Just A Mortal Man
Red Beet Records, RBR CD019, 48:23
CD Review by Hermon Joyner
May 1, 2015
Not too long ago, I wrote a piece here for The Americana Corner called Lady Gaga at the Oscars, or How I Came to Love Bluegrass Singing, and in that article, I talked about our society’s contemporary standards for singers and how the sound of most current vocalists is really more about the technologies used by the recording engineers than it is about the singers’ own natural abilities. So in a way, we are living in a time where the voice isn’t really all that important. What’s important is all the effects we can pile on top of a voice and how over-the-top we can get with videos and stadium extravaganzas. The role of the “great voice” now exists only in musical genres like jazz, bluegrass, and Americana, among a few others. But that’s okay, because people like Jerry Lawson and his new recording, Just A Mortal Man, is a brilliant example of that “great voice.” And when he sings, he is the epitome of old school.
Jerry Lawson was one of the founding members and the lead singer of The Persuasions, an a capella soul/street corner group from Brooklyn that began in the 1960s and is still going today, though Lawson retired from the group in 2003. Lawson is now 71 years old. Frank Zappa is credited with discovering them and even flew them to Los Angeles to record their first album, Acapella, in 1970. Just A Mortal Man also marks a first for Lawson; it’s the first recording he’s made with instrumental accompaniment.
But Lawson is in good hands with producer Eric Brace and his Red Beet Records. Like all the efforts from this small label in East Nashville, this album is characterized by spotless recording techniques and perfectly balanced arrangements. And picking Jerry Lawson for a solo project is also in character for Brace and his record label. More than once he’s become the champion for great, but currently neglected and underused, musicians like Fayssoux, Mike Auldridge, Lloyd Green, and even Tom T. Hall, and helped them to get back in the public’s eye. As public tastes change, sometimes even the great performers fall out of fashion, but Brace goes out of his way to correct this and he deserves a lot of credit for his efforts.
So when it comes to Jerry Lawson and Just A Mortal Man, this is what we have. We hear a master at work. Though not a young man any more, Lawson’s voice still rings with power and conviction, though now it has been tempered and polished by life’s experiences. The result is a rich, smoky voice that at times can be moody and introspective, like in the song, “Time and Water,” and at other times he pulls out the stops and becomes a driving, energetic force in a song like “Never Been To Memphis.” Lawson apparently has the ability to make any song he sings sound like it’s coming directly from his heart. He makes every song personal and that’s not easy to do. Listening to his performance on the song, “Down On My Knees,” with its plaintive and raw cries of “Don’t leave me,” frankly gave me goosebumps. So like I said, this is a master at work here.
Jerry Lawson’s Just A Mortal Man is a first-rate effort that should pass the test of time, because it sounds like the classic it is. Highly recommended.
Song List: Peace Like A River; Time And Water; I’m Just A Mortal Man; Wine; Never Been To Memphis; In The Dark; Down On My Knees; Members Only; I Hope That Love Always Knows Your Name; Woman In White; Once In A While; Loving Arms; I’ll Come Running Back To You.