The Persuasions – Street Corner Symphony Capitol ST-872 (1971)
The Persuasions were there when they sang! Their music inhabited a place that was right on the pulse of what matters in music that stands the test of time. So much soul, so much determination. This music pulls no punches. Being a cappella harmony music, there is little room for mistakes–any mistakes are immediately apparent. But this one is just about note perfect. The a cappella format also provides nothing to fall back on. The singers have to put themselves out there all the time. There are no backing instruments to fill in, provide cover, or provide support. That’s ultimately what makes this music so special. It’s a “street corner symphony” because it is music that requires nothing, no instruments, no gimmicks, just voices. You could make this music on the street corner. But it’s rich and refined. It stands on equal footing with any symphony in terms of depth. The best of this type of music, like doo-wop, provides for relatively unguarded emotional outpouring. The Persuasions can sound sensitive and intimate, with the group harmonies preventing it from sounding cloistered. Lead singer Jerry Lawson had this amazing phrasing where he starts a note then holds it and adds in vibrato with a kind of gritty crackle. It just knocks you over. Great tunes here too. “Buffalo Soldier” is the perfect opener, and Bob Dylan‘s “The Man in Me” is a good choice. Plus there are more obvious selections, from the catalogs of The Impressions, The Temptations, Dixie Hummingbirds, etc. Coming in 1971, though, long after doo-wop faded in popularity, The Persuasions had the space to free themselves from any fads or expectations. They can just make music that matters to them. That is always a recipe for success. So this still feels as fresh as the day it was recorded, and will probably still have an impact on listeners well into the future too.