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The Lettermen: New Record, Same Harmonies

In the early 1960s, The Lettermen landed on the pop charts with tight harmonies and songs of romance. Tony Butala, Donovan Tea and Mark Preston were young men wearing letterman jackets, hence the band's name. Five decades later, they're still wearing their signature apparel and reinterpreting their favorite songs. Their latest album, New Directions 2010, features Les Brown Jr.'s Band of Renown.

Butala formed the group in 1958. Although members have come and gone, the group has always included versatile, disciplined vocalists. With Butala's carefully arranged harmonies and ear for musical dynamics, the trio's voices blend like a quartet.

"All of a sudden, you hear a fourth voice because we're ringing that chord so well," Tea says. "Tony told us that was going to happen if we hit the notes properly."

New Directions 2010 is The Lettermen's most diverse record so far. Les Brown Jr.'s Band of Renown contributes a big-band sound in covers of songs from the Doobie Brothers and Earth, Wind & Fire. Initially, Tea wondered if the trio could successfully "Lettermen-ize" these classics, but with Butala at the helm, he says he realized there was no reason to worry.

"When we finished, it came out sounding like a million bucks," he says.

The Lettermen's interpretations of classics such as "When I Fall in Love" and "The Way You Look Tonight" still draw crowds at the group's live shows, and they're occasionally heard in department stores and elevators. The group doesn't seem to mind either way.

"When you can do something that people care enough to play, I don't care where it is," Butala says. "If they care enough to play it, it means it's relevant."

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