i first came across the persuasions -a five piece a cappella group from brooklyn made up of jerry lawson, jesse russell, jayotis washington, herbert rhoad and jimmy hayes- after looking for an a cappella version of my all-time favorite song, the grateful dead’s “brokedown palace.”
not expecting to find anything other than maybe a few lame covers recorded in bedrooms and basements, i was shocked to see that not only was there a professional recording of the song, but an entire album dedicated to grateful dead songs, all of them sung by 5 black dudes from brooklyn.
how i was unfamiliar with both the group and the record is still beyond me, and while i’ve tried to share it with as many people as possible, it’s clear that not nearly enough music fans -grateful dead or otherwise- know about what they’ve created, which is the whole reason for this post.
after hearing their take on “brokedown palace,” i knew right away that this was something special. this is not a traditional “tribute” album. it’s really not a tribute album at all. the persuasions sing songs written by the grateful dead, yes, but they do so much more than that. these tracks aren’t “soul” in the tradition of the grateful dead and how we look at jerry’s voice as being soulful, which of course it still is. no, this is five singers from an entirely different background and musical genre turning the entire grateful dead catalogue upside down and recreating their music as their own, and it’s unlike anything i’ve ever heard before.
“might as well” is basically reborn on this album. i always thought it was a fine jerry tune but it was never something i was pumped to see on a live album or any of those ’76 dead shows it showed up in, but the persuasions’ version is excellent and made me rethink my whole opinion on the original song. i like their version better because the phrasing and emphasis feels different from the dead’s in their focus on the verses, giving it a really cool old timey sound, which i love.
“liberty” is one of my favorite 90’s-era dead tunes because it just makes me feel good, and the persuasions’ version paints a big ass smile on my face every time i listen, there’s just something about the song that brings me back to a simpler time, even though i was like 7 years old when it came out. that’s probably the simpler time i’m subconsciously thinking about. being 7 was fucking awesome- i had a sick zack morris hair style going, i was averaging a quadruple double in my boys and girls club basketball league, and i was smooching second grade coeds like it was going out of style:
another late period song that was only performed a few times from 1993-on, “lazy river road” is perfect encapsulation of the emotions and themes robert hunter and jerry garcia were going for in their older years, and the persuasions absolutely nail it:
a really fun bertha, slow-jam sugaree, poignant stella blue, a downright mournful ship of fools, testifying greatest story ever told… what more can you ask for?
there are 16 other songs on the album and i haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of great this collection is, so just buy it for yourself and join the cause in making sure every music fan you know hears these songs too.