Recording of March 1990: Live in the Whispering Gallery

THE PERSUASIONS: Live in the Whispering Gallery
Hammer n' Nails HNCD 1988 (CD only). Frank Kulaga, Larry Collen, engs.; David Ackerman, prod. D–D. TT: 34:39

Ah, the Persuasions...! These guys and their acappella Brooklyn street-corner doo-wop can make me feel good faster than any group I know. After listening to this strong, loving recording, I listened to all their other records one after another. Best kind of rave I know.

This issue of Stereophile celebrates The Persuasions' first and latest albums, 20 years apart (see my feature on the Enigma Retro reissues from the Straight/Bizarre/DiscReet catalog elsewhere in this issue for a review of that first album, Acappella). No doubt about it—Live in the Whispering Gallery (of NYC's Grand Central Terminal), with a hooked-in homeboy audience, is one of their sweetest rides. (Strangers to New York should know that this is a double-groined vault in the lower levels of GCT, in one corner of which you can face the wall and whisper, and be heard perfectly clearly in the diagonally opposite corner.) The voices may be a little rougher now, the harmonies almost over-ripe, but Jerry Lawson & Co. are in complete and tender control. They do Motown ("Searchin' for my Baby," "Don't Let Him Take Your Love From Me") and Sam Cooke ("Only Sixteen") as always, but there's plain ol' rock'n'roll here, too ("Get A Job," "Don't Let Go"), not to mention ballads ("Place in the Sun," "She Never Talked to Me that Way"), and the gospel always bubbling under the surface of these joyous, vital voices ("The Lord's Prayer," "Amen"). Does it swing? You had to ask?

It's half a world away and even farther culturally, but I couldn't help thinking of Ladysmith Black Mambazo as I listened to Whispering Gallery—black male voices, nothing more, nothing less, singing for the sheer gas of singing, sounding like all the music you'd ever want in the whole world—it just sounds so joyful (I'm fumbling through my thesaurus, but that's the word), even as the tears fall. And the direct-to-two-track sound (Sony PCM 2500 R-DAT) is live, immediate, right there.

Sorry; all my critical faculties took a hike as soon as track 1 clicked in; you'll have to trust me on this one. Solid.—Richard Lehnert