The Persuasions – Knockin’ On Bob’s Door – Zoho Music ZM 201011, 53:41****:
(Joe Russell – second tenor; Jimmy Hayes – bass; Dave Revels – lead tenor; Raymond Sanders – first tenor; Bernard “B.J.” Jones – baritone; Cliff Dawson – guest tenor)
There are some groups similar to the Persuasions. They sing a capella, but are strictly derivative in the context. The Persuasions do secular a capella, and have created their own idiom. Formed in Brooklyn over four decades ago, this soulful ensemble would be “discovered” by, of all people, Frank Zappa, who produced their debut album. Throughout their career, the group has interpreted rock, blues, country, pop and children’s music, reshaping the songs into vocal gems. Without a “hit” in the repertoire, they have remained a vital force in popular music. Despite personnel changes (only two original members remain), the formula continues to work. The arrival of Dave Revels as lead tenor and musical director has once again energized this American institution. Tributes to Motown, the Beatles and Zappa sustained a legacy of artistic commitment. This unlikely success is due to the incredible range and depth of the gospel vocals. Induction into the Doo Wop Hall Of Fame is merely one accolade of many in this storied career.
If the notion of a doo wop album of Dylan songs seems weird, then you get the concept of the Persuasions. Where most cover projects might make a deep, introspective reading of the lyrics, The Persuasions turn it into a gospel revival. The basic format of five (sometimes six) voices (three/four tenors, one bass and one baritone) is pristine and organic in its execution. Social consciousness on tunes like “Blowing In The Wind” and “All Along The Watchtower” is tempered by tight percussive voices. Revel’s mellifluous tenor brings a sense of playfulness to “Just Like A Woman” and “Like A Rolling Stones” It helps that Dylan’s lyrics possess rhythm and pace. Each arrangement is concise and showcases the group’s innate sense of soulful harmonics.
“Quinn The Eskimo” (written as a “bet” by Dylan), employs “vocal horns” as a strange but effective fanfare. The natural gospel lament of “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” feels appropriate as a baritone hymn. A similar dynamic works for “Forever Young”, as the harmonies bring street corner singing to expressive heights. Not all of the arrangements are carefree. “Things Have Changed” expresses a distinctly, brooding narrative.
Unlike most tribute albums, “Knockin’ On Bob’s Door” adapts the music to the milieu of the Persuasions, not vice versa. For anyone interested in the profundity of a capella, this is a great place to start.
TrackList: Mr. Tambourine Man; All Along The Watchtower; Like A Rolling Stone; Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right; Quinn,The Eskimo (The Mighty Quinn); Blowing In The Wind; Positively 4th Street; You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere; When I Paint My Masterpiece; Lay Lady Lay; Just Like A Woman; Things Have Changed; Forever Young; Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
— Robbie Gerson