Persuasions And Friends – Persuasions Of The Dead – Zoho Roots (2 CDs)

by | Oct 12, 2011 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Persuasions And Friends – Persuasions Of The Dead – Zoho Roots (2 CDs) ZM 201112, 87:03 ****:
(Jerry Lawson – baritone; Jimmy Hayes – bass; Joseph “Sweet Joe” Russell – second tenor; Jayotis Washington – tenor, baritone; Raymond Sanders – first tenor, soprano; plus special guests Vince Welnick – piano; Country Joe McDonald – blues harp, vocals; Peter Rowan – vocals; plus many others)
In 2000, The Persuasions released a one disc Grateful Dead tribute, titled Might As Well. The legendary a capella group also released tributes to the Beatles, Frank Zappa, U2 and Bob Dylan to critical acclaim. However, they decided to revisit the Dead sessions. Producer Rip Rense has remixed these recordings, with guest artists and additional tracks. The Persuasions Of The Dead is an ambitious two-disc release with 20 tracks. The arrangements of Grateful Dead songs highlight the uplifting vocals of this inimitable group. What is different is that there are guest vocalists and some instrumental accompaniment. Opening the album is “Ripple”, with a lead by Jerry Lawson. The rest of the group follows in breezy unison. A touch of mandolin (Eric Thompson) and dobro (Pete Grant) changes the typical a capella structure. Clearly there are many fans of the group, and a variety of contributions (Tom Waits came up with the title). “Bertha” maintains the ragged funkiness of the original but receives a shot of gospel with piano from late, Dead member Vince Welnick. Another welcome number is “Sugaree”. Lawson fronts the street corner groove, even getting the weary vocals of Jerry Garcia. Peter Rowan throws in with his dulcet tenor voice, and Country Joe McDonald (who previously recorded with the group) helps out on blues harp.
It seems rather unlikely that The Persuasions would be a natural fit for The Dead, but they are. The connection to the root influences of rock n’ roll coalesce the music. The urgency of “One More Saturday Night” is captured in street corner attitude by the singers with a glorious boost from Jackie La Branch, Gloria Jones and Mary Schmary. The addition of electric guitar (Mark Karan) adds an edgy touch. The trio of female voices revitalizes the heartbreak musing of “He’s Gone”.  Gospel synthesizing of rock continues with “Might As Well”.  Always bringing a quirky accent, “Don’t Ease Me In” is very inventive. Alyn Kelley breaks out the vocal trumpet in a note-for-note recreation of Garcia’s guitar solo. The melancholic elegance of “Stella Blue” is riveting with sweet melodic singing and a brief solo on erhu (a Chinese stringed instrument) by Dongming Quiao.
Some of the cuts feature just the group. “New Speedway Boogie” has the breaks and spiritual ambiance of the original. Lyricist Robert Hunter conveys heartfelt spirituality in songs like “Brokedown Palace” and “Graetest Story Ever Told”.  Lawson’s keen ear for arrangement molds these types of compositions into harmonic Persuasion songs.
Persuasions Of The Dead is more than a cover album. There is a genuine affinity for the source material and the level of artistic commitment speaks volumes. A psychedelic cover painting by Luis Genaro Garcia captures the essence of the psychedelic “band of the people.”  Strange, but beautiful…just like The Dead!
Disc One: Ripple; Bertha; Sugaree; Brokedown Palace; Greatest Story Ever Told; Lazy River Road; New Speedway Boogie; Ship Of Fools; Don’t Ease Me In
Disc Two: Here Comes Sunshine 1; Might As Well; It Must Have Been The Roses; Loose Lucy; Liberty; Black Muddy River; Suite: Here Comes Sunshine 2/Drumz/Space (excerpt); He’s Gone; One More Saturday Night; And I Bid You Goodnight; Stella Blue
—Robbie Gerson

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