Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Persuasions

  • Acappella [Straight, 1970] C+
  • We Came to Play [Capitol, 1971] B+
  • Street Corner Symphony [Capitol, 1972] B
  • Spread the Word [Capitol, 1972] B+
  • We Still Ain't Got No Band [MCA, 1973] B
  • I Just Want to Sing With My Friends [A&M, 1974] B-
  • Chirpin' [Elektra, 1977] B+
  • Comin' at Ya [Flying Fish, 1979] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Acappella [Straight, 1970]
By recording half of this live, the best way to assure that the vocal textures will be lost (they sound better in subway tunnels than on stages anyway), Frank Zappa and/or his agents reduce this group to the level of Alice Cooper, Wild Man Fischer, and the GTOs--another act in the freak show. C+

We Came to Play [Capitol, 1971]
"You should never try to put a tuxedo on the funky blues," reads Richard Penniman's epigraph, but that doesn't mean they should go naked: Jimmy Hayes's bass pulse may be a wonder, but it isn't a trap set. The studio work here captures their live blend, but that's not quite enough--every lyric, melody, arrangement, and lead has to rank with those of "Man, Oh Man" or "Walk on the Wild Side" for an acappella album to call you back. B+

Street Corner Symphony [Capitol, 1972]
If you believe acappella is inherently superior to "commercial" rock and roll, you'll prefer the Persuasions' covers to the Sam Cooke and Impressions and Temptations originals. But if you think it's an eccentric alternative, you'll note that Jerry Lawson's style is a punchier, less delicate variation on the sweet gutturals of David Ruffin, who himself barely gets by--with skillful help from Norman Whitfield--on a grade-B ballad like "I Could Never Love Another." B

Spread the Word [Capitol, 1972]
The offhand concept announced by the title--gospel and its dissemination--doesn't come out as sentimental as you might expect. Not counting "The Lord's Prayer," the only straight gospel song here is "When Jesus Comes," a millenarian vision that seems rather vague after the more detailed (and profane) utopia described in "When I Leave These Prison Walls." "The Ten Commandments of Love," "Heaven Help Us All," and "Hymn #9" (a Vietnam junkie song recommended to John Prine) all translate church metaphor into secular maxim, while "Lean on Me" and "Without a Song" apotheosize the pious commonplace. "T.A. Thompson" reveres a rev. And Bob Dylan's "Three Angels"--one of the dopiest songs about religion ever written--is here transformed into apt intro and reprise. B+

We Still Ain't Got No Band [MCA, 1973]
On their r&b album they go head to head with Jimmy Reed and outdo Sam Cooke as well as unearthing a doowop standard that Don Robey probably doesn't remember he wrote (if he did). They also go head to head with the Impressions, the Drifters, and the Coasters. And unearth a soul substandard by one Jimmy Hughes that will live on in the memory of Jimmy Hughes's mother. B

I Just Want to Sing With My Friends [A&M, 1974]
Most of side two works despite the horns. But producer-songwriter Jeff Barry's benign poppificiation sounds positively metastatic when counterposed against the arty purity of the few acappella cuts he permits. B-

Chirpin' [Elektra, 1977]
Those who agree with the group's in-it-for-love producer David Dashev that this disc is "definitive" find Jerry Lawson's deadpan interpretation of Tony Joe White's "Willie and Laura Mae Jones" and Joe Russell's solo claim on "To Be Loved" more resonant than I do. But I am impressed by the acappella anthem "Lookin' for an Echo" and the way they sustain "Women and Drinkin'" for seven minutes, and I really like the easy stuff: "Papa Oom Mow Mow" and "Sixty Minute Man." B+

Comin' at Ya [Flying Fish, 1979]
The least "contemporary" record they've ever essayed--except for "Love Me Like a Rock," all the material dates back to when their acappella style was a genuine urban folk response to what was on the radio--is uniformly listenable. It's also their first for this bluegrass-centered Chicago label, and thanks--here's what folkies are for. B+