The “Listen Again” series went over well enough that your favorite rockin’ record reviewer decided to follow the lead of some TV executives and do a spin-off. In this series we once more examine previously-released albums but the platters we shall peruse in this particular series will be (Rolling Stone magazine) five-star albums. In this edition we revisit The Persuasions’ Chirpin’.
For those who’ve forgotten and those who never knew, The Persuasions are an a cappella singing group founded in New York in 1969. They have covered the songs of numerous artists in numerous musical genres including Frank Zappa, Jerry Butler, the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, Roy Hamilton, Sam Cooke and Elvis Presley. The founding five members included: arranger and lead vocalist Jerry Lawson, Jesse “Sweet Joe” Russell, Jayotis Washington, Herbert “Toubo” Rhoad, and bassman Jimmy “Bro” Hayes.
For this group the mid-1970s became a period of change. They had tried putting out some platters backed by different bands but were not well-received. In 1977 with Washington no longer in the picture the remaining four returned to the studio to record an album that would be hailed as a “definitive return to their a cappella roots”.
The result would be their eighth album Chirpin’. The ten-track project opened on their popular cover of “Papa Oom Mow Mow”. This C.C. White doo wop-novelty composition was first made famous by in 1962 by The Rivingtons.
The second selection is “Willie and Laura Mae Jones”. This is a dramatic take on Tony Joe White’s song. It’s followed by their version of “Moonlight and Music” by Leroy Fan and “Johnny Porter” by Bobby Ray Appleberry and William Cuomo.
Another highlight here is “Looking for an Echo”. This is the group’s noteworthy take on a doo-wop song written by Richard Reicheg which actually tells their own tuneful tale perfectly. It was critically-acclaimed (and remains a fan favorite to this day). “Women and Drinkin'”, composed by David Dashev and Jerry Lawson, is another fan favorite on this back to basics release.
Interestingly, the shortest track here is the two-minute tune “Sixty Minute Man”. This was a song by the songwriting team of Rose Marks and Billy Ward and a great reflection of just what street corner harmonies are all about. Also included on the LP is their adaption of Sam Cooke’s lesser known classic cut “Win Your Love (For Me)”.
The recording begins to wind down with another highlight–their swinging take on Charles Johnson’s gospel standard “It’s Gonna Rain Again”. The closing cut is “To Be Loved” which was a great solo vehicle for Russell first made popular by Jackie Wilson.
With a running time of over 34 minutes, Chirpin’ was released by Elektra later that same year (1977). While the group was unfortunately no longer big enough to chart, this in no way diminished their music. It was considered one of the best albums in any genre released that year and praised as a joyous, intimate return and a song-filled slice of their history.
In fact, it would not go forgotten and was rereleased on CD in 1990. Truthfully, there’s not a bad cut anywhere on this disc and those interested in the amateur roots of rock should surely own it. The Persuasions’ Chirpin’/Elek. 7E-1099 is as honestly evocative of street life as any soul music to date and certainly as energetic as early rock ‘n’ roll.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.