If groups are implored to write original songs, and lauded when they do, then clearly in-house arranging is considered preferable to outsourcing. On some level, it echoes the "original artist vs. cover band" conflict that preys on the egos of collegiate a capella singers everywhere.
What makes an a capella song worth listening to over the original? My favorite a capella songs bring elements to a song that make it a completely superior experience to listening to the original. In some very rare cases, it can just be a group's vocal execution of the song. If that's the case, kudos. (Note: this is easier to do if the original artist was a great songwriter but poor singer.)
More often, though, singing well isn't enough to make me want to listen to an a capella song over the original. It needs to add something, to feel like a piece that wasn't complete until the cover version was made.
And at that point, does it matter who sings it, so long as they sing it well and with heart?
So a group just needs to ask itself if it wants to chase that feeling of creation, or if they want to perform someone else's version of another someone's song. The latter choice, adding another degree of separation, is perfectly viable for anyone that wants to sing songs and sound good. It's all a matter of aspirations.
None of what I've said is actually relevant to the thread, I realize, since it doesn't address whether or not arrangement source should be a factor of an album's review. Reviewers can feel however they want to; what they're looking for very well might be different than what you or I look for. My concern is for the creative spirit of the group itself, how you feel about what you give to the world, not for what everyone else thinks.
When you get a 4 or a 5 for creativity, how are you going to feel? Is it worth making those scores harder to reach, finding something within rather than without, if it means feeling more ownership of the scores you earn?
I'm sure different people will feel differently. Some will care, some won't. Only one question has an answer with any meaning at all: will you?
Christopher Van Lenten
Tufts Beelzebubs, 2004-2008