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"I've nothing against synths, contrary to popular belief -- it's the machines who play the machines that worry me."

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My Fan Year - #44

@U2, November 27, 2005
By: Angela Pancella

 

I've said this before and I'll say it again: mixing a cappella music (all vocals, no instruments) and U2 is, for me, like mixing peanut butter and chocolate. When I first got a copy of The Persuasions Sing U2, I couldn't get it into the CD player fast enough. I couldn't wait to hear what the "godfathers of a cappella" would do with these songs. I was just a tiny bit nervous, since very few people seem to be able to do U2's music justice (remember what Bob Dylan said to Bono -- that these songs would last forever, but no one would be able to play them). But the subtle hint of Achtung Baby in the cover art helped reassure me. And as soon as I heard the first "chick-a-bow-chick-a-bow-chick-a-bow" on the first song I played, "Mysterious Ways" -- that was it. I haven't stopped grinning.

You can trace the roots of The Persuasions Sing U2 back to Frank Zappa for two reasons. First, he gave The Persuasions their first break in the record business, taking their street-corner doo-wop sound and introducing it to the masses. Second, Zappa was the subject of a tribute album they released in 1999, Frankly A Cappella. That album was such a critical success they've been doing single-artist tributes ever since.

Some of these have been better than others. It was fun to hear Grateful Dead songs done in their signature soulful gospel/R&B style (on the brilliantly titled Might As Well). But all the chemistry was lacking in their all-Beatles tribute. It looked as though the Persuasions were best suited to taking material from far out of left field to harmonize on.

Then their current label, Chesky Records, asked them if they thought they could tackle U2's repertoire. In an interview, band member Jayotis Washington says the Persuasions answered, "'Yeah, sure.' Right off the bat -- whether we can do it or not -- 'Yeah, sure, we can do it!'"

In fact, even though they'd answered in the positive, "In the beginning, we didn't know anything about U2. Even though we were hearing their music, we didn't know it was their music. [Singing U2 was] the same as, say, for instance, the Temptations singing Man of La Mancha tunes without knowing anything about Man of La Mancha, you know?"

This lack of prior knowledge actually helps -- The Persuasions Sing U2 is full of the excitement of new discovery. And because they come to the material fresh, they don't treat these songs gingerly like they're afraid of measuring up to The Legend. Instead, they just sound like they're having a good time. There's a lot of sauce and sass from the very first track, which they sing as if it was called "Even Better Than the Real Thang," to the Sly and the Family Stone-flavored "Mysterious Ways" that closes the disk. Washington laughs when he talks about that one. "Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That was a 'do what you feel' song. That's what we did!"

I've heard many U2 tribute albums, and they tend to have the standard set of hits -- "New Year's Day," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," "With or Without You." Some of the big hits are on this one, too, like "Pride" (whose arrangement tips the hat to "Duke of Earl") and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," but there are also some more intriguing, more adventurous, choices; "The Wanderer," for example. But then, that's a song for a bass singer, and The Persuasions have one of the best in Jimmy Hayes. One of the best numbers on the CD also seems, at first glance, an unusual pick: "Sometimes You Can't Make It on Your Own." Their arrangement is scaled back, not as lush and orchestrated as the original. With the stark setting, there's nothing between you and the song, and it will grab you.

"Peace on Earth" isn't on the disk, but The Persuasions plan to sing it in concert: "It's a great song, it's spiritual and it makes sense. It makes sense for us to do it more so than for us not to do it." And speaking of concerts, what do they think of pulling a New Voices of Freedom and trying out these arrangements on stage with U2? "That's up to U2. We're ready. The word is out that The Persuasions are ready!"

@U2/Pancella, 2005.



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