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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2006/12/21
by Mike Gruenberg

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In My Life
Now that 2006 is finally fading away, you are in the midst of finishing up your holiday shopping. You thought you had everyone covered, but much to everyones dismay you forgot to get a gift for Uncle Monty. Not only that, but the desk set you picked out for cousin Fred now doesnt look such a great idea and you need to change the selection to something more appropriate. All this means.Back To The Mall!
Malls in all parts of the world are dangerous places with just a few weeks left for holiday shopping. However, what makes them even worse in the month of December is the nonstop playing of Christmas music. Now I am not advocating the elimination of holiday music played in public places around the holidays because I know that once we hit January 1st, those tunes will give way to the background Muzak we have come to know and ignore. My gripe is the musical selections performed by an abundance of artists who are singing tunes truly not suited to them. This dissatisfaction of hearing tunes by artists trying to interpret the songs of others has always been a pet peeve of mine. I was therefore quite pleased to have found two albums that in my opinion successfully interpret and cleverly perform the works of someone else (and these albums are not Christmas tune oriented).
The Persuasions Sing U2
Anyone who has ever had any interest in a cappella music will undoubtedly have a Persuasions record in their collection. I have their We Still Aint Got No Band record in my collection that was recorded in 1973. The beauty of acappella music is that it is timeless. A good song, a smooth blending of voices and listening becomes a magical experience. The Persuasions have been providing those types of listening experiences since 1962 and have recorded continuously from that time period to the present much to the delight of their word-wide audience.
Recently, I came across their latest album of the Persuasions interpretation of the songs of U2. I decided that in spite of my reluctance to hear an album of someone elses music translated into a totally different style, I would give this one a try. There are eleven songs on the album. Much to my delight, each one is a gem. The beauty of their interpretation is that you know the tune and you cannot believe it sounds so different and yet it still sounds so good.
I kept listening to their version of When Love Comes To Town and could not help wondering what Bono would say. If you close your eyes when the Persuasions sing their version, you can imagine yourself hearing them sing this as gospel singers in a church. The strength of the Persuasions version is directly related to the strength of the song. Great tunes, much like fine wine are meant to be enjoyed in their original state. Its hard to think of any artist who could improve on the original versions of Stairway to Heaven or Satisfaction or Hotel California. Yet, the Persuasions have been able to transcend the powerful tunes of U2 into an extraordinary effort well worth listening to.

In trying to understand how the producers of the album came up with the concept of a black acappella group with southern roots living in Brooklyn singing tunes written by an Irish band from Dublin, the following explanation seemed plausible. U2 has always championed the rights and freedoms of the Irish people. Who better than a group with the background and cultural experiences of the Persuasions to understand the meaning of U2s music and be able to successfully record such an album? By the way, the album was recorded at St. Peters Church in New York City which further explains the beautiful sound that emanates from the CD.
The Crickets & Their Buddies
Much like the Persuasions catalogue of music, everyone from my generation undoubtedly has a Buddy Holly & The Crickets record in their collection. On the day the music died, Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and the Big Bopper died in a plane crash, the effects of which are still felt today. Although Buddy died, the Crickets lived on.
I came across this record while rummaging through the remains of a Tower Records in Rockville, Maryland and decided to purchase the album. Apparently the Crickets got together with Rodney Crowell, Eric Clapton, Waylon Jennings, Graham Nash, John Prine and others to sing some old Buddy Holly & The Crickets tunes. Given the star quality of the roster of invited guests, I decide to take my chances with interpretations of previously recorded material.
Once again, tunes like Thatll Be The Day or Not Fade Away or Oh Boy! are classics and belong to Buddy and The Crickets. The aspect of this album that turned me into a buyer was the fact that the Crickets in their heart of hearts would not allow an inferior product to be produced and that the assembled guest could only make the tunes sound that much the better.
If Bono in Dublin is smiling over the Persuasions treatment of his music, then Buddy somewhere up above must also be smiling about how his former band mates have added to the Buddy Holly legend with the release of this album. With the backing both vocally and instrumentally by the Crickets, each tune is carefully and flawlessly represented on the album. Eric Clapton is the featured performer on Someone, Someone and he is flawless on his version. His vocals are crisp and the usual Clapton guitar work is one of his best recorded works.
Bobby Vee, the popular singer from the early 60s weighs in with Blue Days, Black Nights. The guitar picking on this one is worthy of the purchase price alone. Of course, Waylon singing WellAll Right is a classic all over again.
In summation, The Persuasions Sing U2 on Chesky Records and The Crickets & Their Buddies on Sovereign Artists Records are two great purchases for family, friends and yourself this holiday season.
Heres wishing all the readers a healthy, happy and joyous holiday and New Year. Peace to all.

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