Jerry Lawson (center) and Talk of the Town (clockwise from lower left): Andrew Stan Lockwood, second tenor; Paul Carrington, baritone; the late Rayfield Ragler, Sr., bass; Carl ‘C.D.’ Douglas, first tenor.

Blessings Enough To Share
By David McGee

2007 Beyond A Cappella Records

Brothers and sisters, Jerry Lawson is here to save your souls!

What? You thought because he left the Persuasions in 2003 and vowed never to sing a cappella again that Jerry Lawson was leaving God’s work behind too? Think again, brothers and sisters.

Lawson, who went to the mountaintop innumerable times while leading the Persuasions for some four decades, was willingly lured back into the a cappella world by another veteran group of practitioners of the form, San Francisco’s Talk of the Town quartet, which has been together since 1972.  The long and winding road that brought Lawson and TOTT together is detailed in the liner notes, so buy the album and get educated. We are here to appraise what has come of this union, and to announce we are well pleased. This is not—repeat, not—Jerry Lawson and the Persuasions, even if the foundation of Lawson's previous affiliation is evoked by Lawson’s robust, spiritually resonant tenor and the warm, rhythmic, personable bass of the late Rayfield Ragler, Sr. (memorialized in Lawson’s liner notes as “the most talented bass man I’ve ever worked with," which might seem an unkind cut directed at the Persuasions’ great Jimmy Hayes, but it’s important to consider the context here). Distinct from the Persuasions, Lawson and TOTT meet at a junction equidistant from, oh, Curtis Mayfield and the far side banks of Jordan.  The Talk of the Town fellows work in a ‘60s soul framework, with a decided Chicago flavor in their harmonizing, with Lawson doing what he’s always done—bring the soul of gospel’s golden era to weigh on the proceedings. But Lawson, typically, is not singing to summon the spirit of Julius Cheeks or Wilson Pickett; he’s singing to celebrate a raft of spiritual blessings he’s experienced since leaving the Persuasions: settling in Scottsdale, AZ, with his beloved wife Julie, owning a home for the first time, dropping in at local clubs to sit in with jazz groups, even, as he writes in his liner notes, getting “new teeth,” and running a household for disabled adults in Phoenix. How he got over is what Jerry Lawson celebrates with his every breath on this record.

The making of Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town: a nine-minutes-plus documentary showing the work in progress, featuring interviews with Lawson and an astonishing rendition of a non-album track, Curtis Mayfield’s ‘People Get Ready,’ performed impromptu in the baggage claim area of Los Angeles International Airport. Essential viewing.

Well, then, what about the music? Although Talk of the Town is a male quartet, co-producer Lawson has enhanced the lineup by bringing in some female vocalists to bolster the attack, and suddenly you realize, all these years, we’ve rarely heard Lawson with a female supporting voice. Interestingly, the distaff singer who makes the greatest impression surfaces on a track where Lawson himself is nowhere in evidence—Jerry Lawson, that is. But his daughter Yvette is, and she knocks the Isley Brothers’ “For the Love of You” out of the park with a seductive, sensuous reading conveyed by her honeyed, cornet-like voice out front of the men’s rich ensemble support and Tempts-like harmony moves. On “I Hope,” a Dixie Chicks co-write with Keb Mo’ concerned with overcoming all manner of tribulation in pursuit of higher spiritual ground, Lawson’s moving lead vocal is shadowed by the men’s rumbling foundation and an airy, exultant chorus comprised of Alyn Kelley, Desiree Pointer Mace and Cynsa Bonorris (with one of those vaulting to a soul piercing falsetto cry at one point); and near the end of the album the same three women return to join Lawson in a song celebrating divine grace and the sanctity of human life, “God’s Gift To the World,” a more dramatic reading with rich, shifting vocal textures alternating between soulful ensemble hums and soothing reiterations of the exultant lyrics Lawson punctuates with his own gospel-centered vocal improvisations, singing on and around the beat and interjecting prayerful sentiments and encouragement to his partners in harmony.

An informal rehearsal of the Louis Armstrong hit, ‘What a Wonderful World,’ which appears as an optimistic, life affirming testimony on Jerry Lawson & Talk of The Town

But be not distressed, faithful followers of the Lawson Imperative, for he has not forsaken ye or his roots. Herein the masterful singer pays homage to a friend and influence from his formative years, a fellow named Sam Cooke, with a delightfully syncopated rendition—so jaunty it elicits a hearty laugh from Lawson even before the first verse is over—of “Frankie and Johnny,” with a bright, inventive, burbling bass line courtesy Ragler, Sr. at its solid bottom; later, in what could not have been a more perfect setup for “God’s Gift To the World,” Lawson and the fellows settle into an achingly tender rendition of Louis Armstrong’s late-life theme, “What a Wonderful World,” itself an optimistic, life affirming testimony as a prelude to an even deeper message song following it. And to those who have long since become accustomed to this singer nonpareil making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, consider the wonders he works on “Islands In the Stream,” the very title of which conjures chilling memories of Kenny Rogers’s leaden reading in a duet with a hard working Dolly Parton up against insurmountable vocal odds. But just as Leo Kottke looked deep into an odious early ‘70s pop song and delivered stirring, undiscovered poetry in his interpretation of “Rings,” so does Lawson—with Rockapella’s Sean Altman taking the high parts—turn this tune into more than a love song; rather, he works the closing “sail away with me” sentiment into a chant, repeating it again and again, his sturdy harmonic support raising the energy level behind him until the whole enterprise becomes a shout of spiritual ecstasy, a truly transcendent moment peculiar to Jerry Lawson’s singular art. And in what his liner notes say is his formal farewell to the Persuasions, Lawson and his mates offer a “Persuasions Medley.” To say it’s an emotional moment is to be guilty of understatement, because to hear the Reverend Lawson ascend to the holy a cappella pulpit one more time to work his magic on a righteous medley is nothing less than a virtuoso display of interpretive singing with a human heartbeat at its core: “Still Ain’t Got No Band,” Moonlight and Music,” “Drip Drop,” Curtis Mayfield’s wrenching love ballad with decided spiritual overtones, “Man Oh Man,” a dash of Mack David-Elmer Bernstein’s “Walk On the Wild Side,” and the frisky, self-explanatory anthem, “Good Old A Cappella,” all done with a sharp ear towards mood, pacing and passion.

Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town, ‘I’m So Glad (I’ve Got Skin),” from Jack’s Big Music Show on the Noggin network. This song was originally recorded by The Persuasions on the group’s On The Good Ship Lollipop album of children’s songs.

The world is not the same without the Persuasions intact, but it would be a far colder place were Jerry Lawson to be silenced completely. Apparently he has big plans to continue working in a variety of musical settings, and it sure would be nice to hear him paired with another empathetic female group, because the blend of vocal textures is so intriguing when it crops up here. But for the moment, right now, here’s hoping he continues to feel blessed in his life, because this summit with Talk Of the Town is a blessing to his fans.

And by the way—he still ain’t got no band.

Jerry Lawson & Talk of the Town is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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