guitar, bass guitar, and drums respectively. Each provide a supportive Bossa Nova rhythm throughout, and though there's not much variety in the accompaniment, a functional accompaniment is all that is needed when Nathan is leading. Overall, this track proves to be an original and engaging perspective of a globally-loved theme and demonstrates Nathan McLeod's talents effectively. (10/10)

13) Donkey Kong Country - Aquatic Ambience

As far as ambient pieces go, "Aquatic Ambience" has always been surprisingly melodic and The OneUp's arrangement serves only to emphasise this by combining Anthony Lofton's utterly gorgeous soprano saxophone melody with all sorts of atmospheric effects from Mustin's synthesizer pad and piano decorations. It opens subtly with a gentle nylon guitar solo from William Reyes, which is lightly accompanied by synthesizer effects that fade in and out to give the image of the boundless sea. At the 0:52 mark, Anthony Lofton's soprano saxophone and Jared Dunn's drums enter, and a distinct 'new age' style becomes obvious. The dreamy melodic lines leave you captivated, due to their natural flow and gorgeous execution from Anthony, while Mustin's underlying piano decoration adds to the surreal feel further. At the 2:11, William Reyes' nylon string guitar solo is featured and provides a charming textural contrast, sounding extremely delicate and subtle, though Anthony takes over the solo a little later in the track to give it even more grit before the recapitulation of the main melody. Due to its inspired nature and rich style, it is clear that this arrangement is a masterpiece and shows clearly that relaxing numbers are what The OneUps do best. (10/10)

14) Kirby's Dream Land - Green Greens

"Green Greens" is Anthony Lofton's only solo arrangement, and he plays a major part in the performance, too, as the electric pianist, soprano saxophonist, and tenor saxophonist. Despite Anthony obviously requiring separate recording sessions for each instrument in order to do this, the track runs perfectly, as each instrument is played in time with the others and the the saxophone melodic lines are perfectly interwoven together. The truly outstanding element of the track is the way each of the saxophones have their own solos, and are even heard improvising at the same time at one point. The improvisation is profound, being technically demanding, stylish, and perfectly fitting against Jared Dunn's drum beats and Matthew Bridges' bass guitar rhythm. The track is pure ingenuity, both in terms of performance and arrangement, and it may well be the best fan-arranged track to ever be created. While Anthony Lofton has already proved himself several times already, none of his efforts are quite as awe-inspiring as this one. (10/10)

15) Maniac Mansion - Michael

This track has the most interesting introduction on the album, being led by Greg Kennedy on the violin, who plays a light and syncopated little melody. It is nicely accompanied by a groovy rhythm and some quirky interjections from Anthony Lofton's tenor saxophone. Soon after, it becomes led by Tim Tarbrough who gets the chance to shine once more with possibly the best guitar solo on the album. Anthony Lofton is featured throughout most of the track, playing a fast-paced, longevous, and mesmerising tenor saxophone solo. It is an extremely effective passage between Tim's solo and the recapitulation of Greg's melody that gives the track a firm basis for development. Mustin's bass guitar stands out quite a bit in this track, too, and is a perfect basis for the three main instrumental solos to develop. Though the end seems a little uninspired on a stand-alone, it is actually very effective in that it leads into the next track without any break. While not one of my favourites, its catchy violin melodies and superb instrument solos still make it a very worthy addition to the album. (9/10)

16) Paperboy - Paperboy

"Paperboy" leads straight in from "Michael" and closes the album in a fitting way, despite the absence of Greg Kennedy. The introduction to the track is simplistic, but sounds very effective thanks to the hand clapping, Jared Dunn's percussion use, and Mustin's bicycle bell noises and bass guitar riff. The bicycle bell, in particular, really screams nostalgia and is a cute touch that makes this track a memorable one from the outset. Following the introduction, William Reyes leads on the electric nylon string guitar, playing a light and rhythmic melody, subtly accompanied by Tim Yarbrough. Soon enough, the melody becomes improvised over by Anthony Lofton and he doesn't let us down with his final solo on the album, which shouldn't be a surprise, since Anthony seems incapable of doing anything badly. Though the section after the saxophone solo seems a little uninspired, being repetitive and anticlimactic, the track doesn't quite end there, as there is a bonus part featured after silence for about a minute. Though I won't spoil it by describing it, it's a fun and slightly cheesy touch that should certainly make any gamer smile. Though not one of the best on the album in a musical sense, this track certainly remains one of the most creative and enjoyable nonetheless, particularly with its bonus part, and should prove accessible to everyone. (8/10)


Quite evidently, The OneUps Volume 1 is an outstanding debut for The OneUps and this band has the potential to achieve great fame for their exemplary efforts. As the track-by-track reviews should have made clear, the arrangements are nearly always inspiring, creative, and melodic, while the performances are consistently good. The band members are all hugely talented, and, while Anthony Lofton, Greg Kennedy, and William Reyes make the biggest impact, the other three never stumble and all stand out in several places on the album. Furthermore, each band member clearly has a significant amount of talent when it comes to arranging; Anthony Lofton's solo arrangement is particularly impressive, which is to be expected after hearing him improvise, though the solo arrangements from Mustin, William Reyes, and Tim Yarbrough are practically faultless, too, and add a great deal of diversity to the album. Furthermore, Mustin and mixer Dale North deserve a special mention for their work behind-the-scenes, which made this album possible and ensured it became executed in the finest way possible. With such a great amount of musical talent in the band, as well as high levels of publicity and an original style, The OneUps certainly deserve to succeed and produce a second album.

Despite the track-by-track reviews being mostly complementary of the album, it does have flaws, though these are mostly minor ones. The most significant of these is the low-key role keyboard instruments had throughout the album. As previous albums have shown, Mustin is a very talented pianist, yet none of the tracks really show off his talent. A track based around principally around jazz piano would have been a welcome treat to all those pianists out there and would have brought an additional layer of diversity to the album. The only rock track, "Koopa's Theme," was also disappointing, sounding inappropriate for the album, and though the guitar performances were impeccable, it didn't remedy a mediocre arrangement. Another significant letdown was the information accompanying the CD; apart from a Special Thanks page and some credits, no further information is created. Some liner notes and biographies of the performers would have been a welcome addition, and, though substantial information is provided relating to this on The OneUp's Web site, a hard copy would have been much more easily accessible and given the album a more personal touch. The design could have been better, too; though the artwork is lovely (save the dead turtle on the inside cover, which has traumatized me for life), the text is often very difficult to read, particularly on the Special Thanks page.

Still, despite its slight flaws, everything else about this album is remarkable. With near-perfect track listings, exceptional performances, accessible arrangements, and unique and diverse styles, you really cannot go wrong with it. It is easily worth the money and any gamer or soundtrack collector would love it, so long as they have at least some affinity to jazz. Bring on Volume II!

Overall Score: 9/10