Jerry Lawson – Just a Mortal Man – With the McCrary Sisters, Peter Cooper, and Eric Brace – Red Beet Records, 48 min. [4/28/15] *****:
Whenever I listen to a new album, I unconsciously await the one or two clunkers that can thud into each one. It’s nerve wracking to wait for the inevitable side Bs, the long-winded fillers, the skip-thats, and the not-so-goods. (I still can’t forgive the Beatles’ White Album for “Piggies.”)
I’m happy to say that Jerry Lawson’s Just a Mortal Man is refreshingly free of clunkers. All of the songs are at least good and many of them are just plain excellent. I am shocked and delighted by this. Many might remember that Jerry Lawson was the lead singer of the primo a cappella singing group The Persuasions, who sang together from the mid-sixties to the early 2000’s. In this solo album Jerry proves that he not only still has it, but that he’s able to select the right songs to showcase his warm & weathered baritone voice. He no longer sings a cappella, but instead uses skilled studio musicians and spirited backup singers who are well known. For example, on tracks 1, 2, 3, 6 & 8, he sings with the Nashville-based gospel group The McCrary Sisters. When they accompany him on the upbeat title track, they complement him with the skill of many singing years. With its well-timed call-and-answers, “Just a Mortal Man” is virtually a secular gospel song. About the only criticism I have is that at three minutes, it’s over far too soon. There’s even a country song, “Woman in White,” that Lawson delivers with a cred that could make Charlie Pride envious.
Here’s another delight about this disc. None of the lyrics are banal or trite. In fact, the words to “Wine” by singer Peter Cooper cut as deeply as good poetry.
“Wine, it don’t make me no dancer
Don’t give me no answers
It don’t bring you my way
Wine, don’t paint me no pictures
Don’t make me no richer
It just leads me astray.”
In addition, the melody is so smooth and relatable, it’s right up there with the soul tunes of Irma Thomas (“In the Middle of it All,” “Another Man Done Gone”). At 71, Lawson has seen his share of hard living. But instead of it adversely affecting his voice, it has given it sweet authority. Listen to the knowing laugh he inserts here and there in “Members Only,” a song about a club for the heartbroken. No pretense whatsoever. He makes you believe he’s lived through it and that you can too if the time comes.
Peace Like a River
Time and Water
I’m Just a Mortal Man
Never Been to Memphis
In the Dark
Down On My Knees
I Hope That Love Always Knows Your Name
Woman in White
Once in a While
I’ll Come Running Back to You (Live)