”Still ain’t got no band”

Nelson Brill

December 2003

A Zimbabwe Proverb: “If you walk you can dance. If you talk you can sing!”

And sing they do! The masters of a cappella, the Persuasions, sing to the joyous heights on this audiophile gem, which transforms arrangements of Beatles classics into a creative cauldron of vocal beauty and finesse. The Persuasions created this work of art by recording it in the airy space of St. Peter’s Church in Manhattan, with expert recording advice and technology provided by David and Norman Chesky and their recording team. According to the liner notes, the Persuasions performed around a single microphone in a semi-circle, similar to the configuration that the group used forty years ago when they first performed a cappella on street corners in Brooklyn. Jim Haynes, the bass anchor of the Persuasions, notes that he was initially skeptical of this recording project because he felt that his bass would not be heard on such a live recording. David Chesky assured him he would be heard, and heard he is—in a magnificent, deep register that will test your system’s ability to accurately detail this bass master’s vocal range. In addition to Haynes’ incomparable bass, the recording captures the harmonic virtuosity of this group in spot-on perfect form, and lays out the airy soundstage of St. Peter’s venue in all of its breadth and depth. You should be able to close your eyes and see the members of the Persuasions before you, in their semi-circle formation, and listen to their wondrous breathing before their expressive notes are released.

The music itself is a revelation. Each song reminded me of a carousel which spins these well known Beatles tunes into new, creative arrangements of sound and color, yet always coming around to a predictable chorus or line that we all know from collective memory—similar to seeing that same horse on the carousel come around again. On “Love Me Do,” the Persuasions begin with delicate voicing and harmonies that are intertwined with a blast of doo wop sounds which convey the image and color of horns in an R&B band. The song ends with a beautiful phrasing of the chorus done first in pianissimo and growing to a final surge of power that leaves the listener begging for more. The joyous, riotous sounds that the Persuasions are able to produce are on full display in “Ob La Di, Ob La Da,” which bubbles free-flowingly from all angles in the soundstage and conveys all of the frenetic and comic energy of the Lennon and McCartney original with newfound gusto. From the finger snapping in the background of “Ballad of John and Yoko,” to the breathy whistling of “Octopus’s Garden,” this recording will test your system’s ability to get these unusual human sounds right, in pitch, tone and character. Finally, in both “Yesterday” and “Imagine,” the Persuasions dig infinitely deep for a plaintive mixture of gospel and blues which turn these anthems into a stirring, redemptive vocal celebration that reaches the rafters of our perception. Their vocal harmonies are tender, yet full of powerful delivery on themes that are as vital today as they were when the Beatles performed them. At the end of this recording gem, the Persuasions hold us tightly in their semi-circle and we literally leave the performance space of St. Peter’s Church renewed and inspired. 

We welcome any reader’s comments or suggestions for other audiophile CD favorites for upcoming Stereo Times reviews. Please contact Nelson 


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